All About Digging Behaviors in Pet Rabbits


why does your rabbit dig that?

Rabbit digging habits can be frustrating for many rabbit caretakers. Our little fuzzy friends can be incredibly destructive when they persistently dig into carpets or couch cushions. While it may seem like your pet is just being a naughty bunny, there are actually instinctual and emotional reasons that cause your rabbit to have these digging habits.

Rabbits dig because it is a natural and instinctive behavior. Digging is a way for rabbits to have fun and occupy themselves when they are feeling stressed or bored. Many rabbits have also learned that digging is a way they can ask for attention from their human caretakers.

In order to protect your house from your rabbits destructive digging habits, it’s important to understand why rabbits dig in the first place. You’ll be able to learn about how to redirect your rabbit’s habits into more constructive outlets without making them feel frustrated because they can’t use their natural instincts.

rabbit digging butt
In the wild, rabbits dig and live in networks of tunnels called burrows.

Why do rabbits dig?

Your pet rabbit’s tendency to dig comes from their wild roots. Domestic rabbits are from a species of rabbit that dig tunnels underground. These networks of tunnels are a home for the rabbits and they give rabbits a safe place to run away and hide from most predators. 

This has made digging a completely instinctual part of a rabbits brain. In fact, digging is often a very fun activity for our pet rabbits. Digging is a way that domestic rabbits play, and it’s also a way for them to blow off steam when they are bored and frustrated. It’s not a behavior that can be trained out of a rabbit. Instead it’s important to give pet rabbits ways that they can use this natural behavior without destroying areas of your house.

Digging nests

Female rabbits have the reputation as being more persistent and destructive diggers than male rabbits. Individual rabbits all have different habits and personalities, but as a generalization this is true. This is because in the wild, female rabbits would be the ones to dig their nests off of the main tunnel. Because of this, female rabbits have a stronger instinct to dig.

Fun

While wild rabbits dig out of necessity, domestic rabbits will often dig for fun. It’s the kind of activity that gets them really excited and may even lead to a happy bunny binkying around. You’ll especially see this happy digging behavior with rabbits who spend some time in an outdoor run. They’ll be excitedly digging holes into the dirt while they hop around and explore. Digging is an enrichment activity for rabbits that can help keep your bunny mentally healthy.

Stress/Boredom

Many rabbits dig as a destructive behavior because they are feeling stressed or bored. Digging becomes therapeutic and helps your rabbit comfort themself or relieve their frustration. This is why you will often hear of rabbits digging into the corners of their cage when they are left alone all day. It’s also more common for rabbits to be persistent about digging into the corners of rooms when they don’t have enough other toys to play with and keep them occupied.

Attention

Many rabbits learn that digging behaviors will get them attention. If they start to dig into different areas of the room, they know that you’ll eventually come over. It’s important to remember that rabbits are social creatures. If they are not getting enough socialization from you, then they’ll be forced to learn alternative ways to make you pay attention.

Why your rabbit digs on you

Many caretakers notice that their rabbits will sometimes dig onto them. When rabbits dig onto people, it’s usually as a way to communicate with us. Since humans and rabbits wouldn’t ordinarily interact in the wild, rabbits have to learn how to use their behavior to get our attention and let us know what they want.

Since this is typically learned behavior and not fully instinctual, rabbits will learn to use digging to communicate in different ways. Some rabbits will use it as a way of getting your attention, while others are trying to let you know that you’re being a little overbearing. You will have to pay attention to the context of your own rabbit’s behavior if you want to understand why they are digging into you.

  • To beg for attention. If your rabbit digs at your leg while you are standing, they are probably just asking for your attention. I also notice this behavior when my rabbit is really impatient about getting a treat from me.
  • To be released if you’re holding them. If you are holding your rabbit, they might dig on your chest so they can be released. Most rabbits don’t actually like being held, so they will dig and possibly nip at you to get you to put them down.
  • To say you’re in the way. If your rabbit is trying to get to a place and your blocking the way, they might dig into you to tell you to move.
  • To request more petting. Some rabbits will dig into you similar to the way that cats will knead something when they are comfortable. This is most often the case when a rabbit is voluntarily sitting in your lap while you are petting them. If you stop petting, your rabbit might dig into your lap to let you know they are comfortable and want you to continue.
  • If the rabbit is interested in the texture of your clothing. Sometimes rabbits are just really interested in the texture of the clothing you are wearing. This seems to be case with large sweatshirts or blankets.
rabbit digging into the carpet
Bored rabbits are more likely to have destructive behaviors, such as digging and destroying the carpets.

