There is a misconception that rabbits are aloof creatures. They tend to be frightened of people until they get to know you. That makes rabbits seem like timid pets who don’t like interacting with humans. However, once you take the time to socialize with your rabbit, you’ll see that they really do enjoy spending time with people.
At a minimum, you should spend at least an hour with your rabbit every day. However, 3-5 hours (or even more) are ideal. You do not have to be giving your rabbit undivided attention during this time, but instead, make yourself available to interact with them if they want to.
Pet rabbits come from a highly social species. They do have a need for companionship. Without enough attention and socialization, they will be very lonely and can even fall into depression. Because of this, rabbits have social needs that have to be met for them to truly be happy.
How much time should you spend with your rabbit?
Plan to spend at least an hour of quality time with your rabbit as part of your daily routine. If you can spend more time with your rabbit, that’s even better. You don’t have to be directly playing with your rabbit for this entire time. Instead, the goal is to make yourself available to your rabbit so they can come and interact with you if they want to.
You can achieve this by treating your rabbit like a companion animal, rather than a cage pet. This means letting your rabbit out to roam around in the same area as you whenever you are home. If your rabbit wants attention, they’ll easily be able to come up to you and interact on their own terms. You won’t have to worry about the specific number of hours you spend with your rabbit because they’ll get plenty of socialization automatically. This is also better for shy rabbits who might be too afraid to socialize at first. They won’t feel overwhelmed by too much attention too fast if you let them make the first move and come to you.
To bond with your rabbit, you can sit on the floor to make it easier for your bunny to come up to you. You can also give your rabbit little treats and pet them to give them the socialization that they crave.
How long can rabbits be left alone?
It is okay to leave a rabbit alone for the 8-10 hours you’re away at work every day. Rabbits will usually sleep in the middle of the afternoon anyway, so they won’t get too lonely if you’re gone during the day for work or school. Rabbits can also get used to other schedules. Even if you have to work mornings or nights, they’ll be able to get used to it and learn to socialize with you during the day.
However, if you have a very active social or work life and are regularly away from home for more than 12 hours, your rabbit may start to feel lonely. This will depend on the personality of the rabbit, some will need more attention than others. Look for signs of boredom to know if your rabbit is craving more attention from you.
You should avoid leaving a rabbit alone for more than 24 hours. This is because rabbits can get sick suddenly and require immediate medical attention. Conditions such as GI Stasis are very common, so you should always have someone checking in on your rabbit daily even if you are only away for the weekend.
Tips for spending time with your rabbit
Spending time with your rabbit doesn’t have to be an all-consuming activity. Rabbits are not like dogs. They’re generally happy to be around people. They’ll occasionally interact if they want attention, but they also like just hanging out next to you while you watch TV.
If you’re a new rabbit owner and you’re at a loss for how to spend time with your rabbit or they seem too afraid of you, try following these tips:
- Morning and evening are best. Rabbits are most active around dawn and dusk, so these are the best times of day to spend socializing with your rabbit.
- Let your rabbit come to you. To avoid overwhelming your rabbit, let them make the first move and come to you for attention. This is especially important if you just brought your rabbit home and they’re getting used to their new surroundings.
- Sit on the floor (get on your rabbit’s level). Rabbits are less intimidated by people if we sit or lay on the floor. It makes us seem less like scary giants and seem more approachable.
- Keep it quiet and calm. Rabbits can be quite skittish. If your rabbit seems afraid of you, try staying quiet for a while and read or use headphones so there are no loud noises to scare the rabbit away.
- Reward your rabbit with treats. Most rabbits have a big sweet tooth. Try cutting sweet fruits and vegetables (like carrots, strawberries, etc.) into small pieces and giving them to your rabbit as a treat whenever they come near you. This will give your rabbit positive reinforcement and they’ll start to recognize you as a friend.
