Does your rabbit like to flip over their food bowls? This is completely normal behavior for rabbits. I would estimate that about half of the rescue rabbits that I work with toss their food bowls around at some point. It can be a mildly annoying behavior if you’re not expecting it. But if bowl flipping has become a nuisance (especially if the rabbit is flipping the water bowl) you can make some changes to discourage or redirect the behavior.
Rabbits will usually flip over their bowls either because they are bored or because they are trying to get more food out of them. However, many rabbits also see their bowls as toys and enjoy tossing them around for fun.
It is more common for rabbits to flip their food bowls than water bowls, but both happen. If your rabbit is flipping the food bowl, you may want to consider getting rid of the bowl altogether. Rabbits are perfectly okay with eating pellets off of the ground. But if you want to limit the mess around your rabbit, try to figure out the reason behind their bowl-flipping behavior and make some changes to your rabbit’s environment to help change their habits.
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Why do rabbits like to flip their food and water bowls?
Rabbits all have their own personalities. The reasons they choose to flip over their bowls can often just come down to your rabbit’s particular quirks and preferences. However, these are some common reasons I’ve noticed that rabbits like to flip their bowls. In the next section, I’ll go over some strategies that you can use to prevent and discourage your rabbit from tossing their bowls around.
1. They are looking for more food
If your rabbit always flips over their food bowl when they finish their food, they are probably just looking for more. As soon as my rabbits finish their bowl of leafy greens every day, they tend to knock around the bowl as if hoping to find more underneath it.
They may also flip it over if they are trying to get easier access to the food. For example, if they finish the food on one side of the bowl, they’ll toss the bowl around and flip it over instead of simply moving to the other side.
2. The rabbit is bored
One of the most common reasons rabbits flip their bowl is because they are bored. If the rabbit is sitting around all day with nothing to do, they’ll flip over whatever they can just to relieve their boredom. It can also be a sign of frustration if your rabbit doesn’t have enough time out of their enclosure to get some exercise.
3. The bowls are in the wrong place
Rabbits can be very particular about their home decor. If they decide that the place you put their bowl is not right, they will toss it around until they like it better. Often this is the case if you put the bowl down where your rabbit likes to rest and take a nap, or if it’s in a spot that your rabbit sees as an optimal digging corner.
They may also shove the bowl aside if it happens to be in their way. Rabbits don’t always realize that they can go around objects in their home. They’ll start going in whatever direction they choose and if the bowl is in their way, it will just have to move. This is why it’s often best to put bowls in corners or next to a wall so that your rabbit won’t ever need to toss them out of the way.
4. The food bowl is too deep
Some rabbits don’t like to stick their head all the way into a bowl to eat their food. They prefer to be able to easily see around the edges while they are eating. The rabbit will flip the bowl over on its side, or spill the contents completely so that they can get the food more easily. This is more commonly the problem with smaller rabbits and rabbits who have shorter faces.
5. It was an accident
Sometimes the rabbit just gets very excited and accidentally flips the food and water bowls over as they are hopping around. This is what happens if the rabbit doesn’t pick it up and toss the bowl with their teeth, but instead flips it when they step on it or run into it.
With hyperactive rabbits, you will just have to get the bowls as out-of-the-way as possible to prevent this. If this happens frequently, it’s a big indication that your rabbit needs a bigger enclosure and more space for running around. The more space they have, the less likely they’ll be to run into objects in their environment.
6. The rabbit is happy and playing
Some rabbits really just like to play with their food bowl. It’s fun to pick it up and toss it around. In this case, you don’t necessarily want to discourage your rabbit from their happy behavior. Instead, you might want to let them keep that particular bowl as a toy and then switch to using a different type of bowl for their food and water (one that’s heavier and doesn’t have a lip).
11 Tips to prevent your rabbit from flipping their bowls (or make cleanup easier)
Now that you have a basic idea of why your rabbit might be tossing their bowls around, you can make some changes to their environment to help prevent this messy behavior. You obviously don’t have to use all of these tips but pick and choose the ones that work for you and your rabbit.
1. Use heavy bowls with no lip
The number one fix for preventing rabbits from flipping their bowls is to change what bowl you use. Choose a large, heavy ceramic bowl that does not have a lip for the rabbit to grab onto with their teeth. You also want to make sure they have a fairly flat bottom with sides that don’t taper out too much, so it’s less likely the bow will be accidentally tipped over. Bowls that are dog-sized are my go-to, especially for water bowls (something like this ceramic dog bowl). You can also try bowls that are at different heights to see if your rabbit prefers one with shorter sides.
