Playfulness is a normal rabbit behavior that is observed in the wild. Rabbits play by running, leaping, and chasing each other or inanimate objects. Rabbit owners can take advantage of this natural behavior by providing handmade or store-bought toys for their rabbits. It is important that owners carefully examine toys for parts that could possibly be swallowed. Owners should also keep in mind that each rabbit is unique. Your rabbit may not like some toys, but may love others. Finding your rabbit’s favorite toy will be a matter of trial and error.
Advantages of play
Domestic rabbits are not able to roam freely, so owners must provide regular play time. Play will benefit your rabbit in the following ways:
• Controls behavior like chewing and digging: Rabbits that are kept indoors will begin to destroy household items such as electric cords, furniture, and carpet if not provided with acceptable alternatives. Providing toys allows rabbits to engage in naturally playful behavior, without decreasing the value of your home.
• Provides exercise: Supplying your rabbit with toys and room to play allows him to move around and get some much-needed exercise. It is essential that caged rabbits enjoy regular exercise periods to help prevent unwanted health problems, such as obesity and muscle loss. Exercise also provides mental stimulation that is crucial to prevent chronic boredom.
• Encourages bonding: Playing allows the rabbit/human bond to strengthen. Regular play time is a perfect way for an owner to enjoy the unique behavior of his rabbit.
• Prevents dental problems like malocclusion.
Owners should take great care to examine all toys before rabbits are allowed to play. Rabbits will instinctively chew on any object, so you must make sure all toy materials are nontoxic. Toys that are not approved should be kept away from your rabbit. Toys to avoid are those with small plastic eyes, string, and rubber pieces. In the event that you do find your rabbit playing with a dangerous object, take it away at once. If your rabbit swallows a small piece of the toy, it could cause a gastrointestinal blockage.
Many pet stores supply toys that are approved for rabbits and related small animals. A few of the commercially available toys include:
• Plastic or wire balls with bells typically made for cats
• Unfinished wood chew toys
• Straw or bamboo toys made for hamsters
• Unfinished wicker baskets and tunnels
• Rope toys made specifically for rabbits
• Hard plastic toys typically purchased for human babies
• Toys with bells created for parrots
There are a variety of everyday objects that can make perfect toys for rabbits. These include:
• Box of shredded white paper
• Paper grocery bags
• Old newspaper or phone book
• Cardboard toilet paper or paper towel rolls
• Dried pine cones that have not been treated, varnished, or finished with perfume
• Large PVC or cardboard tubes
• Cereal or oatmeal boxes with the ends removed
• Cardboard boxes free from tape and staples
It is important that owners are aware of the objects that their rabbits are playing with. A rabbit should not be allowed to play with any object that is unsafe or of personal value. As long as toys are approved and safe, they will provide hours of fun for the rabbit and owner alike.
Lisa Karr-Lilienthal, Ph.D. and Amanda Young – University of Nebraska-Lincoln