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THE PLAYFUL RABBIT

Is playing important for rabbits, and do they need toys? How can I play with my rabbit without harming her? How can I train my rabbit to "play nice"? These are questions common to the new owner of a pet rabbit.

Toys and Playtime

Play is as essential to your rabbit as food and shelter. As in humans, play provides rabbits with exercise that can often help to prevent obesity, disease and depression.

Toys are an important part of a rabbit's playtime. They offer necessary mental and physical stimulation to a rabbit, and help relieve the stress of this sensitive animal.

Naturally playful, a rabbit can spend hours entertaining herself, other animals and you as she runs wildly around the house, leaping over sofas, chairs and ottomans. As though supervising a child, you must keep your frisky pet busy and out of mischief.

Speaking of which, rabbits enjoy chewing on tasty objects to strengthen their jaw muscles and wear down their continuously growing teeth. Because it's a lot of fun, rabbits will chew on almost anything-including that heirloom quilt of yours. Two of their favorite objects are wooden baseboards and chair legs. Another item that rabbits find irresistible are electrical cords. To protect your rabbit from electrical shock, make sure that all cords are inaccessible to her.

In addition to chewing things, your rabbit also likes to push and toss objects around. There are many commercial rabbit toys available to amuse her.

Use your rabbit's personality and age as a guide to selecting toys for her. Just know that you'll need to be innovative to keep your rabbit happily occupied; rabbits can grow quickly bored with their toys.

While toys are important, they're not substitutes for your time and attention, or for the companionship of other pets. If she's ignored and left alone in her cage all day, your rabbit will find a destructive outlet for her boredom and loneliness.

Playing With Your Rabbit

Rabbits have a broad silly streak to go along with their usually rambunctious behavior. They always look for opportunities to have fun, and to express their joy in play.

Playing with your rabbit is an important bonding experience, giving you the opportunity to know your pet's foibles and idiosyncrasies. It's important to establish a specific time each day dedicated to playing with her. A regular play period not only satisfies her need for fun and companionship, but also allows you to inspect her for any signs of illness.

Handling a rabbit during play requires special considerations. More sensitive than the average cat or dog, rabbits frighten easily.

Ironically, they can also be aggressive, but this behavior usually surfaces only when they feel threatened. For example, if you stick your hand into the cage suddenly to take your rabbit out for playtime, she may nip at your hand. Why? Because you may have startled her, or interrupted her at the wrong time. Rabbits are quite territorial, and don't enjoy having their space invaded by uninvited guests.

During exercise, your rabbit may become over stimulated. Don't "roughhouse" with her the way you might with a dog or a cat. She may feel the need to protect herself by biting, scratching or kicking you. It's not because she's mean; it's because she needs to feel safe during play.

Rabbits have definite boundaries and will defend them if they feel threatened. To respect your rabbit's boundaries, you must acquiesce often and play the game by her rules. Rabbits usually prefer that you play with them at their level, so et down on the floor with her.

Handle With Care And Respect

Try to avoid lifting your rabbit during play, because this agitates her. Make sure to teach any children playing with your rabbit how to handle her properly. Emphasize that rabbits are not toys, and that they can bite if they're made to feel threatened. It's a good idea to supervise any children under ten who are handling a rabbit.

Taming Your Rabbit For Play

There are ways to curb your rabbit's aggression during play. Taming her for play requires gentle and affectionate training tactics. You never want your rabbit to feel unsafe.

If yours is a nervous rabbit, you may need to turn on the charm at first. When you approach her, protect yourself with long sleeves and long pants. Keep your hands away from her face. If she bites, gently push her away and murmur some endearment, such as, "Why hello, pumpkin." Try to pet her at the same time. Eventually, she'll associate your touch with affection.

Before opening your rabbit's cage to allow her out for play, greet her cheerfully. Throughout playtime, be particularly gentle, allowing your rabbit to take the lead and decide when she no longer wants to play. As social as rabbits are, sometimes they just want to be alone.

Always greet your rabbit's aggression with understanding and respect; remember, it's simply her way of telling you she's upset. Try to figure out what agitates her, and when you do figure it out, avoid it. Handling your rabbit's defensive tactics lovingly and calmly will comfort and encourage her.