Rabbit Digs

Their twirling around the room leaping and dancing makes you laugh. Their little butt twitching as they devour a fresh piece of banana is most adorable. Their sleeping so soundly makes you smile and wish you could sleep so contently. But when your rabbit takes a nibble out of your favorite chair or digs intently at your oriental rug, you cringe. You may send him away with a loud clap only to watch him sneak back just moments later to reassert his intentions.

There is no doubt rabbit behavior can be frustrating and very trying to us mere mortals. When faced with "destructive" rabbit behavior, some people resort to giving away their pet rabbit or banishing him to a cage, garage or yard. Some even declaw their rabbit, a debilitating surgery that can cause permanent damage and disability.

So, how do we stop these unwelcome behaviors? First let's look at why rabbits do what they do.

Rabbits are rabbits. They enjoy a good dig and a challenging chew; it's their nature. In the wild, rabbits dig and burrow underground, building entire communities beneath us. Gnawing and chewing are also essential to proper rabbit dental care. As San Diego veterinarian Dr. Jeffrey Jenkins states, "The upper and lower incisors (front teeth) of rabbits grow 4 and 5 inches a year, respectively. Similar statistics for cheek tooth growth are not available; however, the rate is significant. In the normal rabbit mouth, biting and chewing of food continually grinds down the teeth, keeping this growth in check and the teeth at stable lengths."

Digging and chewing along with other daily exercise is also an important physical and psychological pleasure for your rabbit. Rabbits who are cooped-up in a cage for days on end are more likely to be aggressive and cranky. Rabbits should get out for play time and burn off energy on a daily basis. This will make for a happier, healthier and more friendly rabbit.

Redirect
So, how do we survive the destruction our furry friends might cause? You cannot explain to a rabbit not to chew your favorite table leg, but you can redirect his behavior. Redirecting his behavior is the key. Once your rabbit decides the heavy-duty cardboard tunnel you gave him is a good chewing alternative, he is well on his way to being "trained." Until then, remember he is not being intentionally difficult, he is just hard-wired to chew and dig. And, because rabbits are creatures of habit, be sure not to let an unacceptable behavior go unattended; it will only get worse as Bun develops the bad habit. As soon as he starts nibbling on the couch or table leg, clap your hands or remove him from the area and give him something else to do. Develop a different habit. If Bun is particularly stubborn, you may have to block off or cover a problem area for a period of time to break the habit. But, be sure to figure out a different way to keep him busy and entertained.

Too much freedom is also a common element with extremely destructive rabbits. Make sure he has some time in a large cage or pen to help with training.  Rabbits learn by repetition, so the more consistent you are with him, the faster he will pick up the behavior you want. Develop a daily routine for him. Despite the popular "dumb bunny" phrase, rabbits are actually quite intelligent. It is up to their human caretakers to understand their needs and provide appropriate alternatives.

Bunny-proofing
Although most rabbits tend to chew and dig less as they mature, be prepared for a lifetime of chewing just in case. You'll want to train Bun early to chew acceptable items and you will want to bunny-proof your home to save your sanity. Spaying and neutering helps curb the intense destruction that can occur as rabbits go through adolescence, but rabbits will always need a way to exert their energy, a way to be a bunny. Bunny-proofing not only saves your home, but it also can save your rabbit from serious injury or even death. Covering cords and wires is essential to having a safe bunny habitat. There are many cord cover products available at home improvement stores or you can block access to areas like behind entertainment centers where there are a lot of cords. Next, move plants up high and place books and other "chewable" items out of reach. Magazines and baskets laying around will be fair game for your rabbit, so remove them if you don't want them chewed. Sometimes products like Bitter Apple will work to deter a rabbit from visiting an area, but you need to spray them daily. When redecorating, avoid wicker furniture -- a bunny's paradise!

What does your rabbit want?
Observe your rabbit. Is he a pusher/buncher or a chewer/shredder?! Perhaps he just enjoys lying contentedly in a tunnel. Once you have an idea about your rabbit's favorite behaviors, provide different toys and activities for him just like you would for a cat or dog. Rotate toys to keep him interested and try new toys every so often. Well placed and interesting toys will keep your rabbit busy for hours. Unfinished willow baskets, a cardboard box or tunnel, hard plastic toss toys and grass mats all have an important place in a bunny home. If you have expensive antiques or other items you just can't risk, make that room off limits. A baby gate may work to keep Bun out, but be warned, many rabbits can jump over these gates or chew through the plastic ones. Or, simply close the door to these off-limit areas. Once you have ideas about your rabbit's activity preferences and have obtained several toys for him to choose from, the next challenge is getting him to use this new found entertainment.

Location, location, location! 
If your rabbit likes to dig in a specific corner, either block off that area to discourage the behavior altogether or place a digging box or grass mat there so it's okay for him to dig, dig, dig. Try placing toss toys and a few chewable toys in the areas where he likes to hang out. Also, place a few toys in his cage or run area so when he is confined, he learns to chew these items. Don't forget to provide lots of fresh hay. Hay will allow your rabbit plenty of chewing pleasure and will help promote good dental care.

Training your rabbit can be fun for both you and your rabbit. You will see new behaviors you never knew existed and you will get to know your rabbit better. He in turn will be trained to do what pleases him, in a way that pleases you.

Great rabbit toys and ideas can be found at:

www.bunnybytes.com  
www.busybunny.com 
www.catsandrabbitsandmore.com/products 
www.forotherlivingthings.com 
www.rabbit.org/chapters/san-diego/behavior/toys.htmlwww.rabbit.org/chapters/san-diego/behavior/bunnyproofing.html  

 by Michelle Wilhelms