Some people mistakenly think rabbits are boring pets. After the cute and cuddly nature of baby rabbits wears off, some people are bored because they can’t be played with in the same way that dogs can. Rabbits do have a playful side though. However, many of the toys that rabbits play with are not easy to make interactive. You can give your rabbits lots of fun chewing toys and digging toys, even making some DIY toys for your rabbit, but there are times when you want to play with your rabbit too.
Rabbits enjoy playing games with people that appeal to their mischievous side and give them a chance to get treats. Games such as reverse fetch and tug-o-war, among others, give you ways to interact with your rabbit while also giving your rabbit a chance to have a lot of fun.
Playing games and interacting with your rabbit is a great way to deepen the bond that the two of you share. You’ll gain more insight into your rabbit’s personality and they will slowly start to trust you more and more. Play is also a great way to encourage exercise and maintain their health.
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How to play with a rabbit
Before we get into what games and activities you can play with your rabbit, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how rabbits interact with people. Since rabbits are prey animals, they have very different mannerisms than cats or dogs, whose play activities often stem from their hunting instincts.
Rabbits are social creatures who do enjoy playing with their human companions, but you need to be creative and flexible in the ways you interact. Always make sure you respect your rabbit and their personal boundaries.
It’s also important to remember that not all rabbits will like every way of playing. Try out some different games and different ways of interacting with your rabbit to see which ones they like best.
Think about the rabbit’s perspective
Rabbits have the instincts to chew, dig, and forage. Knowing these behaviors, we can play games that allow your rabbit to use these natural instincts in fun and creative ways.
Domestic rabbits also come from a species that are burrowers, digging networks of tunnels. We can create fun games for rabbits by finding ways to let them explore in areas underneath and inside boxes and furniture.
You also have to remember that rabbits might see us and big, threatening predators unless we give them a reason to think otherwise. To gain their trust and make them want to play with you more, try to avoid making your rabbit feel scared or trapped.
Don’t corner your rabbit, and try not to scare them with loud noises. Most rabbits also hate to be picked up, since this makes them feel trapped in your arms. It’s best to only hold your rabbit occasionally and make sure to leave it out of playtime entirely.
Learn about rabbit body language
You want to make sure your rabbit is actually having fun during playtime, and is not completely terrified of the games you’re playing. Look for signs of a happy, excited, or curious bunny to make sure the game you chose is appropriate for your rabbit’s personality. Signs to look out for include:
- Zooming and binkying. Running circles around the room or jumping and twisting in the air (called a binky) are signs of a very happy rabbit.
- Curious body language. A rabbit who is inching forward to sniff around is showing their curiosity. Their ears will be forward with their tail down, but the rabbit is not shaking or running away from fear.
- Confident body posture. This is a rabbit with upright, but relaxed hears, and relaxed body posture.
If you notice signs of fear or aggression, you should pause what you’re doing and find another game that is better for your rabbit. These signs include:
- Alert, rigid body posture. The ears will be rigid and upright, usually facing forward, with a body posture that looks like they are ready to run away at a moment’s notice.
- Thumping. Rabbits thump when they are scared or upset.
- Running away to hide. This is different from a happy zoom around the room, because the rabbit will hide away or have a scared, alert body posture.
Stay on your rabbit’s level
Rabbits will feel more comfortable with people when we are not towering over them. It’s best to sit down on the floor to interact with your rabbit. As your rabbit becomes more comfortable with you, they’ll be more willing to play when you are standing. Even then, it’s always easier when you’re down on your rabbit’s level.
If you have trouble sitting on the floor, you can also set up a step stool or short cat tower to encourage your rabbit to hop up onto a couch so you can play on a surface that is more comfortable for you. I like to use this cat tower, because it’s short enough that I don’t have to worry about my rabbit’s accidentally falling off (they’re not as graceful as cats!)
