Rabbits can be easily scared and stress out by their surroundings. They are more likely to go on the alert and become stressed when they are faced with an unpredictable environment. Not only can this stress make our rabbits unhappy, but stress in rabbits can end up causing some illnesses. Rabbits who are frequently stressed out are more likely to suffer from GI Stasis and depression. They are even more likely to contract snuffles, the rabbit cold.
It’s not always easy to know what will stress out a rabbit. Their world is very different from ours, but we want to make sure we do whatever we can for our beloved companions. Let’s look at ways we can help reduce the stress in our rabbit’s lives, so we can have happy and healthy bunnies in our homes.
1. Keep quiet around your rabbit
Rabbits are easily startled by loud noises. They can become stressed out if there is a constant amount of noise around the house or apartment. Whether it be from kids shouting, a loud TV show, or music playing, rabbit’s are much more likely to feel unsafe in their home environment if they are surrounded by foreign noises.
To help your rabbit feel comfortable, it’s important to limit the amount of noise in the rooms where your rabbit stays. This doesn’t mean you need to have a completely silent household, but you do need to pay attention to the way your rabbit reacts to the sounds around them. If your rabbit’s behavior tells you they are alert and on edge because of the loud music you are listening to, then turn the music down or use headphones.
There are always going to be sounds coming in from outside. Whether is be passing cars or dogs barking, and it’s not always possible to keep an entire household quiet. But you can still take steps to create as quiet and calm an environment as possible. You can keep your rabbit in a part of your home that has less noise or foot traffic, and you can make sure your rabbit has places to hide if they get scared of a dog barking outside.
2. Avoid holding your rabbit
Most rabbits get stressed out if they are held too frequently. Many people want pet rabbits because they think of them as calm pets, but rabbits are rarely the cuddly pet people expect. When being picked up they will kick and scratch to get away. This is because rabbits like to know that they will be able to run away quickly if any danger comes along. Being held in someone’s arms can make a rabbit feel trapped.
With all of their feet off the ground rabbits won’t be able to escape to a safe place when they get scared, so being held frequently leads to elevated stress levels in rabbits. They no longer have any control over their own movement. They may even start to be afraid of your hands and run away whenever you want to interact with them, believing you will try to pick them up.
The best thing to do is avoid picking your rabbit up if you don’t have to. There will definitely be occasions when you need to handle your rabbit for their own health and safety, but you want to keep these to a minimum. Instead you can teach your rabbit to trust you and be comfortable in their environment by interacting with them and petting them without picking them up.
3. Give your rabbit a larger enclosure
Rabbits are made to move. They are not the kind of animal that can be satisfied by sitting still all day in a cage. Instead, rabbits need space to stretch out and exercise. Ideally rabbits will have many hours a day to exercise in large areas of your home, but even when you are not able to supervise your rabbit, they need an ample amount of space.
Unfortunately, most rabbit cages that are sold and marketed for rabbits are actually much too small. They hardly give the rabbit enough space to stretch out and lay down, much less actually move around. This can be very stressful for a rabbit, especially those that are stuck in their enclosure for most of the day.
For that reason, instead of getting a cage for your rabbit, I recommend getting an exercise pen and setting that up as their regular enclosure. These offer a rabbit much more space and freedom. They can help a rabbit move around and get some exercise even when you are away at work. Alternatively, you could also free roam your rabbit. This is when you fully rabbit-proof your house and train your rabbit so that your bunny doesn’t need to be kept in an enclosure at all.
4. Make sure your rabbit has places to hide
Rabbits feel most comfortable if they have someplace they can escape to when they get scared. It’s a safety net that can actually help rabbits feel more confident and in control of the environment around them.
You may expect it to act like a crutch, causing your rabbit to hide away all the time, but the reality is actually the opposite. By giving your rabbit places to hide, you are giving them a chance to choose when to be brave and come out. Having choice and control over their environment helps your rabbit develop self confidence. They’ll be less stressed out as a result.
You can offer your rabbit any kind of place to hide. It can be a small wooden house that your rabbit fits in, but their hiding house doesn’t have to be fancy. You can use a regular old cardboard box turned on its side as a little house for your rabbit, or even cover an area of their enclosure with a blanket.
