Rabbits are one of the more laid-back pets you can find, but they still need plenty of time for play and exercise. Without daily exercise and enrichment activities, pet rabbits can become bored, out of shape, and frustrated in your care.
Rabbits should get four hours of play and exercise daily, at dawn and dusk when rabbits are most naturally active. Enrichment games and toys such as toilet paper rolls filled with treats help keep your pet healthy and entertained. Rabbits lacking playtime and exercise can become irritable, antisocial, or depressed.
Many people may not think of rabbits as playful animals, but bunnies enjoy exercise and playtime as much as a dog or a cat. Keep reading to learn more about why rabbits need exercise and how to give them the playtime they deserve.
Why Rabbits Need Playtime and Exercise
Rabbits need to have play and exercise just like any other pet to keep them healthy and entertained, but there are many reasons why play and exercise are good for rabbits, specifically.
Owners should exercise and play with your rabbit because:
- Rabbits that don’t get enough exercise can become obese. Extra weight on a rabbit can cause various health problems such as excessive fatigue, dermatitis, and difficulty breathing. Once a rabbit is obese, they’ll need extra exercise and restricted access to treats in order to bring their weight back down to a healthy level.
- Rabbits that don’t get enough exercise and socialization can develop temperament problems. Along with physical health issues, rabbits that don’t get enough attention and exercise can become irritable, antisocial, and even depressed.
- Exercise is helpful for a rabbit’s digestion. Rabbits have a delicate digestive system, and digestive conditions are some of the most common medical issues that rabbits face in veterinary care. This is usually due to a combination of poor nutrition and lack of exercise.
Play and exercise for your rabbit are great for the rabbit, but did you know that it’s also great for you?
Playing with and exercising pet rabbits can yield the following benefits for their owners:
- Playing with rabbits helps people manage their own health. Just spending time around companion animals like rabbits can help people lower their blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels.
- Playing with rabbits helps people manage depression and anxiety. Just like with the rabbits themselves, when people spend time with their rabbits, it also alleviates feelings of anxiety and depression in the human as well as the rabbit.
No matter which way you look at it, making sure that your rabbit gets enough playtime and exercise is good for everybody involved.
How Many Hours of Exercise Does a Rabbit Need?
While rabbits may seem like a relatively low-energy animal compared to some other species.
Rabbits are active animals that require three to four hours of free-ranging exercise a day. This is best accomplished by breaking up free time into two periods at dawn and dusk as rabbits are crepuscular and most active during these times of the day.
This might seem like a lot of time to dedicate to your rabbit each day, but remember that the most strenuous exercise a rabbit needs is the time to hop around outside of their hutch. So, you can let your rabbit to hang out and play in rabbit-proofed areas in the morning and evening while you’re accomplishing other household activities.
Here are a few other ways you can ensure your rabbit get enough exercise during the day:
- Let your rabbit out into the backyard. Once you’ve fenced your backyard so that the rabbit can’t dig out and escape, letting him run around in the backyard garden is an excellent way to get a little room to run, as well as access to fresh grass for forage if they want it. Be sure to keep an eye out for hawks or other predators so that your rabbit stays safe.
- Set your rabbit up in a playroom. If you have a spare guest bedroom or study, setting up the spare room as a rabbit-proofed place for your rabbit to play in the morning and the evenings can be a good option for people who don’t have a safe backyard or garden for them to play in. Rabbit owners can even set up little obstacle courses or scatter around other enrichment items.
- Set up an exercise run for your rabbit. If you want your rabbit to have time in your backyard but can’t proof the yard for their safety, setting them up in a fenced-in dog run or other enclosure with some turf and other toys can be a way for them to get out of the house and get some exercise while still staying safe.
- Make sure your rabbit’s hutch is large enough. Even though rabbits will still need several hours of dedicated time outside the hutch each day to ensure enough exercise and room to play, increasing the size of their hutch can give them more room to run around during the day and can help keep them exercised, too.
Ensuring your rabbit gets enough exercise during the day is a lot easier once you have a dedicated space for them to play around. If you’re typically busy during the times of day when your rabbit needs to get out and exercise, putting them in a dedicated space can also make sure that they’re safe while you’re getting ready for work, cooking dinner, or anything else you need to do at dawn or dusk.