Don’t force your rabbit
If your rabbit doesn’t want to play, or decides they are done after only a few minutes, it is very important that you respect your rabbit and let them leave to do their own thing. Forcing a rabbit to interact with you can make them scared or resentful toward you. It will not result in the fun playtime that you’re going for.
Try again a little later, or find a different activity that would be more interesting for your rabbit. You may also have to spend some time gently bonding with your rabbit and gaining their trust before they are willing to play with you.
Pay attention to time of day
Rabbits are most active and ready for play in the morning or evening hours. This is because they are crepuscular animals, who naturally sleep in the middle of the day and the middle of the night but are active around dawn and dusk. If your rabbit doesn’t seem to want to play in the afternoon, try again a little later, when they’ll likely be more awake and active.
Play with your rabbit frequently
The more you interact and play with your rabbit, the more they’ll trust you and be willing to play more. You’ll get the best results if you can make playtime part of your rabbits daily routine. If your rabbit knows it’s time to play at 5pm every day, they’ll begin to automatically get excited and playful during this time. Even if you can’t schedule a formal playtime every single day, the more frequently you do it, the more your rabbit will respond and enjoy spending time with you.
Use small pieces of treats
In many of the games and activities you can play with rabbits, you can give them treats to reward their curiosity. However, you want to avoid giving your rabbit too many treats because that can lead to an imbalanced digestive system. Cut your treats into small, bite-sized pieces so that you can play lots of games without worry of your rabbit filling up on sweet treats.
1. Reverse fetch
Rabbits like to pick up and toss around objects with their teeth. If you give them a ball with teeth holds (such as a willow ball), they’ll have fun picking it up and tossing it away. Other objects, including plastic bottle caps, toilet paper tubes, small wooden blocks, stacking cups, and many other similar toys are a lot of fun for rabbits.
You can turn this habit into a game by fetching the toy back for your rabbit. You’re the dog in this game of reverse fetch. Give your rabbit one of these toys, they’ll toss it away, then immediately put the toy back in front of your rabbit. It’s entertaining to watch as your rabbit continues to toss the toy away, and most rabbits have a lot of fun engaging in this interactive behavior.
2. Tug of war
If you have a rabbit who really likes to chew on cardboard, you can play a simple tug of war with them. My old rabbit, Tenshi, liked to do this. She would become obsessed with chewing and digging on a specific piece of cardboard, so if I pretended to take it away from her, she’d grab on and pull. We would have a playful tug of war while she tried to get the cardboard back from me.
Make sure you’re careful when playing tug of war with your rabbit. You don’t want to pull so hard that your rabbit’s teeth get damaged. Instead, it’s best to just hold onto the piece of cardboard and pull on it very gently. If your rabbit gets the cardboard away from you because your grip isn’t tight, you can just pick it up again.
3. Share a treat
Rabbits love sweet fruit and vegetables as treats so much that they’ll try to steal it right out of your hand. Next time you’re munching on an apple, hold it down in a way your rabbit can take a bite out of it. Hold on tight though, because your rabbit will try to steal it right out of your hand.
You can take a couple bites, then let your rabbit take a bite, as your race to finish the apple before your rabbit steals it. Of course, you want to make sure you pay attention and don’t let your rabbit eat too much of the fruit. You can keep it out of their reach sometimes to prevent overindulgence.
4. Pet your rabbit
Interacting and playing with your rabbit can be something as simple as petting them when they come up to you. This is way to interact with the more relaxed and elderly rabbits out there. So they don’t have to be too active when all they want to do is chill next to you.
If you want to turn this into a simple game, you can teach your rabbit how to ask to be petted. When your rabbit comes up to you, wait for them to nudge your hand, then pet them for a bit. After a while, stop and put your hand down to wait for your rabbit to nudge it again.
If your rabbit likes to groom you, try to take it a step further. Pet your rabbit, then put your hand down in a place where your rabbit can reach it. Wait for your rabbit to lick you, and then pet them again. Continue to trade off like this until your rabbit decides to stop (which can take a while).
