Enrichment for pet rabbits

You may have heard the term enrichment when it comes to your pets care, but what does it actually mean and how can we use this to improve the lives of our pet rabbit’s? In the book Canine Enrichment for the Real World enrichment is defined as learning what our animal’s needs are and then structuring an environment for them that allows them, as much as is feasible, to meet those needs. To meet these needs, we need to understand rabbits as a species.

In the wild rabbits live in warrens with other rabbits and spend most of their day exploring their environment and grazing on grass. Other behaviours that you see in wild rabbits are digging and chewing on branches or chewing to clear out routes for easier access. So how can we apply this knowledge?

It is not possible to completely replicate the environment of wild rabbits. However, with some thought, you can make a great environment for your rabbit. First, by providing enough floor space, which meets the RWAF’s recommended minimum to allow your rabbit plenty of space to move around and explore. You should also provide your rabbit with plenty of places to hide and feel safe, such as multi-entrance houses or tunnels.


Next is to ensure to provide the correct diet so you can allow your rabbit to graze by providing grass (if outside) or hay in multiple trays and hay racks with a variety of leafy greens given each day. Pellets should be given in small quantities (or not at all) and either sprinkled into hay or a snuffle mat to encourage grazing whilst also stimulating the olfactory sense. You can also use puzzle toys to make your rabbit work for their pellets or use them for training to provide mental stimulation.

Allowing your rabbit to dig by providing them a place to dig such as a storage box filled with coco soil is also important. Not only will this allow your rabbit to express a natural behaviour but it will also provide good physical exercise to.

Chewing is another natural behaviour which we can provide an outlet for by providing wooden toys, branches and bark for them to chew on. This should also help to prevent your rabbit from chewing on your wallpaper or wooden furniture instead!

Next, we need to consider differences in environmental stimulation for rabbits kept indoors. Rabbits kept indoors have a much lower level of environmental stimulation than rabbits kept outdoors as the temperature is constant, ambient noise is reduced and there are no changing weather conditions. However, we can somewhat replicate this indoors by giving rabbits access to rooms of differing temperatures, playing music at low levels occasionally, allowing access to a safe outdoor area (if temperature difference is not too different from inside) or by providing access to a floor-length glass window so they can see outside and sit in the sun.

And finally companionship is very important for ensuring your rabbits social needs are met and their ability to perform natural behaviour as rabbits kept in groups have been found to exercise more, to spend more time grazing and spend more time performing grooming behaviours, marking or investigatory behaviours. Therefore, Companionship is an important part of ensuring your rabbit’s needs are met.

If you are able to implement all or most of these things then you will be providing your rabbit with the enrichment they need to have a happy and fulfilled life!

All about wild rabbits!

Around 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago, the European wild rabbit lived all over Europe. However, after the last ice age, which was 20,000 years ago, the European rabbit was left only on the Iberian Peninsula, in some areas of France and in northwest Africa. The species now exists all over the world, except in Asia and Antarctica, humans have mainly been responsible for the later spread of the species


Social groupings

In the wild, European rabbits often live in large groups, that consist of a dominant male and multiple females and subordinate males. There are typically multiple subgroups within the colony, which consist of 1 to 8 males and 1 to 12 females. The males occupy territories that they defend from one another whilst the females stay in specific areas, they do not defend these areas from other rabbits. The dominant male will regularly patrol their territory and require submission from males and females within the territory. Whilst there are frequent aggressive encounters between male’s serious injuries are rare as there is always space to retreat in the wild. The dominant male will also seek out and interrupt all aggressive and sexual encounters, which also reduces the risk of injuries.

Individuals or groups of rabbits typically leave the warren to graze at dawn and dusk, as they are a crepuscular species. When groups of rabbits are outside of the warren together, they take turns checking for predators, which they do by stopping feeding and standing up on their hind legs and raising their ears. The larger the group of rabbits that are outside the warren together then the less time any one rabbit spends checking for predators.


European rabbits search for food within a home range, the size of which depends on the availability of food, age, status, and group size. The rabbits’ diet mainly consists of grass and herbs; however, they will also eat fruit, roots, leaves and bark.

Rabbits feed in two ways: 1. Plants are chewed and swallowed and 2. Cecotropes are taken directly from the anus and eaten. Cecotropes are full of nutrients that the rabbit needs so this is an important part of their diet.

Senses and communication

European rabbits have an excellent sense of smell and can hear even very low-volume sounds. Their ears can be rotated independently, allowing them to identify the direction from which a predator is approaching. They also have close to a 360-degree field of vision, apart from a small blind spot directly in front of their nose.

Rabbits have a range of auditory communications, most of which are low volume. Purring, clicking and quiet tooth grinding generally indicate contentment. While loud tooth grinding, grunting and growling are threat behaviours. Rabbits may also loudly grind their teeth when they are in pain. Thumping behaviour is an alarm signal and in cases of extreme distress or fright a rabbit can also scream.

Since rabbits have an excellent sense of smell, they also communicate using scent marking. Males scent mark by urine spraying, they will spray lower-ranking males and females in estrus as part of courtship behaviour. The European rabbit often marks their territory by rubbing their chins against objects as they have scent glands located under the chin and they also mark their territory with their feaces.

Why you shouldn’t put a harness on your rabbit: understanding the risks and alternatives

A harness and lead are go-to tools for many to allow their dogs time outside safely. Harnesses can be safely used to provide other species time outside to explore. However, harnesses can be very dangerous for rabbits for a variety of reasons.