What Time of Day Do Rabbits Like to Play?
Rabbits are crepuscular and like to play at dawn and dusk. Since rabbits spend most of their day resting and sleeping, they will generally do not pine for human attention during the day as a dog or a cat would. Rabbits tend to be ready to play and exercise during the same periods that people tend to have free time.
Crespuscular is just the scientific way of saying rather than being either diurnal (active during the day) or nocturnal (active during the night), rabbits are most active feeding and playing at sunrise and sunset and will spend most of their time resting at other times. The fact that rabbits are crepuscular is convenient for their owners as they are most active before and after rhe typical work day..
Toys to Help Your Rabbit Play and Excercise
Along with giving your rabbit plenty of free time for exercise, you should also make sure that your rabbit has plenty of toys and other enrichment activities to help keep them entertained. These toys can be used during their free time exercise, but you can also include some of these enrichment items in their hutch to give them some mental stimulation during the day if they get bored.
Toys for rabbit exercise and playtime Include:
- Plastic toy bowling pins: Rabbits enjoy knocking things over, so small plastic bowling pins can be a fantastic choice for giving them something to do. The colors can also give the rabbit some visual interest since rabbits are not entirely colorblind.
- Cardboard tubes: Cardboard tubes are one of the cheapest toys that you can invest in for your rabbit since all you have to do is save paper towel and toilet paper tubes. To add some interest, stuff cardboard tubes with timothy hay and treats to encourage the rabbits to investigate it.
- Bird toys: Bird toys are non-toxic and are usually made out of materials that are intended to be chewed on, which makes them a good option for rabbit toys. Strings of blocks on jute, small mirrors, and other bird toys are small enough for rabbits to carry around in their mouth.
- Cardboard castle: Along with cardboard tubes, building a “castle” for your rabbit out of small cardboard boxes can be an excellent way for them to have fun ducking in and out of the cardboard tunnels (and probably taking a few bites out of the castle while they’re at it).
- Straw mats: Rabbits love to chew on things for entertainment, and providing them plenty of items to chew on can help deter them from chewing on parts of the house that they’re not supposed to chew.
- Boxes of shredded paper: Rabbits love to shred things up and make a mess, so encourage them to do it with their toys by providing plenty of destructible enrichment items for them to play with. Boxes of shredded paper are fun for playing with, but they’re also a suitable enrichment item for the hutch since rabbits can use the paper for nesting material.
- Hard plastic baby toys: Hard plastic baby toys are suitable for rabbits because they are non-toxic and difficult to destroy. They also come in lots of appealing shapes and colors, so they’re more entertaining for the rabbit owner, too.
- Plastic balls with bells inside: Rabbits love to roll around balls, and the small balls filled with bells made for cats are the perfect size for them to roll around. Many of these cat balls also have a textured surface, making them easier for the rabbit to pick up.
- Untreated wood toys: Untreated wood blocks and other children’s toys (Montessori wooden toys are a great choice) are fun for rabbits to play with, knock over, carry around, and chew on. Since these wooden toys can be munched without worrying about the rabbit ingesting something toxic, they’re a terrific enrichment object for rabbits to chew worry-free.
- Old phone books: Few people use phone books anymore, but most people still have a couple of old ones lying around. Rabbits will love to rip the pages out of a phonebook and shred them, so old phonebooks can be a cheap enrichment activity to add to your rabbit’s play area.
- Edible dried branches and sticks: In the wild, a rabbit would exercise its chewing behaviors on sticks, branches, and any other hard wooden objects it could forage. Help them engage in this enriching activity by placing random sticks and branches in their hutch or play area for them to chew on. However, you should make sure that no foliage is treated with herbicide or insecticide.
- Woven grass balls: Woven grass balls are a popular chew toy found in pet stores in the aisle designated for small animals such as hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, and ferrets. These or any other small animal chew toys made of natural materials are great additions to a rabbit’s play area. These toys also have the benefit of being cheap so they can be replaced as they wear out.
