How to Keep Pet Rabbits Busy But Not Break the Bank
There are lots of ways of preventing boredom in pet rabbits, with minimal financial expenditure
As a pet rabbit owner, it’s a good idea to look for new ways to keep your pets’ brains active. Using items and methods that encourage natural bunny behaviour is one way of doing this whilst keeping the budget low. Be inventive with household items and waste, and frequent car boot sales and charity shops for treasure! This series of articles provides many useful tips for you to begin with.
I commonly speak to pet owners who have swapped their pets onto a cheaper food or budget style hay to cut core costs, or even skip vaccinations, but we also know just how dangerous this can be, especially in our small pet herbivores. Cutting costs of toys and enrichment may mean that pet owners can spend that little bit more on higher quality hay, or put a few pounds away to help when vaccinations are due. I agree that many commercial toys and enrichment items look very nice and colourful in the cage, but bunny’s vision doesn’t care what colour something is, and they can have just as much fun with a carefully fashioned toilet roll tube kebab!
Bedding can be an area you can cost cut. Sawdust or shavings are not actually very absorbent and the dust can make many rabbits ill with respiratory or eye disease from irritation, so many rabbit experts advise against using it as bedding or litter tray lining. Why not see if your workplace or a local office has a shredder and if they could save the waste for you? Newspaper makes a good lining for hutches and litter trays, and therefore a bag of straw that you place in litter trays will last longer.
Some of the most natural behaviours exhibited by pet rabbits are often those most undesirable to owners; for example, chewing. As a vet nurse and keen rabbit behavioural advisor, I am far too often asked, “How can I stop Flopsy from chewing his hutch?” The straightforward answer being, “You can’t, Flopsy is doing this because he is a rabbit, and he may simply be bored!” These behaviours can break down the pet-owner bond and often even result in rabbits being surrendered to already full rescue centres, due to destroying “yet another expensive hutch”. However, undesirable behaviours can be averted by offering plenty of other things to do to keep your rabbits’ clever little minds active, and this in turn will benefit their mental and also physical wellbeing, and make your social time spent with them much more enjoyable.
Rabbits living in hutches can become bored
Aggressive or bored?
Many aggressive or grumpy rabbits are misunderstood, and are frequently more accurately hormonal or bored. Obesity will result from too many calories and too little exercise, just as in all species, and this can make them sluggish, lazy and also painful, if arthritis sets in from reduced mobility. A single rabbit kept in a small hutch with no free range exercise or toys, alongside a poor diet, is a disaster case waiting to happen.
In the wild, rabbits live in colonies of double figures, and are therefore not built for solo living. Once neutered, and with correct bonding, many people are surprised just how large a group you can keep, and it is so rewarding to watch their individual characters grow and interact with each other. I currently have a group of eleven, and have carried out bonding for many owners, including many pairs, trios and even a group of seven. Contact your local veterinary practice or rescue centre for bonding advice. For pet and owner safety, do not try at home without expert advice.
It is rewarding to watch the individual characters in a group grow and interact with each other
To neuter or not to neuter?
Neutering is recommended for all pet rabbits, and not just as a contraceptive measure. Rabbit hormones are racing all the time in both sexes. If not neutered, they can become frustrated, temperamental and exhibit neurological (brain) behaviours such as spraying, grunting, circling, over-grooming or constant humping of cage furniture, companions and owners!
Please remember that male rabbits are still fertile for up to 6 weeks after neutering surgery, and also that guinea pigs do not make acceptable companions for health and behavioural reasons.
Keeping bunny busy
Rabbits’ brain size relative to their body mass is very large, which makes them very intelligent and they can do a lot more than just sit in a hutch and chew the edges.
It is therefore important for your pet’s welfare to encourage lots of environmental and behavioural stimulation as bunnies can get bored easily, especially if they do not have a companion, or two, or ten! Rabbits can be trained like dogs; they are very intelligent. Even clicker training is possible with rabbits!
In Parts 2
in this series, we look at top tips for how to have fun with food for rabbits and how to enrich your rabbit’s enclosure with toys.