There is nothing better for a home than a happy, bouncing bunny. Their happiness is contagious as they bring joy into our lives. As caretakers, we want to do everything we can to make our companion rabbits happy. But sometimes it seems like whatever we do doesn’t work.
To make our rabbits happy, we need to think like a rabbit. What would make a rabbit feel safe or confident? Alternatively, what is likely to scare a small (mostly) defenseless animal? By taking the time to try to understand how our rabbits experience the world, we can learn what it is that makes them happy and excited in life.
Luckily, you don’t have to investigate blindly. I’ve learned a lot over the years from my companion rabbits and the rescue rabbits I work with at the shelter. And I can share with you some of the best tips I have for keeping your house rabbit happy.
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How to know if your rabbit is happy
To know if your rabbit is happy, you need to learn a little bit about basic rabbit body language. Rabbits don’t wag their tails like dogs, they have their own unique ways of expressing their happiness. It may take a little while to learn if you are a new bunny caretaker, but once you know the signs, it’s not too difficult to tell how your rabbit is feeling based on their behavior.
Some rabbit behaviors that mean they are happy or content include:
- Binkies: A binky is that weird twisty jump that rabbits do. It means they are very happy and are literally jumping for joy. Sometimes rabbits will do a mini binky instead, by only twitching their head instead on going for a full jump.
- Zooming: When rabbits zoom super fast in circles around the room, it means they are happy and full of energy. While more common in younger rabbits, older rabbits will also take a lap or two around the room sometimes.
- Flops: When a rabbit flops down on their side to rest, it means they are very comfortable and content in their environment. It’s a sign that your rabbit feels safe.
- Sprawling: Likewise, when rabbits sprawl out on the ground, taking their feet out from under them, it generally means that they are feeling pretty comfortable and content.
- Purring: This is when the rabbit gently grinds their teeth together, making a soft vibration in their head. Sometimes it even makes an audible sound. This is called a purr because, although the mechanism is different, it means the same thing as a cat’s purr. Your rabbit is calm and content.
- Tossing toys: A playful rabbit will be happy to toss around toys and chew on them. They are having fun with the different textures and flavors of toys they have.
1. Make a comfortable home base
The best way to make your rabbit’s life happier is to give them a comfortable home base. This means that their enclosure should not be a place that your rabbit wants to escape from every day, but instead a safe place where they can relax and play. The enclosure needs to be appropriately sized for your rabbit and you need to make sure to give them mental enrichment activities to keep them occupied.
Rabbit enclosures are not one-size-fits all. A small rabbit would be very happy in a large enclosure, but you need to be careful to make sure your home base is not too small for your rabbit.
A rabbit enclosure should be at least 3-4 times the full length of your rabbit, with at least 1-2 times their length in width. They should also be able to stand up on their tippy toes without bumping the top.
A rabbit ex-pen is usually the best option for a rabbit home base, since most cages sold for rabbits are too small. It’s also usually a little cheaper than the smaller cages that are marketed towards rabbits. Even if you already purchased a cage for your bunny, you can instantly increase the size of your rabbit’s habitat by attaching one of these ex-pens around the entrance!
2. Give them a variety of toys
You also want to make your rabbit’s home a happy place for them by giving them lots of toys to chew on and toss around. This keeps rabbits occupied and prevents boredom while also encouraging your rabbit to move around and exercise more. The greater variety of toys you can give your rabbit the better. They can choose their favorites and also play with different toys depending on their mood.
Chew toys allow rabbits to use their natural chewing instincts and wear down their ever-growing teeth. These can be wooden chew toys for your rabbit to pull on and dig their teeth into, and they can also include some natural toys. Apple or willow sticks, dried pinecones, loofahs, and woven hay-based toys can be a lot of fun for rabbits.
If you’re unsure what toys to get your rabbit, I recommend the toys from Small Pet Select. You can get a nice variety of safe and healthy toys so that you can figure out which ones are your rabbit’s favorites (and you can get 15% off your first purchase if you use the code BUNNYLADY at checkout).
You can also make your own DIY toys with cardboard toilet paper tubes. These can often be just as much fun for rabbits as toys you’ll get in a pet store, but they are pretty much free to make.
You can also give your rabbit some fun puzzle toys. These help to give another level of mental enrichment for your rabbit and keeps them active. With these toys, you can hide a treat inside the toy for your rabbit to find.
Having a good variety of these toys will help to keep your rabbit interested in their environment. You can even try to rotate the toys in and out every week so that your rabbit always has something new to play with.
