Rabbits can be really energetic house pets. These curious creatures love to explore new places and spend time socializing with you or the family. But for some reason, your new bunny just isn’t coming out. Or maybe your long-time companion rabbit has stopped coming out to interact with you, and you want to know what you can do about it.
Why won’t your rabbit come out and play? Most of the time rabbits won’t come out to play because they are scared or shy and need time to learn to trust you. However, other reasons your rabbit might not be coming out include boredom, depression, illness, old age, and even sleepiness.
To know why your rabbit is not coming out to play, you’re going to need to do some investigating. You’ll need to take your rabbit’s behavior and history into account so you can understand why your rabbit, specifically, is staying in their enclosure.
You can make changes to their environment to help them get out more. By reading your rabbit’s body language, you’ll be able to learn why they won’t come out of their enclosure. You’ll also learn what you can do to encourage them to explore and play.
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Your rabbit is scared
The most common reason that a rabbit hides in their enclosure is when they feel scared or stressed. Rabbits are small and vulnerable creatures in a scary world. If they don’t feel safe in their surrounding environment, they’ll choose to hide in their sheltered enclosure to avoid perceived danger.
This is especially common during the first days and weeks that a bunny is brought to a new home. Your rabbit is all of a sudden in a new environment with strange scents and scary sounds. It’s no wonder they’re scared to come out and play. So don’t be surprised if it takes some time for your new rabbit to adjust to your home. As they get used to the new place, they’ll start to explore little by little and eventually come out more often.
Rabbits that have lived with you for a while can also be scared and refuse to come out. This can be the case if there is something scary in the environment. Maybe a pet dog managed to get into the bunny room yesterday. Now your rabbit is afraid to come out in case the dog comes back.
They may also be afraid of people and won’t want to come out if there are any humans in the room. Your rabbit may have developed this fear from rough handling in the past. Or maybe they are afraid of being picked up if they come out of their safe place (most rabbits hate to be held).
Your rabbit is bored and depressed
Sometimes rabbits will sit in their enclosure all day and refuse to come out if they are feeling bored or depressed. A rabbit who has nothing to play with and nothing to do will often end up just sitting and sleeping. Over time, the rabbit will lose interest in their surroundings and become depressed. Then, even when the entrance to the enclosure is open, the rabbit won’t want to come out, having lost their natural curiosity.
This is especially a danger for rabbits who are treated as cage pets, rather than companion pets. Rabbits that are kept in a small cage all day and only let out for a short amount of time don’t get enough space to run and play all day long. This can end up leading to a bored rabbit who can only sit around all day. They eventually lose interest in coming out to get some exercise even when the cage door is open.
In addition to a lot of toys and space to play, rabbits also need a lot of socialization. Like humans, rabbits are social creatures and can easily become depressed if they don’t spend time with others. If they’re sitting all alone all day and not given any attention, the rabbit will eventually lose interest in everything. They’ll sit around even when they could be coming out to play and explore.
Your rabbit is sick
Rabbits that are feeling sick will usually show a lack of energy. They’ll be more likely to sit around all day and rest. This is a symptom to look out for if your rabbit is usually coming out to play all the time, but today they have a sudden lack of energy. They may not want to come out because they are in pain or have a more serious health condition.
Since rabbits are usually very good at hiding signs of sickness, it’s very important to pay attention to this kind of symptom. It could be that your rabbit is just feeling slightly under the weather today, but a sudden lack of energy is also a symptom of many serious illnesses.
If you believe your rabbit is refusing to come out and play because they are sick, it’s a good idea to check for other common signs of illness in rabbits. You’ll want to check to make sure your rabbit’s eating habits are normal. Are they still eating their daily hay? Pellets? Greens? Do they still get excited about treats? You can also check their litter box to make sure that your rabbit’s poops look normal. You’ll want to make sure the size and shape of your rabbit’s fecal pellets are consistent.
If your rabbit is not eating or not pooping for more than 10-12 hours then you should treat it as an emergency situation and bring your rabbit to the vet as soon as possible.
Your rabbit is sleepy
The rabbit sleep schedule is not the same as it is for humans. Rabbits are crepuscular, which means they are more active in the morning and evening, and sleep more during the day. While domestic rabbit sleep schedules can adjust a little bit depending on their situation, it’s still most common for them to be more sleepy during daylight hours.
