Many people unknowingly get a pet rabbit believing they are animals that can be left alone all day. They are not prepared fo how much play time and attention rabbits really need. Unfortunately, this means many house rabbits end up living very unsatisfactory lives as they sit around bored, with nothing to do all day.
Rabbits that don’t have enough attention, space to run, or toys to play with can become bored. Boredom leads to destructive behaviors, such as chewing and digging, and can even lead to aggression or depression in rabbits.
But don’t worry! There is a lot you can do to improve the quality of your rabbit’s life, and help them be the playful happy bunny they were born to be. Many rabbit behavior problems can be solved, or at least improved, simply by making sure your rabbit isn’t bored all the time.
Loud cage rattling, as well as destructive digging and chewing behaviors often stem from bored frustration in rabbits. Bored rabbits are also more likely to be aggressive or overindulge in foods they shouldn’t. By keeping your rabbit happy and occupied, you are not only creating a more peaceful household for yourself, but also helping your rabbit stay healthy in the long run.
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Why rabbits get bored
Rabbits get bored when they don’t have enough stimulation from their environment to keep their days interesting. They need the time and space to behave like a normal bunny should, and they need enough attention to keep them mentally healthy.
Not enough space
Rabbit bodies were built to run. They need a lot of time to exercise and a lot of space to stretch their legs. Unfortunately, many pet stores and online stores sell enclosures that are much too small to new rabbit caretakers. This means many rabbits are stuck in cages that don’t give them enough space to move around during the day.
Unfortunately, many pet rabbits also have very little time to get out and exercise in a larger area, causing them to be chronically bored day in and day out. I use and recommend getting an exercise pen to use as your rabbit’s enclosure. This will give your rabbit a lot more space, even if you are away during the day.
Not enough to play with
Rabbits have natural instincts that involve digging, chewing, and foraging. Without toys that allow rabbits to use these instincts, they are likely to become bored. The lack of constructive ways to dig and chew is also what leads to more destructive behaviors around your home.
Rabbits who don’t have toys to bite into, will go for the baseboards and furniture. If they don’t have anything to dig in, they’re more likely to go for your carpets. You’ll want to provide your rabbit with a variety of toys so that they can use their natural rabbit behaviors without destroying your home.
If you’re unsure how to pick toys that your rabbit will actually like to play with, then check out my article going over the many types of rabbit toys you can try out.
Not enough attention
Rabbits are actually very social creatures. They are part of a species that has a complex social structure, meaning they have evolved with a need for social interaction. If they don’t have any other rabbit bonded as a partner, then that means these little bunnies need a lot of attention from their caretakers. Rabbits that don’t have enough social stimulation are prone to becoming bored and depressed over time. (learn how to make sure you are giving your rabbit enough attention)
Common signs of boredom in rabbits
Every rabbit has their own personality. They will express their boredom in their unique ways, and you’ll need to learn how to understand your rabbit’s body language. But there are some common ways in which our pet rabbits will let us know that they are bored and unhappy. After we learn the signs and know what our rabbits are telling us, we can make some changes to be sure we have happy rabbits in our homes.
Loudly rattling enclosure bars
Many new caretakers will complain that their rabbit is really loudly biting on the bars of their cage or enclosure. For rabbits, this is their number one way of expressing that they feel trapped in a cage that’s too small or don’t have enough toys to be happy. They are bored sitting in their cage all day, and want out!
Loudly rattling and chewing on the enclosure can also be an attention seeking behavior for rabbits. They learn that if they continue to make a fuss for a long time, someone will eventually come and give them attention. So even if your rabbit has a large enclosure and plenty of toys, they may behave this way to let you know that they aren’t getting enough socialization.
Constantly chewing on things they shouldn’t
Bored rabbits are also likely to chew on objects that they shouldn’t. Rabbit teeth grow continuously and need to be worn down by chewing. They need to have objects to chew on. If they don’t (or if they’re bored with the toys they have access to), rabbits will instinctively go for whatever they can get their teeth on. Often this means furniture and baseboards.
Chewing is so much a part of rabbit instinctual behavior that they actually have a lot of fun with it. When rabbits are bored and frustrated with sitting around all day, they are likely to try to satisfy themselves with chewing. No matter how many times you shoo them away from the baseboards, the rabbit will find their way back as soon as your back is turned.