The first issue is it restricts the normal behaviour of the rabbit. If you own a rabbit, then you know a rabbit can move very fast, very quickly, zooming around and binkying when they feel happy or running and hiding when they are spooked. A harness with a lead attached does not allow a rabbit to do those movements, so it will not allow them to express these natural behaviours.

Secondly, a harness will punish escape behaviour. If a rabbit is spooked, whilst wearing a harness, not only will it restrict movement, but it can punish any escape behaviours by adding unpleasant pressure when your rabbit tries to escape, which will only worsen the fear.

Another issue is an increased risk of contracting parasites or diseases. Taking your rabbit out to places can increase the risk of them coming into contact with parasites and diseases, which can be bad for their health and even deadly. Especially if the areas you are taking your rabbit to have wild rabbit populations are present. It is especially risky if your rabbit has not had their vaccinations or boosters that protect against myxomatosis, RHDV1 and RHDV2.

The final risk of using a harness for your rabbit is that there is a risk of injury. A rabbit that is spooked can easily become tangled, which could lead to strangulation or broken limbs. If the rabbit darts forward and reaches the end of the leash, this could cause a broken back or neck, as a rabbit’s skeleton is extremely fragile.

There are better ways to allow your rabbit to spend time outside that are safe, such as allowing them supervised time in a playpen in the garden or allowing them access to a predator-proof run when unsupervised.

While it can be beneficial for your rabbit to spend time outside, it is important this is done in a way that is safe for your rabbit. A harness is not a safe way to do this, if you want to give your rabbit time outside in a way that is safe consider using a rabbit run or playpen instead. 

Why it is important to neuter your pet rabbit?

As a pet owner, it is your responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of your rabbit companion. One way of doing this is by considering spaying or neutering your pet rabbit. In this post, I will discuss the importance of getting your pet rabbit neutered.

  1. Health benefits: Health benefits for males include removing the risk of cancer developing in their testes and prostate gland and can help to reduce aggression in some cases. For females, spaying significantly reduces the risk of ovarian, uterine and mammary cancers. It also removes the risk of false pregnancies.
  2. Preventing unwanted behaviours: Neutering can help reduce unwanted behaviour, especially in males, such as aggressive behaviour, spraying and marking their territory.
  3. Easier to litter train: Neutered rabbits are easier to litter train as they are less prone to spraying, marking, and digging than unneutered rabbits are.
  4. Easier to bond rabbits: Neutering rabbits also helps make the bonding process easier between rabbits as it reduces hormonal behaviour.
  5. Prevents pregnancies: Neutering prevents unwanted pregnancies from occurring.

In summary, neutering your pet rabbit is vital for their health and well-being. It can prevent unwanted behaviours, provide health benefits, avoid overpopulation, make litter training easier and make bonding rabbits easier. So, if you have not already done so, I encourage you to discuss the benefits of neutering with your veterinarian.

Spring fever in pet rabbits and what does it mean for rabbit owners?

Hormonal behaviours are still present in neutered rabbits as it does not rid them of their main hormone, testosterone for males and oestrogen for females. Not all sex hormones are produced by the ovaries and testes, so even when these are removed, the adrenal gland will continue to produce some sex hormones.
Hormonal behaviours are commonly seen in neutered rabbits, especially during the spring. Social, sexual and aggressive behaviours occur more frequently during the spring because of the hormonal drive, as spring is the peak breeding time for rabbits in the wild, so hormones are massively heightened at this time. Females may dig out new burrows or rabbits may be aggressive to other rabbits or people. This includes chasing, mounting, nipping and biting. In some cases, you may need to separate a bonded pair because of this aggression. There also may be an increase in chinning behaviour to mark their territory.
Some rabbits will show more sexual behaviour than others. This appears to be because the adrenal glands produce more testosterone in some rabbits than others. Neutered rabbits also have higher levels of sex hormones than neutered animals of other species, which suggests that the adrenal gland produces a substantial amount of sex hormones in rabbits.
Hormonal behaviours will start to increase when the days get longer, and it starts to get warmer, so it is important to keep an eye on your rabbit’s behaviour during this time, especially if they are bonded with another rabbit.

Do pet rabbits need vaccinations?

Did you know rabbits need vaccinations? Just like dogs, rabbits need vaccinations and yearly boosters to protect them against certain viruses and diseases. Rabbits need vaccinations to protect them from RHDV1, RHDV2, and myxomatosis. All of these are often fatal and can cause intense suffering, as RHDV can cause massive internal bleeding and myxomatosis can cause damage to multiple areas of the body. No effective treatments exist for either of these viruses or diseases, so vaccinations are essential.
RHDV1 and RHDV 2 can be spread through direct contact with an infected individual, as the virus can be shed through their faeces for at least four weeks. Certain rodent species and fly species can also act as a host to the virus. Myxomatosis can be spread by blood-sucking insects, such as fleas or ticks. It can also be spread by direct contact with an infected rabbit and the virus can remain on surfaces or objects for weeks. Therefore, even if your rabbit lives indoors, it is still important that they are vaccinated.
To protect against these viruses and diseases, your rabbit needs to have either Filavac and Nobivac or Nobivac Mxyo-RHD PLUS. Your rabbits will need yearly boosters to help protect against these viruses and diseases.
In conclusion, vaccinations are an important part of keeping pet rabbits healthy and protected from deadly diseases and viruses. By ensuring that your rabbit receives the appropriate vaccinations, you can help prevent illness and help to ensure they have a long healthy life ahead of them.