This means that if you only have your rabbit’s enclosure open during afternoon hours, they may not want to come out and play much. Even if they do come out, your rabbit may only hop around a little until they find a more comfortable place to nap.
If you make sure to open the rabbit enclosure in the morning around dawn, and then keep it open until bedtime, your rabbit will be more likely to be active. They’ll likely be energetic and playful in the morning. Then they’ll rest during the afternoon, and come out to explore again in the evening.
This can be an ideal schedule for people who work during the day. You can give your rabbit some hours to exercise and have fun in the morning. Then keep them out of trouble in their enclosure while you go to work (make sure their enclosure is big enough!), and let them out again to play with you in the evening.
Your rabbit is getting old
As rabbits age, they have less energy to come out and play as often. Rabbits can live to be 8-12 years on average (it varies a little depending on the breed of rabbit). Generally as they reach around 6-8 years old, they will start to slow down as they reach the stage in their life where they are elderly rabbits.
These elderbuns will slowly start to lose muscle mass as they age, making it more difficult for your rabbit to get around. They may develop some health problems that also make it difficult to move around. Conditions such as arthritis or sores hocks (sores on the bottom of their feet) are common in elderly rabbits. All of this makes it more likely that over time your rabbit will want to come out and play less and less.
You can still take some measures to make it easier for your rabbit to move around. Getting arthritis medication from your vet may help your rabbit become more energetic since they won’t be in pain. You can also remove any barriers that make it difficult for your rabbit to get out of the enclosure. Making sure the enclosure entrance is on flat ground, or giving your rabbit a ramp can be ways to make it easier for your rabbit to get in and out.
How to encourage your rabbit to come out and play
We want to make sure our rabbits feel safe in their surroundings and happy in their home. Exercise is also important for keeping rabbits physically and emotionally healthy. That means if our rabbits won’t come out on their own because they are scared or depressed, we should make some changes to their environment that encourage our rabbit’s to be brave, curious, and energetic little bunnies.
1. Give your rabbit fun toys and activities
If you make sure your rabbit has a lot of fun toys and activities to play with both inside and out of their enclosure, you can encourage them to stay active and playful. Having access to toys in their enclosure keeps your rabbit from getting bored and depressed. Then the other toys in the room give your rabbit an incentive to come out and play. They’ll have new toys available that they can’t play with during the day.
There are a wide variety of fun toys for rabbits that you can purchase or make. You can get wooden toys for your rabbit to chew on and toss around. Hay based toys that your rabbit can chew on are also a lot of fun for rabbits. You can also get a variety of twigs and sticks for your rabbit, you can even find these in your backyard.
I get my rabbit toys from an online store called Small Pet Select. I discovered them about a year ago and have been really impressed with the quality of their products (and so has my rabbit!). They have a sampler toy pack so you can get a random assortment of toys to give to your rabbit. They’ll be able to choose their favorites so you’ll know exactly what to get them next time. (and you can get 15% off your first order by using the code BUNNYLADY at checkout)
If you want to try making your own DIY toys, there are a lot of fun things you can do with toilet paper tubes. You can also use cardboard boxes to make obstacle courses or digging areas for your rabbit. Give your rabbit as many options as you can so that they can pick their favorites!
2. Let your rabbit have lots of time to explore
The more time rabbits have to come out the better. They’ll be less likely to become bored and depressed, and they’ll have a chance to be active on their own schedule. If they don’t feel like being active in the afternoon, that’s okay because they can come out in the evening instead.
It’s also important to make sure your rabbit has time to explore because it means you can spend more time with your rabbit and give them much needed socialization. You’ll be able to shift your perspective and start to think of your rabbit as a companion animal, much like a cat or a dog.
3. Avoid crowding your rabbit
If your rabbit is new or scared of people, it’s best to avoid overcrowding them. You can stay in the room to supervise your rabbit, but stay far enough from the enclosure that your rabbit won’t feel scared because you’re so close.
Sometimes it’s best to sit with your back to your rabbit and pretend to ignore them completely. A rabbit that feels like you are watching them is less likely to be brave and come out to explore. Try to read or work on something else without looking at your rabbit. Instead listen to hear if they’ll come out.
When they do finally come out to play and explore, give them space and let them be curious on their own. Unless they’re getting into something dangerous, it’s best to continue to ignore your rabbit until they make the initiative and come up to you.
4. Make sure your rabbit is feeling okay
If your rabbit is suddenly refusing to come out and play, they might actually be sick. If this behavior persists for more than an afternoon, then it’s best to make an appointment with your vet.
