How to Entertain and Play With a Pet Rabbit
Want to Play?
Rabbits as Pets
Rabbits make wonderful pets. Raised with love, they are calm, playful, inquisitive, loyal, brave, funny, and personable. Some rabbits, like mine, are so perfectly litter boxed trained that they can have run of the house. Others do better in an X-pen setup with supervised playtime.
What exactly is playtime to a rabbit? Most house rabbits like it when you get down on the floor to play with them, or when you provide a variety of "toys" for them to discover, devour, destroy, or simply to nudge.
You don't have to spend a fortune on special rabbit toys. Here are some ideas to help you keep your rabbit's home life fun and entertaining.
Thumper Bounds in With Dried Grasses
Thumper Plays With a Ball
How to Play With a Rabbit
Rabbits are floor dwellers. They don't like being up too high, though they will sometimes seek out a chair for a nap. They may tolerate being held, but they truly prefer it when you play with them on their level. That means playing on the floor. Some of their favorite toys are:
- Edible timothy grass balls,
- Willow baskets or wreaths,
- Small dried willow or natural grass squares,
- Edible dried branches or sticks (including small well-washed tree stumps!)
- Phone books,
- Cardboard boxes,
- Cardboard tunnels, especially cardboard concrete tubes from home stores;
- Cardboard play houses.
Rabbits will push a timothy grass ball back to you, and will run through a tunnel to greet you if you put your face to one end and call to him. If you lie down on the floor with a willow wreath on your chest or back, he will jump on you and take the willow wreath away.
Many rabbits like to destroy the phone book, so you can try that to see if he is interested. My rabbit never took to destroying books, and prefers a small plastic tub over a cardboard box to play with and nap upon.
Some rabbits enjoy tossing noisy things into the air. Toss-toys include:
- Jelly jar lids tied together;
- Plastic toy keys (the type for children);
- Knotted jute with large wood beads or blocks tied to it;
- Balsa wood or other wood blocks;
- Your shoes, or small kid's shoes for a smaller rabbit.
If your rabbits enjoys running through the house, try setting up a hallway obstacle course with pillows, throw rugs and random toys scattered about, or read the paragraph on agility training later in this article.
My rabbit loves to read! Rather, he enjoys listening to others read to him. Reading to your rabbit is especially fun for children who are learning to read, as it provides practice for the child and a playtime activity for the rabbit. Give it a try to see if your rabbit is a literary bun.
Thumper Digs and Flops in the Garden
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Supervised Outdoor Playtime
If you have a completely enclosed patio or garden, rabbits absolutely love having outdoor playtime. It is key to remember that rabbits are prey animals; you have to watch them every second, you can't assume that they are safe if you can't see them, or if they are more than a couple feet away from you. If you have crows, dogs, coyotes, hawks, owls or other predators in your neighborhood, you must make sure that none are around before taking your house rabbit outdoors.
Benefits of Supervised Outdoor Playtime
Rabbits love to chew and dig, it is part of their rabbitish nature and not something that can be trained away indoors. Having a time to chew and dig outdoors will help an indoor rabbit to be more calm and peaceful. Some tips for outdoor enrichment for rabbits:
- Allow play in a pesticide-free zone. This includes the lawn area, and anywhere your rabbit may go. Keep your garden organic so that your rabbit can dig, nibble, and visit without fear of being accidentally poisoned.
- Remove harmful plants. Check with the House Rabbit Society poisonous plant list for information on plants that could harm your rabbit. Plant rabbit friendly fruits and vegetables instead.
- Create a dig zone. Use a spade to soften an area of dirt or sand where your rabbit can be free to dig and flop. Let him get dusty. When you get inside, you can use a towel to wipe him off and a light brush to remove dirt. Most rabbits enjoy being groomed by their human.
- Let him "garden." Rabbits love to be helpful. Let him chew weeds, and if you have a small tree stump or clump of roots to remove, let your rabbit have a go. Our bunny's favorite toy was a small stump of a lemon tree that he dug out himself and dragged into the house. It took him the better part of a week to do, and the stump kept him entertained indoors for a couple of years after that.
- Train him to come inside on command. Training is an important part of socialization. Try using a special word, like "Inside!" or "Treat!" and then associate coming inside with getting a treat, like a raisin or small piece of carrot.
House Rabbit References
Check with your local humane society to see if your city has a House Rabbit Society branch. If not, here are a couple of good online resources:
House Rabbit Society - National non-profit volunteer organization that promotes education about house rabbits and rabbit rescue.
House Rabbit Network - Information about bunny health and care.
Best Rabbit Toys
The best toys for the house rabbit are those that promote socialization and appropriate chewing or digging behavior, something close to how a rabbit would behave in a natural environment. Rabbits are social animals. They want to form a bond with their humans and interact with you through play and through grooming. In terms of chewing and digging, it can be difficult if not impossible to completely train a rabbit to not chew and dig indoors, so toys that encourage appropriate, directed behaviors serve an important purpose in that regard.
In my experience with rabbits, the best toys to always have inside include:
- A box to hop upon for pets, treats or for a nap;
- A cardboard tunnel (the 6' kind for concrete columns) to run through;
- A small tree stump or knobby branch for chewing, digging and tossing around;
- Small willow wreaths and baskets for tossing and chewing;
- Tough canvas gardening gloves for tossing around;
- Natural grass squares for digging and chewing.