Many rabbits, even those that have plenty of their own toys, will participate in this behavior to some extent. However, it is much more common and persistent in rabbits who are bored.
Sitting around all day without any energy
Rabbits that live a life without much fun or socialization can become depressed. They are so bored day in and day out that they lose all of that happy, curious energy. Instead these rabbits will choose to just sit around all day. They may not even get up when the enclosure door is open. If they do, they’ll just find another place to sit for the rest of the day. Rabbits that become depressed may lose interest in food. They’ll even stop taking care of their coat, making it look dull and scraggly.
Some bored rabbits will occupy themselves in other ways. They will start to nervously groom themselves all day long. Cleanliness and self-grooming is common in rabbits. They naturally spend a lot of time keeping their coats nice and shiny. However, bored rabbits can take this to the next level. They’ll start to groom themselves so frequently that they start to lose fur, creating patches of bald spots. They may also start to scratch themselves more often, causing cuts or scratch marks in the area behind their ears.
Digging where they shouldn’t
Rabbits are also natural burrowers. Female rabbits, especially, have an instinct to try to dig tunnels. They need things that they can scratch up to fulfill their digging needs. If rabbits aren’t given appropriate digging areas, they will often find their own. Sometimes this means they dig underneath furniture or into the corners of rooms. They can shred a carpet in no time, wreaking havoc on your house.
Many rabbits that are stuck in an enclosure all day with nothing to do will resort to digging into their litter box. Rabbits will spend their day shoveling their poop and pee-soaked litter out, making a big, smelly mess for you to clean up later.
Some bored rabbits are so frustrated that they become grumpy or aggressive. They’ll growl and lunge at anyone who comes near as a way to release their pent up energy. This is one of the most unfortunate behaviors that bored rabbits express, since this makes it more likely that people will continue to ignore them instead of helping them.
Rabbits are not typically aggressive creatures by nature, especially if they have been spayed or neutered. This kind of angry behavior is a call for help from a rabbit who is feeling bored or anxious all the time. You can learn how to work with your aggressive rabbit and teach them how to calm down.
Many bored rabbits will resort to eating their stress away. If they have access to too many pellets or treats, these rabbits will just eat and sleep all day. This can be the cause of excess weight and obesity in many rabbits, which can lead to many dangerous health problems.
If you provide your rabbit with a healthy diet, then there is little chance they will become obese, since it’s nearly impossible for rabbit to eat too much hay. But overeating can be a big problems for bored rabbits who have access to a large amount of pellets on a daily basis.
Attention seeking behaviors
Attention seeking behaviors can vary significantly between rabbits. These are behaviors that your rabbit has learned to do because they know it will get them attention from you. They are typically annoying or destructive behaviors that you’ve responded to in the past, unknowingly teaching your rabbit that they can get attention this way.
These behaviors can include:
- Loud and persistent thumping (not all thumping though)
- Coming up to you and nipping your ankles
- Destructive digging and chewing behaviors
- Rattling the enclosure bars
- Knocking objects over
How to prevent boredom in rabbits
Now that you can tell whether or not your rabbit is showing signs of boredom, you want to know what you can do to help your rabbit. To do this, you need to make sure you are meeting your rabbit’s basic needs. This means allowing your rabbit to use their basic bunny instincts (chewing and digging), giving your rabbit space to move around, and socializing your rabbit.
- Lots of toys. Give your rabbit a variety of different types of toys to satisfy their desire to chew. It’s also a good idea to rotate out old toys every once in a while so your rabbit doesn’t get bored of them. If you’re not sure what your rabbit likes, try this sampler set from Small Pet Select. They’ll send you a variety of toys and you can see which ones your rabbit likes best. (Use the code BUNNYLADY to get 15% off your first purchase)
- Lots of time and space to exercise. To meet your rabbit’s physical needs, you need to make sure they have a large enclosure and a lot of time to exercise.
- Lots of attention. Give your rabbit a lot of attention by interacting with and petting them on a daily basis. If you don’t have much time to give your rabbit, consider adopting a second rabbit to bond with your bunny.
- Safe places to dig. Give your rabbit cardboard boxes or mats made of natural fibers to dig into.