Making sure your pet rabbit is living life to the full is a topic much explored among animal experts and behaviourists nowadays. Enrichment is the term they use and simply means the process by which all creatures in captivity, from zoo animals to domestic pets, are able to express normal behaviours in order to boost their physical and mental wellbeing.
Rabbits are very active, love to play and are very curious about their environment, so providing enrichment is an easy and inexpensive way to help make sure your rabbit is a happy bunny.
When introducing new toys or experiences into your rabbit’s home, watch and see how they get on with them. Are they too easy, or too difficult for your pet to work out? Do you need to adapt them next time? Some rabbits will learn faster than others so it’s important to work at a pace your rabbit is happy with in order to provide continuous enjoyment.
Our first tip for providing a good environment is to think about different ways you can present food to your pet. Rabbits naturally forage for food, so feeding their meals in one place takes away the challenge of the hunt, which can provide mental stimulation for your rabbit. Have you thought about hiding food in cardboard tubes or stuffing old egg boxes with hay and pellets? Peg food along a piece of string, and set your pet the challenge of trying to bring the food down.
Our second tip would be to place novel objects in your rabbit’s home, so they have something new to investigate, scent mark, chew or dig at. An old phone book can provide lots of opportunity to dig and chew, and it can still be recycled once your rabbit has finished with it!
Lots of animals use puzzle feeders, including cats, dogs and rabbits. Therefore, our third tip would be to place a portion of your rabbit’s daily food into a puzzle feeder. This will provide them with lots of entertainment whilst they try to work out how to reach the food. Rabbits enjoy using a Kong, bashing it about to get food and treats out. You could also use flowerpots; line a few of them upside-down, stuffed with hay and a few treats, and watch as your bunny knocks them about to grab the food.
Our fourth tip is to think about the space your rabbit lives in; hutches alone are not enough. Rabbits need a space large enough to allow them to move around freely, stretch, run and jump. Is the space you provide for your rabbit being used in the most positive way? Does he or she use every part of the enclosure? You might find there is potential to provide more hides, or items to keep the enclosure interesting, such as tunnels, logs or cardboard boxes. If your rabbit run is situated an area that doesn’t allow your rabbit to dig (on a hard surface for example), you might want to introduce digging boxes to various sections of the run. Filling a large flowerpot with soil will allow your rabbit to express his or her natural digging behaviour.
Our fifth and final tip is to consider clicker training your pet rabbit. Clicker training is used to teach rabbits recall, to get them used to going into a carry basket, and even to teach them rabbit agility! The Rabbit Awareness Week website has a fantastic section on clicker training rabbits for further information.
Making enrichment toys and watching your pet investigate them can be very rewarding. You will be surprised, once you get started, what wonderful new ideas you come up with! Keep varying what objects you use, to help keep them novel and exciting. And always ensure they are safe; for example, if you are using old newspapers, make sure all staples are removed first.
We would love to hear your enrichment ideas, please drop us a comment in the box below!