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Providing Life Enrichment

PROVIDING LIFE ENRICHMENT

 

Enrichment can be defined as improving the living environment, such as providing space to exercise, sheltered areas, social companionship and toys, thus improving the physical and psychological wellbeing of the pet, and allowing natural behaviours. A rabbit confined to a small enclosure, with little to do and no space to jump and run, will soon become bored and suffer, especially if they are alone. As well as providing adequate space, it’s important to provide an interesting and stimulating environment that gives rabbits the opportunity to behave in a natural way and socialise/interact with other rabbits.

 


DIETARY ENRICHMENT [8]

 

Encourage Chewing – It's a natural behaviour that keeps rabbits occupied and has health benefits:
- Feed plenty of hay and/or grass and safe leafy greens.
- Provide wooden chew sticks suitable for rabbits, or branches from fruit trees that haven’t been chemically treated.

 

Rabbits EatingLet rabbits Search for Food – It encourages natural foraging behaviour and keeps them busy:
- ‘Scatter feeding’ – Scatter portions of greens or food pellets around their home.
- Hide food under flower pots, in cardboard boxes or tubes with the ends stuffed with hay.
- Hang greens so they have to stand up on their hind legs to reach and eat them.
- Wrap pellets inside brown paper for them to unwrap.

 

Food Balls, Puzzle Feeders and Mini ‘Kongs’:
- Rabbits have to work to get the pellets out, providing mental stimulation and encouraging natural foraging behaviour. Getting at their food will be more like a game, and give them something to do.
- Before leaving rabbits unattended, supervise them to make sure any feeders are appropriate and that all rabbits can access the food. Provide each rabbit with their own feeder to avoid one rabbit monopolising it.
- Check that openings aren’t blocked so rabbits can remove the food.
- If rabbits expect their feeders at a certain time, keep to this routine, as predictability can reduce stress.
- Food inside any feeders shouldn’t be additional extras, but part of their daily ration.

 

Try to feed rabbits when they’re most active and like to graze and forage, ie. early morning, late afternoon and overnight. Ensure they always have constant access to hay and/or grass and check each night that there’s enough supply to last them to the morning.

 


TOYS & OBJECTS [15]

 

Toys should allow rabbits to perform natural behaviours, eg. digging, chewing, chin marking, jumping. Different rabbits enjoy different toys so try out different ones until you find which they like best. Toys don’t have to be expensive, you can easily make your own (just ensure they are safe).

 

Rabbit Life EnrichmentPaper 
- Shredded newspaper, paper bags (with handles removed) and telephone directories (with covers removed).
- Wrap your rabbit’s favourite food in brown paper for them to unwrap.

 

Cardboard 
- Boxes with holes cut into them are great as hiding places.
- Tubes can be stuffed with hay and healthy treats.

 

Tunnels – You can either buy plastic or fabric tunnels, or create your own from cardboard boxes/tubes or large ceramic pipes.

 

Mirrors – Can be used as a temporary measure to alleviate loneliness. Ensure any mirrors are securely fastened to prevent injuries.

 

Objects to Manipulate or Throw 
- Untreated straw, wicker, sea-grass mats and baskets.
- Balls.
- Plastic flower pots.
- Solid plastic baby toys eg. ‘key rings’, rattles, stacking cups. 

 

Rabbit with ToysYou can hide food in or under some of these objects to make it more fun and interesting. Supervise their use and make sure there’s no small parts that could potentially be swallowed.

 

Digging Opportunities – Provide some form of ‘digging box’ to encourage and allow them to behave in a natural way: 
- Large plant pots or litter trays filled with soil.
- Cardboard boxes filled with shredded paper.
- Sandpits filled with child-friendly sand.

 

Places to Mark Territory – Provide objects or areas in your rabbit’s home where they can mark their territory with chin secretions, urine or droppings. Rabbits will often rub their chin on an object or against parts of their living area to transfer secretions from their scent glands onto the item, thus marking their territory. These scents can’t be smelt by humans, but leave a familiar reassuring smell for the rabbit.

 


HIDING PLACES [16]

 

Rabbit Hiding PlaceRabbits are prey animals, so have a need to hide from things that scare them, it’s a natural behaviour. Providing hiding places allows them to do this and helps them to feel safe. They need constant access to their hiding place so that they can escape whenever they feel the need to. Rabbits will hide when they are afraid, stressed, unwell or just want to withdraw from social interaction.

 

- Position – Locate hiding places in quiet areas where predators (eg. foxes, cats, dogs, ferrets, birds of prey, people) can’t be seen or smelt, and out of the way of draughts or direct sunlight.

 

- Height – Should be high enough for rabbits to quickly move underneath, but low enough to feel safe.

 

- Have enough hiding places for each of your rabbits to have their own, and at least one that’s big enough for all of your rabbits to fit and huddle together. If you have rabbits of different sizes, make sure that the entrance to one of the hiding places is big enough for the smallest rabbit to get in, but too small for the larger rabbit to enter.

 

- Hiding places should have two entrance/exit points to prevent dominant rabbits becoming too territorial or aggressive to others inside.

 

If your rabbits regularly spend a lot of time in their hiding places, ask your vet for advice, as it may be a sign that they are unwell, stressed or scared.

 


PLATFORMS [17]

 

Rabbit Lookout PlatformRabbits are prey animals, needing a view of their environment to keep an eye out for potential threats. Platforms give rabbits the opportunity to do this to help them feel safe.

 

A Lookout Point – Platforms can allow rabbits to scan their surroundings for potential danger, whilst out of reach, helping to reduce anxiety and stress. Many rabbits may use platforms as a safe place to go when they’re afraid (like hiding places).

 

Exercise – Provide somewhere for rabbits to jump about on, helping to build physical fitness and bone strength. Ask a vet for advice if you’re worried about your rabbit using a platform for the first time. They may need a bit of time to get used to it, or to build up their fitness and strength if they have previously been restricted.

 

Rabbit Jumping on PlatformsPlatform Guidelines
- Give your rabbit enough room when on their platform, they should be able to stand on their back legs without their ears touching the roof of their enclosure.
- Make the platform surface out of a non-slip material to avoid the rabbit injuring itself when jumping on or off.
- Ensure it is strong enough to take the weight of your rabbits and the force of them jumping on it.
- Make sure the height is suitable (ie. a height your rabbits can easily jump onto) if necessary add interval platforms or a solid, low ramp (not too steep and has footholds) to allow rabbits to access the platform easily.

 

Suitable Platforms
- Straw bales
- Top of strong cardboard boxes 
- Wooden crates
- Tree stumps (from fruit trees not treated with chemicals)
- Wooden shelter with a low, flat roof