Destructive behaviour in rabbits is usually caused, or made worse, by boredom and lack of stimulation. It can be greatly reduced with boredom busters...
The term "destructive behaviour" in rabbits means things the rabbit may do either to itself or to objects around your home or garden. It is usually caused, or made worse, by boredom and lack of stimulation.
A bored rabbit will often overeat, leading to an overweight, unhappy rabbit if the food it is eating is mostly dry food or vegetables. However, rabbits cannot overeat hay - the more the better - so give your rabbit plenty of hay while keeping its dry food and vegetables to a minimum.
Excessive grooming / fur pulling
Rabbits groom themselves several times a day and the hair they collect from this normally causes them no harm. However, if a rabbit is grooming itself too much due to boredom, this can sometimes lead to a risk of hairballs forming in the gut. Again, the easiest solution to this is to feed more hay - not only will this reduce the boredom, it will help the rabbit maintain a healthy digestive system and thus reduce the risk of hairballs.
Fur pulling is usually seen in unspayed females going through a phantom pregnancy when they are building a nest, but can also be a symptom of boredom. It is not harmful to the rabbit but is rather a symptom of underlying stress or boredom.
Nibbling / chewing / digging
This is really only a problem for house rabbit owners in terms of damage to their furniture and carpets. However, hutch rabbits also love to nibble, chew and dig, even if they don't get the chance to do it, and their need for stimulation is greater than house rabbits. It is important to recognise this need in hutch rabbits and give them toys and the chance to exercise and play.
If you have a house rabbit with no restrictions on its freedom, a certain amount of damage may be inevitable. However, there are many things you can do to reduce destructive behaviour of this kind.
Bear in mind that rabbits are territorial and like to have their own areas and access routes throughout the house so it stands to reason that anything placed in or around these areas and routes will become a target for destruction. Anything left lying on the floor is likely to be investigated and perhaps nibbled so be conscious of where you place things.
Most house rabbits will choose their own sleeping area, usually behind a sofa or under a table or bed. They like to sleep somewhere that approximates a burrow i.e. a roof over their heads with entrance and exit routes. Once they have chosen it, give them a blanket or towel to lie on - they are then more likely to nibble holes in this rather than the carpet or sofa back. Make sure that the entrance and exit routes are not blocked by anything and that the rabbit can easily fit through them. For example, if the route is between two sofas and the gap is not wide enough, your rabbit is likely to nibble the sofas in an attempt to widen the gap.
Rabbits often like to chew on wooden furniture like a table leg, so try giving them a more tempting option such as a piece of apple of willow wood. If this doesn't fix it, cover the nibbled area with a cardboard or wooden tube, or with duck tape as this should discourage the rabbit and hopefully break the habit.
A lot of rabbits dig at carpets or even nibble holes in them. If there is a particular area your rabbit likes to dig, cover it with a blanket or piece of cardboard as they will then dig and nibble at this instead.
Rabbits are particularly drawn to electrical cables so always make sure that these are either out of their reach or covered with cable protector. Some rabbits also have a penchant for rubber so keep your TV remote controls out of their way.
In summary, the best way to reduce destructive behaviour is to keep your rabbit stimulated:-
- feed your rabbit plenty of hay
- keep two rabbits together - they will play with each other
- give your rabbit toys e.g. cardboard tubes, pinecones, that they can nibble and throw around
- provide a cardboard box with some newspaper in, for digging and shredding
- a piece of apple or willow wood will encourage your rabbit to chew that instead of your furniture
- if your rabbit digs in particular places e.g. behind the sofa, under the bed - place an old piece of carpet or a seagrass matt there
- and finally... play with your rabbit! Create an obstacle course, a cardboard tunnel network or simply lie on the ground and let your rabbit climb on you or snuggle up to you.