As long as your rabbit is still moving around some, eating, drinking, and pooping, it doesn’t need to be treated as a complete emergency, but you should still go to your vet sooner than later. Your rabbit could very well be telling you that they are sick and need to see a doctor.
5. Reward your rabbit with yummy treats
Placing some yummy treats outside of your rabbit’s enclosure can lure them out to come and eat. At first the rabbit will likely come out, snatch the treats and go back and hide. But over time they’ll learn that there is nothing scary outside and they’ll retreat less quickly.
Dried fruit treats are often a great place to start with rabbits. They’ll all have their favorite flavors, of course, but I recommend trying dried banana chips to start, they tend to be a favorite with the rescue rabbits I work with. You can get this at my favorite online store, Small Pet Select, with a bunch of other dried fruit flavors too! (don’t forget to take 15% off your order by using BUNNYLADY at checkout)
After they start to come out regularly for the treats you can start to hide treats further out around the room. This will encourage your rabbit to explore more as they sniff out the pieces. You can also keep some near you. This way you can reward your rabbit for coming close to you. Eventually this will teach them to stop seeing you as a threat and come up to you more readily.
This is also the technique I use for teaching very shy rescue rabbits to be friendly with people. For more specific steps to teach your rabbit to trust you, check out my article on how to befriend a shy rabbit.
6. Occasionally rearrange the furniture
Rearranging the furniture in the room can immediately make a rabbit curious. Even a small change can seem big to a rabbit, and they’ll want to go and check it out. Finding ways to make these small changes helps to keep your rabbit interested in their environment and more likely to come out and explore.
You can also introduce new items to your rabbit every once in a while. For example, you can get them a cat tower or create a cardboard castle with boxes. Any way that you can change up your rabbit’s environment gives them the opportunity to investigate and explore
7. Avoid holding your rabbit
Most rabbits hate to be held. If they believe coming out to spend time with you means they’ll end up trapped in your arms, they’ll likely do whatever they can to avoid you and hide from you. For that reason, it’s best to not pick your rabbit up unless you have to. This is especially true while they are still learning to trust you.
There will, of course, be occasions when you do have to handle your rabbit. For example, when you clip your rabbit’s nails or get them away from a dangerous situation. However, it’s best to keep these occasions to minimum so that you can build your rabbit’s trust over time. They’ll be more likely to come out of their enclosure, and more likely to come up to you and interact too.
8. Get a different enclosure for your rabbit
To keep your rabbit happy and energetic, it’s important to make sure they have a large enough enclosure. Unfortunately most cages that are sold and marketed for rabbits are actually much too small. They don’t give rabbits enough space to hop around and behave like normal rabbits, making it more likely that they’ll become bored and depressed.
You want your rabbit’s enclosure to be at least 3-4 times the length of your rabbit. The width of the enclosure should be at least 1-2 times the rabbit’s length, and they should be able to stand up all the way on their tip-toes.
The best kind of enclosure to get a rabbit is actually a rabbit exercise pen. These give rabbits a lot more space and the entrance is a little less of a bottleneck. Elderly rabbits will be more able to get in and out and shy rabbits will be less likely to stop at the threshold of a tiny door.
9. Give your rabbit a calm and safe environment
You want to make sure that your rabbit feels safe in your home or they won’t be brave enough to come out of hiding. This means making sure your rabbit gets peace and quiet. Avoid loud sounds or areas of the house with frequent foot traffic. You’ll also want to keep any other house pets away from your rabbit.
A safe environment also means giving your rabbit plenty of places to hide, both in and out of their enclosure. Giving your rabbit these hiding houses will mean your rabbit has more places to run to for safety when they get scared. They’ll be able to slowly make their way farther and farther from their enclosure as they find these other hiding places.
10. Get a friend for your rabbit
Sometimes rabbits get depressed because they don’t have enough socialization. If you’re too busy to spend a lot of time giving your rabbit attention, they may get depressed over time. Bringing home a second rabbit to be friends with your bunny could help them get the socialization they need to be a happy and curious bunny again.
However, you do need to take bonding rabbits slowly since rabbits are very territorial animals. It can take many months of slowly introducing rabbits in a neutral space before they are actually a happy couple. While it is best to bring a second (or even third or fourth) bunny home, you also have to make sure you are prepared for a long bonding process.