5. Train your rabbit
Training your rabbit is a great way to bond with them and promote play. It’s also a form of mental enrichment that keeps your curious rabbit from getting bored. You can train your rabbit to do simple tricks, such as spinning in a circle or getting up on your lap. You can even train your rabbit to do complicated agility courses, so they can jump over hurdles and run through tunnels on command.
6. Tunnels and bridges
You can spend a lot of time playing with your rabbit by becoming an obstacle course for them to hop over and under. Lay on the floor and let your rabbit hop up on top of you and have fun exploring the area around you.
You can also get up on hands and knees to create a tunnel underneath you. Your rabbit will have a lot of fun checking out the new space you made. Make it even more interesting by draping a blanket over your back. Now, instead of a tunnel it becomes more like a cave. Your rabbit will have a lot of fun exploring the area underneath you.
7. Blanket escape
Rabbits love to play with blankets, but sometimes it takes a little nudge for them to remember how much they enjoy playing underneath them. Take a lightweight blanket or large towel and throw it over your rabbit. The rabbit will have to make their way out by moving the blanket around them.
Most of the time, as soon as the rabbit finds their way out, they’ll immediately turn around and try to figure out how to get back under the blanket. Lift up the edge of the blanket, let your rabbit back in and then drop it and play the game again. Some rabbits will get scared if they are suddenly faced with a blanket on top of them, so be sure to pay attention to your rabbit’s body language and personality to make sure they are having fun.
8. Hidden treats
Rabbits have a very good sense of smell, so it can be fun to play with them by hiding treats. Place a treat in one of your fists and hold them out for your rabbit to sniff. If they tap on your fist with their nose, open your hand and if they guessed right, then give them the treat.
You may want to avoid this game if your rabbit has a tendency to bite a hand that has a treat in it. Alternatively, you could use cups covering the treat instead. Hide a treat in one cup while leaving the others empty and wait for your rabbit to flip them over and figure out where the treat is hiding.
9. Rabbit maze
Making a rabbit maze is a little more involved than most of the other games. You can either create an actual maze using cardboard boxes or you can arrange furniture in an obstacle course for your rabbit to make their way through. Then place some small treats along the correct path through the obstacle course or maze to help your rabbit get through to the finish line.
Some rabbits are very active and playful and love the chance to play a little bit of rabbit tag. Sometimes a rabbit will come up and nudge you and then run away again. Maybe they’ll look back expectantly, waiting for you to follow. Your job will be to follow your rabbit and go and tag them (which usually looks like petting your rabbit). Don’t seriously chase your rabbit, since that might scare them, put playfully follow after to play their little game of tag.
It’s best to let your rabbit choose if they want to play this game, since they may get frightened if you suddenly start chasing them and think of you as a predator. If your rabbit comes up and nudges you, but then runs away with a happy twitch of their ears or tail, then they’re trying to play with you and saying “you can’t catch me!”
How to keep your rabbit entertained all day long
There will be times of the day when your rabbit wants to play, but you are either not home or unavailable. You want to make sure you give your rabbit activities and toys to keep them entertained and happy even when you’re not around. Some ideas to get you started include:
- Give your rabbit a variety of different toys. Use this list to help you find toys that your rabbit will play with.
- Finding another rabbit friend for your bunny. If you frequently don’t have the time to play with your rabbit, then you’ll want to consider getting a second rabbit to keep them company.
- Making DIY toys. There are lots of DIY toys you can make using simple materials, like cardboard. Check out some of my favorite DIY toys here and here.
- Give your rabbit a digging box or foraging activities. Hide treats in a digging box or inside of a hay pile so your rabbit can have fun foraging for those yummy treats.
- Make sure your rabbit has a lot of space. Rabbits need a lot of space to hop around, even when you can’t supervise them. Learn more about how to make sure your rabbit has enough space in their enclosure.
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