3. A healthy diet with a variety of foods
A balanced diet for your rabbit helps to keep them happy and healthy in the long run. While your rabbit may protest eating healthy at first, you can avoid painful digestive problems by sticking to the healthy meal plan.
This means keeping your rabbit on a hay-based diet. About 80% of your rabbit’s daily diet should be grass-based hay (such as timothy hay). You also want to give your rabbit some yummy leafy greens daily depending on their weight. A 5 pound rabbit should get up to 2.5 cups of greens per day. Rabbits should only be given a little bit of pellets per day, much less than most people think. Only give them about ¼ cup for every 5 pounds that your rabbit weighs.
Instead of indulging your rabbits on too many sugary foods they shouldn’t eat, you can make them happy by introducing some variety into their daily diet. Give them multiple types of hay so they can have different flavors every day (oat or orchard hay are good to add in with timothy). You can also give your rabbits a wide variety of leafy greens. In fact, giving them 3-4 types per day is ideal because they get a wider variety of nutrients too.
4. Respect your rabbit’s boundaries
While most new caretakers tend to expect rabbits to be cuddly pets, the reality is usually very different. In fact, most rabbits absolutely hate being held. Being held often makes rabbits feel trapped and scared. For our rabbits’ happiness, it’s important to respect how they feel and avoid holding them too much if they don’t like it.
This goes for our rabbits’ other boundaries too. If we want to go and play with them or pet them, but they aren’t interested right now and hop away, then we can wait until later. Even better, we can wait until our rabbits initiate the interaction. When a rabbit wants attention or wants to play, they’ll come up to you and let you know.
The happiest rabbits feel confident and in-control of their life. This means that they are not constantly being forced into situations that make them scared and uncomfortable. As caretakers, we need to keep an eye on our rabbits body language and listen to what they are telling us, so that we can respect their boundaries.
5. Spay or neuter your rabbit
Getting your rabbit spayed or neutered can help get rid of extra frustration that comes from raging hormones. As young rabbits grow to maturity, they will often become grumpy and aggressive. This is possible for both male and female rabbits all year round since they don’t have strict seasonal mating. However, after your rabbit has been altered, their hormones will calm down. Your rabbit will start to be calm and content with life again.
What’s even better is that getting a rabbit fixed often solves behavioral problems and prevents reproductive cancers in rabbits. Aggressive biting and territorial spraying will often disappear completely in the weeks after surgery. In addition female rabbits have an incredibly high chance of developing uterine cancer if they are left unspayed. It is very important for a rabbit’s happiness and health that they get fixed once they reach maturity.
6. Give your rabbit lots of attention
Domestic rabbits are descendants of a very social species of rabbits. In the wild they would have lived with a family group living together in underground tunnels. Because of this, rabbits actually have social needs that need to be met to be happy bunnies. If you don’t have a partner for your rabbit right now, then that means you need to give your rabbit lots of attention so they can get enough social interaction.
This means rabbits should not be treated as cage animals, but instead as companion animals that spend the day interacting with you and your family. They can hang out with you as you work or watch TV in the living room. Many caretakers even take steps to free roam their rabbit so the rabbit never has to be kept in an enclosure.
7. Give your rabbit yummy treats
There is nothing that rabbits love more than some yummy treats! While you want to avoid giving your rabbit too many treats since that would be bad for their digestion, you can still reward them with their favorites sometimes. This can immediately give rabbits a reason to zoom around the room ad binky up to you for a taste of something yummy.
The best kinds of treats to give rabbits are pieces of fresh or dried fruits and vegetables. Strawberries, carrots, bell pepper, and banana can be great hits with most rabbits, but every bunny has their own preferences. Small Pet Select sells dried fruit treats for rabbits that you can check out to see what your rabbit prefers. My bunny actually likes all of the flavors! (Don’t forget to take 15% off your purchase by using the code BUNNYLADY at checkout)
Try to introduce new foods every once in a while to see what your rabbit likes best. Then you can use it to reward your rabbit for coming to hang out with you, or for having good behavior and chewing on their toys instead of the baseboards.
8. Let them use their natural behaviors
Many caretakers get frustrated with the way their rabbit digs and chew into everything. People will even resort to squirting their rabbit or shouting at them if they dig or chew something they shouldn’t. This doesn’t work. Shouting or using other forms of negative reinforcement only punish a rabbit for using their natural instincts and behaving like a rabbit.
