Enrich the lives of rabbits – the 5 essentials

Rabbits are one of the most popular pets in the UK, but the sad truth is that many of these pet companions are often housed all alone in bleak environments with no mental stimulation. The poor animals consequently suffer from boredom, stress, and frustration, and go on to develop a myriad of problems.

Posted: 19 August 2020

Enrich the lives of rabbits – the 5 essentials

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As vets we need to be doing more to educate and inform our clients to show them how the behaviour of the pet rabbits hasn’t changed as a result of the domestication process, and that their behavioural needs are still typical of those of a wild rabbit and need to be satisfied. As practitioners we are ideally positioned to promote and improve animal welfare, and by discussing environmental improvements we can help enriched the lives of all our patients.

Just a few simple changes to their environment can help enhance the physiological and behavioural problems they may have developed. By using enrichment strategies such as modification of the physical surroundings, together with changes in the way that their food is presented to them, you can soon improve the welfare of both single and housed groups of rabbits.

How do you know if a rabbit is environmentally deprived?

Environmental deprivation can have all sorts of consequences for social animals, and include some or all of the following;

  • Over grooming and self-mutilation – constant licking and rubbing, which may result in hair loss, self-trauma, non-healing wounds and trichobezoars.
  • Destructive chewing – this can be a sign of stress and boredom.
  • Unwanted stereotypic behaviour – these are often presented as repetitive pacing, head bobbing, weaving, rocking and swaying signs.

5 ways to enrich a rabbit’s life

Wild rabbits spend much of their time underground in extensive three-dimensional burrows, only moving above the ground to feed. Without going to the extremes of digging a pet rabbit a warren, there are plenty of other ways to enhance and improve their surroundings to enable some digging, feeding and hiding behaviours, all of which will promote their health and welfare.

1. Allow them to dig – offer a suitable substrate on the floor of their housing to allow them to dig. The instinct to dig a burrow is so strong in rabbits that if they are deprived, they will undoubtedly become stressed.

2. Give them a view - in the wild a rabbit will always seek out high places to view their surroundings. By building some raised platforms in their housing, you’ll encourage the natural behaviour of vigilance and alertness.

3. Offer some hiding places – being a prey species, rabbits have a strong desire to hide from predators. This can be encouraged by providing tunnels and barriers that can mimic a burrow system, whilst at the same time allowing two or more rabbits sharing the same space to distance themselves from each other. Cardboard tubes and boxes (such as those from carpet shops and supermarkets) provide ideal hiding and tunnelling toys. They are safe and inexpensive and will provide hours of fun. You can fill the boxes with clean bedding hay or soil to allow them to burrow and dig. Boxes can also be stacked with opening between them.

4. Provide perfect nutrition - the chewing action essential to all fibrevores is necessary to promote and maintain dental health. Most rabbits prefer hay and hay related items, more than grass-cubes and gnawing sticks. There is plenty of behavioural evidence to show that rabbits are highly motivated to get access to hay by spending long periods of time and energy pulling single pieces of hay from containers of all shapes and sizes. This process of foraging provides important mental stimulation and satisfaction. Get your clients to become creative in how they offer hay, using household items such as cardboard tubes and paper bags stuffed with hay, or maybe a washing line with hay pegged in random places along its length.

5. Encourage foraging - dry food pellets can be placed in different areas of the tunnel or hide to make the animal look around for rewards – this tends to be mentally stimulating and encourages physical activity.

At Burgess Pet Care we pride ourselves in the high-quality rabbit food we produce. We can support you and your clients with our extensive range of Rabbit feeding hay and treats >.

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