Rabbits enjoy having a variety of toys and activities to choose from, so one way to keep things fresh for them is to imitate a zookeeper by rotating toys and enrichment items in and out of the rabbit’s play area and hutch. This will help keep the toys new and entertaining and ensure your rabbit doesn’t get bored by always playing with the same things.
If you gather an extensive collection of toys for your rabbit, it’s wise to invest in a toy chest or other container to help keep everything contained and organized. This way, it’s easy to find new enrichment objects to add to the play area when you get ready to change things up. You should take old toys away and put new toys out about once a week to help keep things exciting and fun for your bun.
Games to Play with Your Rabbit
Along with providing plenty of toys and enrichment objects for rabbits to interact with, there are also several games you can play with your rabbit to help keep them entertained during their free-ranging and playtime.
Try out some of these games with your rabbit:
- Rolling balls: Rabbits love to roll balls around, and you can teach a rabbit to roll balls by sitting in front of them with a ball and demonstrating how it moves across the floor before rolling it toward them. It may take rabbits a little bit of time to figure out the game but be patient—many rabbits enjoy rolling things and will catch on eventually.
- Tossing toys: Rabbits enjoy taking items in their teeth and tossing them around. You can encourage your rabbit to do this by placing several tossable toys near them and praising them each time they throw one. When playing fetch with a rabbit, the rules are a little different than playing fetch with a dog. When fetching with a rabbit, you do the fetching and return the toys.
- Chasing toys: Another game that rabbits may enjoy is chasing a toy. Place a toy on a string and drag it along on the ground to see if you can interest your rabbit in hopping after it. Some rabbits may enjoy this game, and some may not.
- Hide-and-seek: Hide-and-seek is played with a rabbit by hiding somewhere in the house and offering a treat when your rabbit finds you. Once they realize that they get rewarded for finding you, some rabbits can get very good at this game.
- Digging games: Rabbits love to dig when they get the chance, so setting them up a small sandbox full of potting soil (or clean bedding grass if you’re playing inside) can be a great way for them to enjoy themselves. Try putting a few treats and toys in the soil or hay to tempt the rabbit into exploring the play area, especially if it’s new.
It may take rabbits a little time to figure out how games work—after all, you’re working around a language barrier. But if you repeat the same simple verbal commands and phrases around different games, your rabbit can soon learn to pick up verbal cues and even execute some play behaviors on command.
Remember that several games played with companion animals such as tag or roughhousing are not suitable for rabbits since they are delicate prey animals who are easily frightened by quick movement. It’s also a good idea to turn handling each part of the rabbit’s body into a mini-game and reward them for being still while you do it since this “game” can make veterinary exams much easier to perform.
Playing With Your Rabbit Outside
You should take the time to play with your rabbit outside occasionally if you can since the fresh air and sunshine can do both you and your animal a lot of good. Nothing makes rabbits much happier than hopping around in a yard, mowing the heads off dandelions.
Follow these tips when taking your rabbit outside to play:
- Only play in a well-fenced yard. This includes a yard where the bottom of the fence is reinforced against digging. Rabbits can dig quite quickly when their owner’s back is turned, especially female rabbits (digging warrens is a natural behavior for them). A strong fence helps keep your rabbit in, and it also helps keep other predators such as dogs out.
- Play with your rabbit outside supervised, if possible. Some yards may be predater proofed well enough to give your rabbit a little unsupervised time in the yard, but you should be aware that even if your fence protects against dogs, it doesn’t take long for a hawk or kite to make off with an unprotected rabbit. Pet rabbits also lack the survival skills to avoid a hawk if they see one.
- Make sure that the rabbit has no access to poisonous items. Many things commonly sprayed on a yard or kept in the yard where a rabbit could chew on or access them are poisonous to rabbits, such as toxic plants, insecticides, and antifreeze. To prevent your rabbit from getting hold of these materials outdoors, make sure to do a thorough inspection of your yard for them.
