Rabbits have always been considered docile animals. Part of the reason for this is that they have a tendency to look meek and adorable.
While rabbits may look adorable, they're anything but meek. In the wild they are both curious and resourceful - and as adept at getting out of trouble as they are at getting into it. Your rabbit is no different when brought into the home as a pet.
The myth of the quiet, shy bunny as an ideal child's companion and low-maintenance pet is just as false. Rabbits are not just pretty, mellow critters with a fluffy tail but creatures with specific needs and individual personalities.
Like other animals, they bond to owners and develop habits and characteristics based on the environment in which they find themselves. But they will never get away from their natural characteristics. First and foremost, they are social animals, living in warrens and large communities. They are also prey animals that have survived by burrowing, hopping away from danger and delivering powerful kicks with their hind legs. Their teeth are strong to allow them to eat - and to get out of trouble.
The Whole Rabbit
Your rabbit is curious and intelligent, which makes him both fun and interesting to watch, and his highly social nature allows him to bond with humans and other animals. Though generally silent, your rabbit is able to make several distinct noises and can clearly express himself and his desires when needed. He can also make fascinating and amusing movements.
Like all animals, each rabbit has his own personality - and you can see this clearly by looking carefully at your rabbit's face. A mellow rabbit has a relaxed face and is happy to stay in your arms. A worrier looks nervous and rarely wants to be held by you.
Even the best-behaved rabbits have mood changes and there are times when your normally gentle rabbit wants nothing to do with you - or acts aggressively. It is possible, sometimes, to discover a reason behind that kind of temperament change by looking at the environment and doing some detective work. Is there something different in your rabbit's cage or in the house? Are there people visiting, or other animals nearby? Your rabbit, being a prey animal in the wild, is more prone to fear and stress than a predatory animal like your dog or cat. Stress can make him behave in unpredictable, uncharacteristic ways. Often, by eliminating the source of the stress, you can solve the problem - and get back your well-behaved rabbit. If the mood change persists after eliminating the probable source of stress, you may want to consult with your veterinarian to rule out any health issues.
High Maintenance Animals
Rather than being a low-maintenance animal, your rabbit needs a lot of care, attention and training. Often, this could simply mean watching your rabbit play or keeping him out of mischief. Having a rabbit is much like having a puppy, with all its attendant ups and downs.
Your rabbit is curious, tenacious and mischievous - and can sometimes seem incorrigible. He will tear up carpets and chew up furniture; he enjoys racing around open spaces; he throws objects and climbs on things to see the view from the top. At the same time, your rabbit enjoys company very much - and he's an excellent communicator.
Your rabbit makes a number of sounds, but you must pay very close attention to hear them. He also uses body language as well as more blatant signals such as the characteristic "thumping" that signals danger or anxiety, to express himself.
A playful, impish young rabbit needs to be kept occupied to keep him out of harm's way. Your pet seeks constant stimulation, which can lead to destructive and dangerous behavior, including unbelievably tenacious (and often successful) attempts to chew his way out of his enclosure. He will also try to tear up and chew whatever strikes his fancy. Unfortunately, your rabbit doesn't know what is safe to chew on and what can harm him. It's up to you to remove potentially dangerous items from your rabbit's reach.
Rabbits that are accepted and understood are happy rabbits. Paying attention so you get to know your rabbit and spending time playing with him leads to a healthy relationship. Your rabbit may follow you around the house more faithfully than your dog; he may sit sociably beside you watching television; he may even purr like a contented cat. And yes, he will play - with you or with almost anything that he can find.
Your Rabbit At Play
Rabbits are naturally curious and playful. Chewing is not only something they do, but also something they enjoy, and chew toys are always a favorite treat. Your rabbit will also enjoy toys that he can push or toss around. Toilet paper or paper towel rolls are easy, inexpensive toys, as are all-natural wood blocks. (Remember that these will be chewed, so steer clear of pressure-treated wood, particle board and plywood).
Purchasing Safe Toys
You can purchase pet-safe cat or bird toys, balls with bells inside and stuffed animals, noisemakers and a wide range of other items that will keep your rabbit fascinated. But be careful to ensure that the toys are not dangerous. Only exceptionally durable toys will do, because your rabbit will try to eat them as well as play with them. Provide him with an assortment of toys that have no small parts, toxic materials or choking hazards. Ferret mazes or cat tunnels are also fun, and stackable containers to jump or hide on are a perennial favorite.
Your rabbit's behavior will tell you what the best toys are for him. Watch what he does and what his favorite pastimes are. Purchase toys based on your knowledge of your rabbit's personality as well as his age. Rabbits don't care how much you spend on toys or even that you made them. They just need the mental stimulation that playing with toys provides. But you will need to be innovative to keep your rabbit happily occupied. Rabbits can get bored with their old toys, and a bored rabbit can become excessively destructive or even aggressive.
Toys also provide an opportunity for your rabbit to get exercise. Rabbits need things to crawl under and over, climb on and hop off of, dig into and chew on. Anything made of wood will eventually be consumed. Unless you keep your rabbit in a Plexiglas enclosure, be prepared to provide him with plenty of amusement, companionship and exercise – or you might be putting up “Lost Rabbit” poster.
Even if he doesn’t escape, without sufficient opportunity for play, socialization or exercise, you rabbit will become depressed and overweight. Allowed out of his cage in your home without appropriate activities, he will create his own by using your furniture as his personal chewing, jumping, crawling and digging playground.
Encouraging Good Behavior
The key to a having well-behaved rabbit lies in distraction and diversion. By remembering and understanding your rabbit's natural tendencies, you can easily provide for his needs.
Here are some easy ways to encourage your rabbit to behave:
By satisfying these needs and natural instincts, you will give your rabbit the opportunity to become a truly healthy and happy pet. And by understanding the whole rabbit, you will be able to appreciate your pet for himself, instead of holding him to mythical standards of behavior.