5. Establish a regular routine for your rabbit
Rabbits thrive with the predictability of a routine. Because rabbits are prey animals, anything unexpected can easily put them on the alert. To help them feel safe and comfortable in their environment, you’ll want to adopt a daily routine or schedule. A rabbit that feels safe in their surroundings will also be braver and less stressed in their daily life.
The easiest way to set up a daily routine is by having a consistent feeding schedule. Replenish your rabbit’s hay and give them their daily pellets and leafy greens at the same time every day. You can also make sure to set up their exercise time on a consistent daily schedule. The more ways you can make their daily lives predictable the better.
6. Give your rabbit time to trust you
When you first bring a rabbit home, it can take them some time to trust you. They are all of a sudden in a completely foreign environment with people they don’t know. You may want to spend time and interact with your rabbit right away, but it can, understandably, take a rabbit a lot of time to get used to you. Forcing your rabbit to interact with you too soon can stress them out and make them feel afraid of you.
So give your rabbit time. Sit where they can see you and approach you if they want to, but don’t force them to interact with you. Rabbits are curious and social creatures. If they get used to your presence, they will eventually come over to investigate you, but they’ll do it when they are ready for it and not sooner.
Even the most scared and shy rabbits can come out of their shell if you give them time and space. You can certainly help speed up the process by giving your rabbit a safe environment and rewarding their curiosity with treats, but mostly what your rabbit needs is time.
7. Keep the temperature cool
Rabbits have a thick fur coat and are susceptible to heat stroke at high temperatures. Even if they don’t get completely overheated, hot weather can still cause some stress in rabbits. Their small, fluffy bodies need to work overtime to try to release excess heat. For this reason, it’s important to keep rabbits in a cool environment all year round.
For those of you fortunate enough to have an AC or a central cooling system, this is as easy as setting the temperature to 75ºF or less. If you don’t, you need to get a little more creative to help keep your rabbit cool. Try some of these to see what will work for your rabbit:
- Move your rabbit to the basement
- Give your rabbit an ice pack or ice water bottles to lay against
- Give your rabbit chilled ceramic tiles to lay against
- Mist the back of your rabbit’s ears with water
- Circulate the air in the room with fans
- Make sure your rabbit has plenty of cool, fresh water
- Brush your rabbit to get rid of excess fur
- Make sure your rabbit has adequate shade
8. Give your rabbit toys to play with
It can be stressful to be stuck sitting around with nothing to do all day. Rabbits that don’t have toys to play with and engage them mentally often end up with more destructive behavior or they become depressed. Digging, chewing, and foraging for food and treats are natural behaviors for rabbits. They need safe ways to use these behaviors to be happy bunnies.
What you can do is provide your rabbit with a variety of toys and enrichment activities to keep them occupied. You can give your rabbit natural hay-based toys to play with and chew on, or provide them with fun hanging toys to tug on. You can give your rabbit cardboard or paper to dig into or hide treats in toys for your rabbit to find. If you’re up for it, you can even try to make some fun DIY toys or a digging box for your rabbit’s entertainment.
9. Make sure your rabbit has a healthy diet
A healthy diet is actually very important to keeping your rabbit life stress-free. Eating right makes your rabbit less likely to get sick. It can prevent something as simple as painful gas for your rabbit or something as serious as GI Stasis and overgrown teeth.
In the short term, a healthy diet may not seem to make a difference in the stress levels of a rabbit. But over the long term it will help your rabbit maintain their health, which is a much more stress-free way to live.
What is a healthy rabbit diet? Grass-based hay, such as timothy hay, should be making up the majority of your rabbit’s diet. You also want to provide your rabbit with 1-3 cups of leafy greens every day depending on their size. Pellets are also part of a balanced diet, but they should only be given in moderation; give your rabbit about ¼ cup of pellets for every 5 pounds that they weigh. Treats should be kept to a minimum.
10. Keep your rabbit indoors
Rabbits that are kept outdoors are in for a very stressful life. They have to live with extreme changes in weather that can be dangerous for rabbits both in the freezing winter and the hot summer. Though it has been traditional to keep rabbits in a hutch outside, more research about rabbit care and behavior has lead us to realize this is a very stressful situation for rabbits.