- Pet your rabbit. Most rabbits love being pet, but they need to be petted differently than dogs. When petting your rabbit, keep your hand above their head to give them scritches or strokes on the forehead and behind the ears. Learn more about how to pet a rabbit in a way that helps them relax.
- Play simple games with your rabbit. You can play some fun games with your rabbit, like reverse fetch with a toy, tug-o-war, and hidden treat games. Learn more about how to play these simple games with a pet rabbit.
- Train your rabbit. Rabbits can also be trained to do some fun tricks, like high fives, spinning in a circle, and giving you kisses. Check out how to teach your rabbit some of these cute tricks.
How to know when a rabbit needs more attention
If you learn how to watch your rabbit’s body language, you’ll begin to notice when they are asking for more attention. The more you get to know your rabbit, the more you’ll be in tune with their needs, and you’ll be able to recognize when they want to spend time with you. Keep an eye out for these common attention-seeking behaviors:
- Begging. Your rabbit might get up on their hind legs and scratch at your leg to get your attention.
- Constant nudging or nipping. If your rabbit nudges your hand (or foot, or leg) or nips you a lot, they may be asking you to pay more attention to them.
- Persistent destructive behaviors. All rabbits will dig and chew sometimes. However, if they are constantly going back to the same place where they are forbidden to chew, they may be doing this to get your attention since they know you’ll come running as soon as they start chewing.
- Rattling cage bars. Rabbits will chew and rattle cage bars very loudly if they want your attention. This is especially true if the cage or hutch is a little small for the rabbit, but even rabbits in very large enclosures will use this technique to get the attention of people in the area.
- Thumping. Rabbits will sometimes thump to show that they are upset. While this can have many different meanings, thumping is often used as a way to tell people that they feel frustrated being alone right now.
How NOT to play with a rabbit
There are a couple of things you want to keep in mind when interacting with your rabbit. Rabbits are prey animals, which means they have a tendency to get frightened more easily than other common household pets, like cats and dogs. For this reason, you want to avoid spending time with your rabbit in a way that makes them feel scared and corner.
Keep these tips in mind when playing with your rabbit, to ensure it is a positive experience for them:
- Don’t hold your rabbit. Most rabbits do not like being held. It makes them feel trapped and scared. I’m not telling you to never hold your rabbit, but don’t make that the main way you socialize with your rabbit. Instead, try cuddling and playing with your rabbit when they have all four feet on the ground.
- Avoid cornering your rabbit. Try to play with your rabbit in an open space so that they always have the ability to go around you or run away if they feel afraid. If they feel cornered, your rabbit may start to see you as a predator and may try to lash out and attack you.
- Respect your rabbit’s boundaries. Sometimes the rabbit just doesn’t want to play right now. If your rabbit hops away from you, leave them be until they are ready. This way you’ll avoid overwhelming the rabbit with too much unwanted attention.
What to do if you don’t have enough time
If you don’t have enough time to spend with a rabbit, then it’s time to consider getting your rabbit a new bunny friend. However, this isn’t a decision you should make lightly because two strange rabbits who are suddenly put into a space together will often start fighting. You need to go through the process of bonding your rabbit to another before you can let them live together, and this is a stressful process (but much better for your rabbit in the end). If this is something you want to try, check out my article on bonding rabbits to get an idea of how the process works.
If you cannot find a friend for your rabbit or don’t have time to bond them right now, the best thing to do, as I mentioned earlier, is to treat your rabbit like a companion pet. Whenever you are home, let your rabbit out of their enclosure so they can hang out with you. You can even take steps to free-roam your rabbit so that they don’t have to be kept in a pen at all, giving them more freedom and more chance to explore and play when you are not home.
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Recommended Products and Brands
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- Hay: Second Cutting Timothy Hay from Small Pet Select
- Pellets: Oxbow Garden Select Food for Rabbits
- Treats: Oxbow Simple Rewards
- Toys: Small Pet Select Natural Toys
- Enclosure/cage: A rabbit exercise pen
- Rabbit carrier: SleepyPod Mobile Pet Bed