When giving your rabbit a new bowl, you might want to keep the old bowl in the enclosure for a little while so your rabbit can use it as a toy if they want to. This makes it less likely they’ll automatically start trying to tip over the new bowl.
2. Make sure your rabbit has enough space
The only fix that helps prevent bowl tipping for most rabbits is making sure they have enough space. Most cages that are sold and marketed toward rabbits are actually much too small for them. If the rabbit is kept in one of these cages for most of the day, they are more likely to become bored and frustrated due to their lack of ability to move around as much as they want. This leads to bored behaviors such as flipping their bowls over and digging out their litter box.
To increase your rabbit’s space, I recommend getting a pet exercise pen (one of these pens) and attaching it to the rabbit’s cage so they have a permanent exercise area. You could also look into free-roaming your rabbit so that they don’t have to be kept in a cage at all.
3. Make sure to give your rabbit a variety of toys
Another tip that can help prevent boredom is making sure your rabbit has a wide variety of toys. Rabbits all have their preferences when it comes to the toys they like to play with, so testing out different toys will help you find the ones that can successfully distract your rabbit from their food and water bowls. They don’t have to all be expensive toys either. Cardboard boxes, shredded paper, and old towels can be a lot of fun for rabbits. Check out this list of possible rabbit toys to get you started.
4. Socialize with your rabbit
Rabbits are social creatures. They do best when they have plenty of time to hang out with people (or other bunnies) enough to meet their socialization needs. By spending time with your rabbit, they are less likely to be bored all the time, making them less likely to flip their bowls over in frustration.
5. Give your rabbit a small amount of food at a time
This won’t work with the water bowl since rabbits need constant access to water, but you can give them multiple smaller mealtimes throughout the day instead of feeding them their pellets all at once. This means your rabbit won’t be able to make quite as much of a mess with their food. You can also take the bowl away once your rabbit finishes their spoonful of pellets. This way, they won’t be able to get in the habit of playing with it.
6. Place food bowls in a corner
To prevent your rabbit from accidentally knocking the bowls over or tossing them out of the way, try placing them in the corner of a room. If you know your rabbit has a spot they like to dig into around a corner, avoid that particular place and put them a couple of feet away from the corner, but still against the wall-side of their enclosure.
Since rabbits will often try to push and chew on the bars of their enclosure to get beyond them, you want to avoid putting the bowls up against the side of the enclosure that faces the room. The rabbit has to believe there is nowhere on the other side of the fence for them to go.
7. Place a mat underneath the bowls
If you’re really struggling with the mess your rabbit is making, Placing a mat underneath the food and water bowls will at least help with the mess. A pet placemat can at least catch the food and water as it spills, making it easier to clean up later
8. Clip the bowls to the edge of the enclosure
You can also get bowls that clip to the side of the rabbit’s enclosure (like this clip-on food bowl). For many people, this is the only thing that works to keep their rabbits from flipping the food and water bowls every day.
Clip-on bowls work best in combination with a placemat. The clip will prevent the rabbit from picking up the bowl and tossing it, but it won’t keep the rabbit from trying. Usually, this means that some food and water will splash over the sides of the bowl. It will make a much smaller mess than before, but there will usually still be a little cleanup necessary.
9. Keep the water bowl away from the food bowl
If your rabbit likes to toss their food bowl around, but not the water bowl, try to keep the two bowls separated. This will prevent your rabbit from flipping the food into the water bowl, creating an even bigger mess. It will also keep your rabbit from grabbing the wrong bowl when they mean to grab just the food bowl since spilled water makes a much bigger mess than spilled food.
10. Don’t use a food bowl at all
You could do away with the food bowl altogether. Personally, I use cat treat balls (these things) to feed my rabbits their pellets every day. It keeps my rabbits active while they are eating their food and prevents any bowl-flipping messes. You could also just sprinkle the pellets on the floor and allow your rabbit to graze and eat them instead of eating them out of a bowl. It’s a little more natural for rabbits to eat this way anyway.
11. Add a water bottle
If no matter what you do, your rabbit will not stop flipping over their water bowl, then it might be time to think about getting a water bottle with a spout instead. I really only recommend using a water bottle as a just-in-case measure. This way if your rabbit flips over the water bowl, they’ll still have water available in the bottle. This is because water bottles are not ideal for rabbits. It takes a lot more effort for the rabbits to drink, so they usually don’t drink as much as they should.
So, try everything else first to try to keep the water bowl available for your rabbit. However, if no matter what, your rabbit manages to flip the bowl, then a large water bottle attached to the side of the enclosure is the way to go.