Rabbits that are kept outdoors are also inundated with a constant barrage of scary sights and smells. Even if they are never attacked, rabbits who live outdoors often see or hear predators. It could be neighborhood dogs, hawks flying overhead, or even wild raccoons or foxes. This inevitably leads to scared and stressed-out rabbits.
Instead, it is best to bring your pet rabbit inside and make them a part of the family. An indoor environment is more insulated against extreme weather and limits the amount of exposure rabbits have to scary predators. You can set up a large enclosure for your rabbit inside if you cannot fully rabbit-proof your home. Not only will you be providing a much less stressful living situation for your rabbit, but you’ll learn the joys of having a companion rabbit as a pet.
11. Give your rabbit more time to exercise
Rabbits’ bodies are built to run. Without time and space to exercise they are likely to get bored or depressed. A lack of exercise can lead to obesity and and cause a rabbit to become stressed and irritable.
Having a large enough cage for a rabbit is a good start, but rabbits also need time to exercise in an even bigger space. Usually a room in the home is plenty of space for a rabbit to get out and exercise, but it’s also important to give your rabbit a lot of time out of their enclosure.
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. If you only let them out to exercise for an hour, they may be resting for half of it, so try to give your rabbit as many hours a day as possible to zoom around the room.
12. Don’t crowd your rabbit
Unless you are living with a particularly confident rabbit, they are likely to become alarmed if they are surrounded by too many people. Likewise, rabbits will get scared if they feel they are being cornered and have no way to escape. To keep your rabbit from becoming too stressed, it’s best to avoid cornering your rabbit and keep people from crowding around them.
If you have friends or family over who want to see the rabbit, you can have everybody take turns so there aren’t more than 2 or 3 people at a time with the rabbit. If your rabbit seems pretty confident with a small group of people, you can add more members to the group. Always pay attention to your rabbit’s body language so you can avoid stressing them out.
Even if you don’t mean to, you can scare your rabbit if you go up to them in a way that makes them feel they cannot escape. To avoid cornering your rabbit, pay attention to the way you approach them. Make sure that your rabbit always has a way around you so that they can escape if they get scared.
13.Offer your rabbit yummy treats
Most rabbits have a serious sweet tooth. They will love you for any yummy treats that you give them. While you certainly don’t want to give your rabbit too many treats, since that can be bad for their digestion, offering treats as a reward for positive behaviors is a way to gain the trust of any rabbit. A rabbit that trusts the people they live with is much more likely to be confident and stress-free.
You’ll want to give your rabbit treats that are not going to be bad for your rabbit’s health. Treats such as fresh or dried fruits and vegetables can be a big hit with most rabbits. You can try different types of these sweet fruits and vegetables to see what your rabbit’s favorites are. Try banana, strawberry, carrot, bell peppers, raspberries, or many other foods. Just make sure to cut the treats up into small pieces and give them no more than 1-2 tablespoons per day.
14. Give your rabbit lots of attention
In the wild, rabbits live in groups with a very complex social system and hierarchy. Interacting with other rabbits is a necessary part of their daily lives and it has been built into their biology. Today, our pet rabbits still have the same needs as their social ancestors. If your rabbit is not part of a bonded pair or group, this means you’ll need to give them lots of attention.
When you first bring your rabbit home, this just means making yourself available for your rabbit to come up to when they get curious. After you and your rabbit have a closer bond, you’ll want to spend some quality time with them. Try hanging out with them on the floor or the couch while you pet them, or you can even try to train your rabbit to do some fun tricks. Just make sure you are doing what you can to hang out with your rabbit and give them the attention that they need.
15. Spay or neuter your rabbit
While it may not seem obvious, getting your rabbit spayed or neutered can be a key way to reduce the stress in your rabbit’s life. Left unaltered, rabbits will have periods of sexual frustration that can be very stressful to a rabbit. They are also more likely to be aggressive and territorial, making them less able to settle down and bond with you or another rabbit.
To help your rabbit stay calm and content and to prevent some serious reproductive health complications, it’s important to get your rabbit spayed or neutered. Ideally you will set up an appointment for your rabbit as soon as they reach maturity (which is around 4-6 months old). However, even if a rabbit is a little older, they can be neutered safely with a qualified veterinarian.