- Make your rabbit a covered enclosure outdoors. If you want your rabbit to have unsupervised time outdoors but don’t want to worry about them being taken by a hawk or attacked by another animal, one option is to install a chainlink dog run. These runs can be outfitted for your rabbit with slabs of sod, hay boxes, toys, and other enrichment items.
- Outdoor play is a great time to bond with your rabbit. Since it’s a good idea for you to watch over your rabbit during their outdoor play anyway, take the opportunity to bond with them by sitting in the grass and letting them explore around you or come up to you. This is how a rabbit would “play” with another rabbit in the wild (by bonding during foraging activities).
Rabbits can have a great time getting their play and exercise outside—they can even be trained to walk on a leash—but they need to be monitored carefully to ensure that they stay safe during outdoor play. As a rabbit owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure that their free-ranging time is a safe and happy experience.
Keeping Your Rabbit Safe While Playing and Exercising Indoors
Along with keeping a rabbit safe during outdoor play, it’s also essential to keep your rabbit’s safety in mind when you let them free-range exercise and play indoors. Rabbits can be mischievous, and you’d be surprised at the trouble they can get themselves into when you aren’t paying attention.
Tips to keep your rabbit safe indoors while playing and exercising include:
- Ensure that all electrical cords are safely put up and away, out of the rabbit’s reach. Many small animals can accidentally electrocute themselves by chewing through a live electrical wire in the home. Since rabbits are notorious chewers, they’re more at risk than many animals. Before you let your rabbit loose in the house, make sure that there are no wires to chew.
- Consider using a baby gate to confine your rabbit to one room of the house. This cuts down on potential messes if your rabbit decides to leave droppings on the floor. It also decreases the likelihood of someone accidentally stepping on the rabbit or slamming it in a door as they move through the household and the rabbit follows along.
- Do not leave rabbits unsupervised to play with other household animals, especially predator animals like dogs and cats. While you might be convinced that your rabbit and your dog are best friends, many household rabbits have been killed by another pet. Unless you’re willing to stake your rabbit’s life on their bond with the pet cat or dog, do not leave them alone together.
- Protect your furniture. If you’re going to let your rabbit free-range through the house, you should make a few attempts to protect your furniture. Baseboards, chair legs, and other household items can be protected from chewing rabbits by using plastic sleeves, furring strips, and split flex tubes. A rabbit left in an un-proofed house can do a lot of damage fast.
As long as you set your rabbit up with a safe place to play indoors for a few hours a day, you can sit back and relax, knowing that you’ve done everything to ensure your furry friend’s happiness and comfort.
Bonding With Your Rabbit While Playing or Exercising
Play and exercise time for rabbits is a fantastic time for you to bond with your pet, especially if they’re still relatively new, and you’re still getting to know each other. Rabbits are not as rambunctious as cats or dogs, and many are happy to just roam around near you.
Use your rabbit’s playtime to develop a closer bond by:
- Sitting down on the floor with your rabbit. Rabbits find looming humans frightening. Sitting on the floor makes you a lot less threatening and can help calm skittish or timid rabbits into approaching you. Be sure not to force interaction on a shy rabbit if they’re still getting used to your company.
- Encouraging your rabbit to approach employing treats. The key to a rabbit’s heart is through its stomach, and showing your rabbit that you have some high-value treats such as chunks of carrot or a leaf of lettuce can help draw them to you even if they’re timid. However, make sure not to overfeed on treats as this can interfere with your rabbit’s delicate digestive system.
- Moving slowly and carefully around your rabbit. Rabbits dislike loud noise and sudden movement, so always keep a relaxed attitude when you’re around your rabbit. Be as quiet and deliberate in your movements as they are. This will help your rabbit feel more comfortable around you.
Bonding with a rabbit can be a great feeling since it takes a lot more to earn a rabbit’s trust than it does for most cats or dogs. With just a little persistence, you can make a new rabbit your new best friend in no time!
Playing with Rabbits Helps Keep Them Healthy and Happy
While you might not think that exercise is important to an animal that spends most of its day in a hutch enclosure, rabbits are active animals that need daily free-ranging activity to thrive. Be sure to provide your rabbit with plenty of enrichment activities, and you’re sure to see a playful side of them you’ve never seen before.