Rabbits need environmental enrichment just as much as cats and dogs, perhaps more so. They spend much of their life cooped up in a cage without anywhere near as much social time with their owners, and (most!) aren’t taken on lovely long walks in the countryside to render them suitably sleepy to crave serious snooze time for the remainder of the day. In these wonderful summer months, we must also spare a thought for safe exercise and enrichment in the heat, avoiding heatstroke which bunnies can easily succumb to. So, to avoid hot, cross, (bored), bunnies this summer, lay on a few of these boredom breakers.
Why is it important?
Rabbits who aren’t allowed to display natural behaviours such as digging, burrowing, foraging, even binkying, will most likely become depressed. Yes, you read that right; rabbits (and all companion animals for that matter) have welfare needs of the mental variety too, and it’s imperative that we meet them. Running, digging, jumping, and foraging serve a multitude of physical benefits too: keeping bones dense, muscles strong, nails short and teeth in check. Staving off depression and encouraging physical fitness can in the most part be achieved through environmental enrichment: that is, essentially by providing toys, and a bog standard, boring old cage simply won’t cut it.
Where should rabbits play in the summer months?
Not in direct sunshine. If you think about it, rabbits in the wild escape to the cool confines of underground burrows, and would usually spend their days deep within, out of the heat until things cooled down in the evening. We, however, tend to keep them well and truly above ground where it is much more difficult to chill out; therefore, we must think outside of the box on their behalf. Consider moving their run to a shady part of the garden. Or how about setting up some fun on a cool, tiled floor? Maybe on a rabbit-safe cool mat? In desperate times, if your bunny simply can’t escape the heat, daytime playtime might need to be indoors.
Best toy for digging
Digging is great exercise, great for strength, fitness and nail health, and the need to dig is strong within every bunny. A large dirt box for your rabbit will help them get their fill. A simple, cheap and very effective solution. Dampen that dirt with cool water, and you have ‘heaven in earth’ for overheating rabbits on a hot day.
Best chew toys
Rabbits’ teeth never cease to grow; they must grind them down to size through chewing. Eating roughage such as hay and grass is their primary way of achieving this, however nibbling tree bark can be a fun and tasty method as well. Apple, Ash, birch, hazel and juniper are just some safe examples of tree bark for your bunny. Wet them lightly, then freeze them for a few hours and you have the rabbit equivalent of an ice-lolly.
The best foraging toys
Rabbits don’t need neat little bowls for their nuggets. Far better to scatter them about for a more natural method of feeding. But why not go one better? Rabbit-safe log mazes provide great hidey-holes for food and treats, requiring a bunny to engage their brain too. This kind of mental work-out is excellent for rabbits. Remember, hiding food can be simple and you don’t necessarily need commercially available toys; toilet rolls, boxes, tunnels, and many other things you might find in your recycling bin can be just as effective.
Best for playing and throwing
Seems a bit odd perhaps, but if you’ve seen a rabbit pick things up, throw them about, rearrange their surroundings and generally investigate novel items, then you’ll understand how much interest you can add to their lives by providing small toys for them. Balls designed for cats with little bells, can provide hours of entertainment, as can rabbit-safe wicker-style balls or even scrunched up paper. Just make sure you regularly inspect these items for loose, ingestible parts and remove any that could pose a problem.
Best for climbing, hiding, tunnelling, general mountaineering
There’s no better way to approach this than with a simple list: plant pots, large-bore tubing (the type used for large drainage channels), cardboard boxes, rocks/stones/a rockery, wooden boxes. These things create opportunities for climbing, crawling and generally exploring, and some even create shade from the sun when they need it. What’s more, if you change them around often, you will encourage them to explore even more. One way to encourage stretching and reaching is to string up a ‘washing line’ and peg tasty delights along it. No rabbit is going to resist delicious herbs, fruits and greenery, and the challenge will do them the world of good.
So, if you’re serious about having happy rabbits this summer why not give these things a go? There are heaps of toys on the market, specifically designed to entertain bunnies; there are also thousands of Do-It-Yourself suggestions on the internet just waiting for you to discover them. If your rabbit fancies themselves as a bit of a hipster bun, you can even get pretty with their treats by creating dandelion chains to decorate their run with. You will also be providing a wholesome and very tasty treat as dandelions contain more iron and calcium than spinach, and more potassium than bananas! However you go about it, we wish you happy rabbiting this summer.