In addition to that, we have a soft dig-and-flop spot outdoors and we leave dead roots and weeds in the garden for the bunny to play with.
When selecting toys for your house rabbit, let your rabbit guide you. If he prefers non-traditional "toys" then try other things (like gardening gloves) that can stand up to a tough rabbit.
House Rabbit EnrichmentClick thumbnail to view full-size
Pros and Cons
Willow wreaths, baskets
Aromatic, encourages appropriate chewing
Natural grass balls, squares
Encourages appropriate chewing. Can be messy
Messy, encourages appropriate digging
Encourages running. Can take up space.
Cardboard rabbit condo
Looks nice, provides hiding spot, encourages chewing
Provides hiding spot, encourages chewing
Rabbit Agility Training
Yes, it is possible to train your pet rabbit to run through tunnels, jump over hurdles and run through weave poles! Agility training is quite popular with house rabbits and their humans. If you are interested in agility training with your rabbit, here is one way to get started:
- Pet training clicker
- Short box or step-stool
- Short tunnel
- Hula hoop or short hurdle
- Treat, like raisin, papaya or carrot, chopping into very small pieces.
This technique uses a reward system, conditioning your bunny to associate the click of a pet training clicker with getting a treat. It works best during the morning or early evening, not during your bunny's afternoon nap time.
1. Lay out your course. Start with something simple, like a short box and a tunnel lined up in a hallway. Block off both ends of the hallway.
2. Put your bunny onto the box and click the pet clicker. Give him a treat. Let him then explore, clicking the clicker and giving him a treat every time he gets onto the box, goes into the tunnel or runs through the tunnel.
3. Practice for a short time, like 5-10 minutes each day for a week or so.
4. Add on. Start by placing your bunny in front of the box. Put your hand holding the treat onto the box and click the clicker with your other hand. If and when your bunny jumps onto the box for a treat, praise him, give him the treat and then move your treat hand to the front of the tunnel. Click the clicker with your other hand. If and when your bunny jumps off the box and comes to the front of the tunnel, give him the treat and then move to the other end of the tunnel. Put your treat hand into the tunnel and click the clicker with your other hand. If and when your bunny runs through the tunnel, give him the treat. Congratulations! Your bunny has done two agility stations!
5. Continue to add on to the agility course, using the clicker and treat system to encourage your bunny to follow the course. If your bunny loves to jump, try adding a hurdle or two, or a weave pole station.
If your bunny is completely disinterested in agility training, lunges, grunts or otherwise expresses his disapproval, maybe he just isn't an agility athlete. Try another bunny sport, like digging in the garden or tearing up a phone book.
Indoor Run Time
Finally, some bunnies need indoor room to run on a daily basis, in addition to play time. Our white rabbit, Ralphie, loves to run back and forth while we watch. If you have a bun that loves to run indoors, try blocking off a hallway, or set up carpet runners in a designated area for "run time." Here's a video of Ralphie - watch her run!
Questions & Answers
If my baby rabbit is very weak and can't even hold on to the mother's nipples, what should I do?
I think this calls for a visit to the vet - bring both mother and baby. Possibly, the baby is doing fine, as baby buns only nurse a couple of times a day. But if the baby is cool to the touch, seems dehydrated or seems like the mother is not caring for the baby, then you will need to intervene. Our House Rabbit Society uses Kitten meal Replacement formula to feed neglected baby buns, but do check with your vet to ensure intervention is necessary.Helpful 2
My bunny has a crate with a litter pan that he only uses when he wants to relax and eat. He uses my cats' litter pans, and he still poops and pees around the house. Would the clicker/treat training method help? Am I feeding him too much?
I suspect your bunny is marking his territory with pee and poop! It’s wonderful that he knows to relax and eat in his litter box, now it’s just a matter of getting him to pee and poop in it too. I suspect you may have to restrict his area until he shows signs that he’s getting the hang of using his litterbox as you want him to use it. Perhaps an x-pen setup that is large enough for him to feel at home, at least 4’x8’ in area, will work? You can let him run around outside his pen when you are there to supervise. Also try using fresh hay, if at all possible, in his litter box. Bunnies eat, poop, pee, and relax in their hay box (litter box), so you must make it as enticing as possible! Clicker training probably would not work as well as a nice, fresh hay box in your bunny’s very own, special area!Helpful 1
We have two rabbits: a new baby female, and an older, 1-year-old female. The older female tried to attack the younger bunny. What should we do? Also, when we let them play out of the cage, how do we keep them from digging in our carpet behind the furniture?Helpful 3
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Do rabbits like being on their owners' lap?
I would say that it depends upon the rabbit! My bunnies have never enjoyed being on anything but the ground, though Thumper did like sitting on the couch to watch “Magnum PI” on TV. You can try lap-sitting for short time periods to see if your bun will tolerate it. If your bun struggles, seems tense, has a wide-eyed look, then probably it would be best from him or her to stay on the ground. Also, you can try placing a firm pillow on your lap, and placing your bun on the pillow. Sometimes, bunnies like sitting on pillows as opposed to laps (less movement) and will enjoy sitting with you that way.Helpful 1