Games to play with your rabbits
Bunnies are smart and active creatures who like lots of things to do and games to play – particularly if there are some tasty rabbit treats involved. We’ve some fun ideas to add interest and excitement to your buns’ day, which will help them stay physically and mentally fit.
Playing games with your rabbit is a great way to prevent boredom, encourage exercise and get to understand rabbit behaviour a whole lot better. Mornings and evenings are the best times as this is when bunnies are most active.
Before you start, it’s important to know the ground rules. Every bunny is different, so if you have a pair or small group of buns, you’ll need to consider their individual personalities and whether you can play games all together or if it’s better to have one-to-one playtime with each of them in turn. Small pet expert Marylou Zarbock has some fab bunny playtime advice:
- Know your bun: Before the fun begins, spend some time observing your little friend. What is his or her personality like? Does he startle easily? Is she a morning rabbit or a late-night rabbit? Is exploring his thing, or is tossing items about more his style? Does she seek out petting and cuddles, or are these actions simply tolerated? Knowing your pet pal’s likes and dislikes helps you choose activities the two of you can enjoy together. Rabbits communicate through vocalisations and body language. Watch for any signs that your rabbit is scared or uncomfortable with a game. If you see these, don’t play that game.
- Think like a rabbit: This might sound a bit crazy, but looking at the world from your bunny’s point of view gives you an insight into how your companion might like, or dislike, a game. Rabbits are prey animals, so they have the instinct to flee, freeze, or fight when faced with a perceived threat. Rabbits usually are not fond of loud noises, sudden movements by others or even being picked up. Getting startled is no fun for rabbits. This pretty much rules out surprise or chase games.
- Consider rabbit anatomy: Rabbits have delicate bones and skin, so any roughhousing is a no-no.
- Announce playtime: Whenever it’s playtime, always say the same phrase to signal to your rabbit that the fun is about to begin. “Hey, Thumper, let’s play,” “Thumper, are you ready to have some fun?” or whatever phrase you wish that includes your bun’s name. Be consistent using the phrase so that your rabbit learns that when you say it, a game is about to begin. When playtime ends, have another phrase that you say to signal this. Even if your rabbit is the one to end the game, say the phrase. Having playtimes at roughly the same times every day is helpful, but not imperative.
- Play on the ground: Get down on your rabbit’s level to play any games. Being on the ground eliminates any risk of falling. It’s also rabbit territory, which can help your buddy feel more secure.
- Choose the play area wisely: Choose an area with plenty of room for the chosen game or games. Clutter, the presence of other animals or being in a walkway might prove hazardous.
- Keep It brief: Depending on the game, play sessions should probably only last 10 to 20 minutes. Rabbits need to be free to take drink or snack breaks, and their nap schedule can be demanding. Take your cue from your pal. If he or she loses interest or hops away, don’t force the game.
- Be open to invitations: Your rabbit might decide that it’s time to play. If a toy gets tossed at you, a ball is rolled your way or you get ‘the nudge,’ join in when you can. Your buddy wants your attention.
Remember that rabbits tire quickly so if your bun flops down after a few minutes, give them a chance to rest and recover. Never force your rabbits to play with you – they’ll let you know when they've had enough!
Games for you and your rabbits to play
- THE NIBBLE AND SPRINT
Take a small bunch of tasty, scented greens – such as parsley – and sit near your bunnies. Let them come over to investigate and reward them with a little nibble. Then move to another spot and call your rabbits’ names and, when they follow, offer them another tasty titbit. Then pick up the pace and race to another spot and see if they follow (they probably will!). The game can last between five to 10 rounds or until your buns have had enough.
- MAGIC CUPS
Take two to three plastic cups (transparent for beginners), your bun’s favourite food, and sit down with your pets. Extra tasty herbs can work well for this game. Place a little food inside the cups and put them upside down on the ground. Now encourage your bunnies to come over to investigate and to get the treat out – you may have to help them figure it out until they’ve got the hang of it. Give them lots of praise when they accomplish it. Add more food and repeat. Make sure you never leave your pet unattended with the plastic cups and don’t let them chew them.
- THE HOPPING CHALLENGE
Build a low wall out of cardboard boxes, such as the ones fizzy drink cans come in, and encourage your buns to hop over them by repeating the word “hop” and holding a tasty treat in front of them. When they make the leap, reward them with the treat, along with lots of praise.
- BUNNY BOWLING
Rabbits enjoy games that cater to their natural tendencies. A game of bunny bowling will appeal to their mischievous side, as they take great delight in knocking things over. Set up some toy bowling pins and watch as your buns nose-bonk them all down.
- CHUCK IT
Some bunnies absolutely love picking up toys with their teeth and tossing them with a flick of their head. Toys for birds are great for this activity because buns can easily grip them. You can also provide cardboard tubes from paper towel or loo paper rolls stuffed with hay.