Instead what you want to try to do is distract your rabbit in productive ways. This way they can continue to be a happy bunny and perform their natural behaviors without destroying your carpet or furniture.
To do this you first need to make sure your rabbit has access to toys and areas where they can have fun without causing damage. Try putting cardboard down on the floor for your rabbit to dig into or using old fleece or cotton blankets for your rabbit to tunnel under. Then you will want to block of all the areas where your rabbit shouldn’t be digging or chewing. Block off areas with fencing and cover the carpets with plastic mats to prevent digging.
9. Give your rabbit massages
Most rabbits really love to be pet. Their favorite places are usually scritches on their forehead and behind their ears. You can even give your rabbit a massage by giving them strokes down their back or rubbing their cheeks and shoulders.
A rabbit being pet is the most common time you will find them purring. Once your rabbit is really settling down you might start to feel a vibration on their forehead. If you look closely, you’ll also see their whiskers twitching a little. It’s a clear sign that your rabbit is happy and enjoying the experience.
Young rabbits might not want to settle down for a nice massage, but as they get older rabbits will almost always be happy to sit next to you as you pet them. Some rabbits will even lick you to groom you. This is a way that rabbits let you know that they love and care about you too!
10. Create fun play areas
Rabbits can have a lot of fun playing in a bunny-sized obstacle course. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated. You can easily make a simple rabbit castle for them to play in with cardboard boxes. You could even use cat trees to give your rabbit platforms to hop up on.
Try to create a fun play area by giving your rabbit a variety of tunnels, platforms and caves where they can hide, dig, and chew to their heart’s content. The platforms also help your rabbit to have different vantage points of the room. Even if all you can do is get a tunnel from the store and a couple hidey-houses, this can end up creating a really fun place for a rabbit to hang out.
This little cat tree is a really fun habitat item for my rabbit. She loves hopping up on the platforms and using the hiding house at the bottom. This cat tree is also shorter than most others, so I don’t have to worry if my rabbit is a little clumsy and manages to fall off of it.
11. Use positive reinforcement training
Believe it or not, training a rabbit to do tricks can actually help them to be more confident and satisfied with life. When training your rabbit, you always want to use positive reinforcement. This is a training technique that rewards your pet for performing the correct behavior and never relies on punishment. Your goal is to help your rabbit develop confidence while they exercise their brain. And confident rabbits are happy rabbits!
You can train your rabbit to do lots of cool tricks, like give you a high five, jump over hurdles, or even give you kisses. It’s a really adorable way to bond with your rabbit and help them to be a confident and happy bunny.
12. Make sure your rabbit gets lots of exercise
Rabbits are built to run. Without time and space to exercise they are likely to get bored or depressed, so it’s important to encourage your rabbits to move around and enjoy themselves every day.
You can start by giving your rabbit as much time outside of their enclosure as possible. Rabbits are sprinters and not long distance runners, so they will usually exercise for short periods interspersed with longer periods of rest. To make sure your rabbit is getting enough exercise, it’s best to make sure they have plenty of time for it.
You can also encourage your rabbit to exercise in other ways. Giving them their daily pellets in a ball dispenser instead of a bowl can help them to move around while they are eating. You can also hide small treats in places around the room to encourage your rabbit to explore and search for more.
13. Give your rabbit the chance to be curious
Like people, rabbits can get bored if everything is the same all the time. Try making some small changes every once in a while to give your rabbit a chance to be a curious bunny and explore everything as if it’s new. Curious bunnies are more engaged in their environment. They’ll be more excited to explore and discover the happy new changes.
Some easy ways to encourage curiosity in rabbits include:
- Rearranging the furniture. Even just moving one piece of furniture can make a rabbit’s world drastically different. Every once in a while try moving something around and watch as your rabbit explores the change.
- Introducing new foods. New types of leafy greens or treats can be a great way to encourage curiosity in rabbits. They’ll sniff out the new scent before munching on it to try out the new flavor.
- Giving your rabbit a new toy to check out. A new toy can be a whole lot of fun for rabbits. They’ll sniff it out, chew on it, toss it around. A great way to renew interest in old toys too is to take them away for a couple weeks and then return them as if they were new.
14. Introduce your rabbit to a companion
By far the best way to make a rabbit happy is to introduce them to a companion rabbit. Other rabbits are able to socialize with your bunny like no human can. They can spend all their time together, groom each other, and make each other very happy.
The only problem is that it’s not usually easy to bond a pair of rabbits. Rabbits can be very territorial and slow to trust other rabbits. 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.