How to protect your carpet from your rabbit

The most common reason that people want to stop their rabbit from digging is because of their tendency to destroy carpeted floors. As we discussed earlier, digging is an instinctual habit for rabbits, which means that you won’t be able to completely stop them from digging. Instead you will have to limit the amount of destructive digging your rabbit can do by distracting them with places where they are allowed to dig and covering up areas where they shouldn’t.

Alternate floorings

If you have the option, it’s a good idea to set up your rabbit’s enclosure in a room that does not have carpet. For example, you can keep your rabbit in a room with hardwood flooring or tiled floors that are harder for rabbits to destroy. You can use mats and area rugs that are cheaper and easier to replace if your rabbit digs through them. 

Covering the carpet

If you have to keep your rabbit in a room with a carpet, which is often the case, then the best thing to do is cover areas of the carpet that your rabbit tends to dig into. This usually includes corners of the room and areas underneath furniture and next to doorways. 

To cover these areas you can use a combination of area rugs, plastic mats, and cardboard to keep your rabbit from destroying the carpet. Plastic mats, the kind that would go under a desk chair, tend to be the most durable option, but may not fit into every corner of the room. Area rugs can be used over top of the carpet for larger trouble spots, such as underneath large pieces of furniture. Smaller mats and cardboard can be used to cover up any remaining trouble spots.

Giving your rabbit other options

In addition to covering up areas where your rabbit tends to dig, you’ll want to make sure your rabbit has other options available to them. This gives your rabbit toys for mental enrichment in addition to distracting them from finding new areas to be destructive. Try some of these digging enrichment activities for your rabbit:

  • Digging box. You can create a digging box for your rabbit out of a cardboard box. Hide treats inside to encourage your rabbit to dig here instead of other areas. Even an empty cardboard box can be a fun distraction for your rabbit
  • Crumpled paper. Plain paper that you would get as stuffing in a package can be a great digging toy for rabbits. Pile up the packing paper in an area and let your rabbit have fun with it. 
  • Cat scratcher mats. Some rabbits will enjoy digging into cat scratcher mats. Try placing some of these mats down on the floor. They can prevent your rabbit from reaching the carpet underneath and be a fun toy for them.
  • Old towel or t-shirt. A lot of rabbits like digging into fabric materials. If you have any old cotton t-shirts or towels, you can give these to your rabbit to play with.

Spay or neuter your rabbit

While it won’t completely solve the problem of persistent digging in rabbits, getting them spayed or neutered can often help. This is especially true for female rabbits who have the instinct to dig nests. But even for males, getting them neutered can help to calm down their behaviors and make them less likely to dig destructively.

Dealing with litter box digging rabbits

Some rabbits will enjoy digging into their litter box, making a big stinky mess all around it. Most rabbits behave this way due to boredom. If they are being kept in a cage that’s too small or don’t have enough enrichment activities they resort to digging at the only thing that’s left to them.

So the first thing to try is to simply make sure your rabbit isn’t bored. Give them a large enclosure and plenty of time to exercise. Make sure your rabbit has a variety of toys to play with, including chew toys, digging toys, and foraging toys. You’ll also want to make sure you give your rabbit lots of attention on a daily basis, since rabbits are also very social creatures.

If none of this helps, then it could just be that your rabbit really enjoys digging into their litter box. You’ll have to focus on making changes that reduce the amount of mess your rabbit can make. You can see if your rabbit will be willing to use a covered litter box, or give them a box with very high sides that can catch most of the flying litter. Alternatively, you can put your rabbit’s litter box into a larger plastic bin that will catch the flying litter. This way the clean up will be a lot easier.

Sources

  1. “Problem Behavior in Rabbits: Digging and Chewing.” SPCA. https://www.spca.nz/advice-and-welfare/article/problem-behaviour-in-rabbits-digging-and-chewing.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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