- ROLL THE BALL
Get a small cat ball, preferably one with bells in it, that your rabbits can pick up with their teeth, and roll it towards your pets. After your bunnies have examined the ball, repeat the roll. After a while, you pets may start to bat the ball around with their noses or pick it up with their teeth. If they enjoy this, you may even get to the point where your buns return the ball to you.
- MIND GAMES
Interactive rabbit toys provide your fluffy friends with rewarding mental challenges. Here are some to try out:
- The Living World Teach N Treat Toy. Simply hide some of your buns’ favourite treats in the toy and let them use their sight, smell and smarts to track them down. There are three different difficulty levels so you can offer your pet more of a challenge as his skills improve. It’s a great learning experience that you and your furry friends can enjoy together.
- For rabbits who love playing with balls, how about the Ancol Small Animal Treat and Activity Ball ? This fun little ball provides a rewarding brain game for inquisitive bunnies. All you have to do is put your rabbits’ favourite food inside the hollow ball, then adjust the size of the opening to create a suitable level of difficulty.
- For super smart bunnies who are up for a challenge, the Trixie Snack Cube could fit the bill. This toy consists of one whole with three separate cubes that you can hide treats for in. A sisal rope is attached to the cubes, so your pets can pull the cubes out of the holder. The small holes in the cubes allow your bunnies to smell the treat and therefore trigger them to search for it.
- MORE TOP TOYS FOR YOUR BUNNIES TO EXPLORE AND PLAY WITH
Looking for vet recommended toys for your rabbits? PDSA recommends stuffing a Kong for small pets with something tasty, like a healthy, natural rabbit snack. Your bunnies will have lots of fun working out how to get to their treat. Or how about a Corn 'n' Rattle toy, made with natural materials to help keep your rabbits’ teeth a healthy length, or a Naturals Weave-a-Ball – a willow ball for your rabbits to gnaw, nudge and chase. And you can’t go wrong with some wholesome, nibbly Gnaw Sticks.
Extra tips for healthy, active, happy bunnies
PDSA has some great bunny advice:
- Make sure they’ve got a bunny-friendly home. It’s so important that your rabbits have a large hutch and constant access to a safe, secure run to enjoy. It’ll make a huge difference to their health and happiness.
- Let them find their food. Rabbits like to hop around, play and forage. Scatter food around their secure run and let them search it out. Mix some yummy nuggets in with their feeding hay so they have to forage for them. It’ll also encourage them to spend lots of time outside in the sunshine – rabbits need sunlight to make vitamin D, which helps them take in more calcium from their food.
- Give them toys to play with, platforms to climb on and untreated wooden logs to gnaw and explore. You can buy safe toys for your rabbits from pet shops. For a cheaper alternative, try giving your rabbits a cardboard box – these are great for rabbits to explore and will give them somewhere safe to hide, too.
- Keep them on their paws. Give a few toys to your rabbits and store some of them away. Swap the toys over after a week or two. It’ll stop your rabbits from getting bored of the same old toys and will give you a chance to check and clean the ones not being used. Don’t forget to regularly wash them in a safe detergent.
- Rabbits were born to dig. A planter filled with potting compost will save your grass from becoming full of holes! Given half a chance, your rabbits will dig their way out of their run. Make sure the wire of your run is sunk around 40cm into the ground to keep them safely inside.
The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund – the UK’s largest organisation for rabbit lovers –
has lots more tips and advice about enriching the lives of pet rabbits by providing them with all sorts of activities that enable them to exhibit their natural bunny behaviours such as digging running, jumping, rearing up, hiding, eating, socialising with other rabbits (and being alone sometimes too).
Are your bunnies, Burgess bunnies? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.
You can also sign up to the Excel Bunny Base – a safe Facebook community for rabbit guardians that are looking for advice and friendly discussions from likeminded owners – and there are lots of cute bunny photos and videos!
All pet rabbits deserve to live their best bunny life – with plenty of attention, affection, exercise, playtime and, of course, top quality nutrition.
The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is fresh grass or hay. In fact, 85-90% of a bunny’s diet should be high quality feeding hay and grass – that’s equal to their own body size in hay every day! High-quality feeding hay is an excellent source of fibre and helps to maintain a healthy gut, reduces the risk of your rabbits getting tubby and serves to grind down their continuously growing teeth, helping prevent dental disease. In addition, 15% of your rabbit’ diet should be a variety of bunny-safe leafy greens, vegetables and herbs such as carrot tops, cauliflower leaves, kale, mint, romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves, plantain, hawthorn, bramble and leaves from hazel, willow or apple trees You can find a list of recommended vegetables and herbs at rabbitwelfare.co.uk. Plus, your bunnies require and egg-cup size portion of rabbit food each a day to ensure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need. For healthy, happy bunnies, always remember to follow the Excel Feeding Plan.
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