We dig, dig, dig, dig….

I’ve often been asked, “How do I stop my rabbit from digging everywhere?”. My answer is always “You don’t!”.

Rabbits need to dig, and to stop them from doing so is denying them one of their big natural behaviours. So the question isn’t so much “How do I stop them,” as it is “How do I control their digging?”.

I’ve seen a few people place their rabbit’s hutches and runs on concrete paving & slabs so they can’t escape and dig, but this can sometimes create issues for rabbits’ feet. Rabbits feet are delicate and they can develop sores if they’re always on ground that’s too hard for them (equally, sores can develop from ground too soft/wet). However there are some easy ways to get the best of both worlds.

We have an old indoor rabbit cage which we don’t use (we find them too small, and prefer to use dog cages when our rabbits are indoors). So, I’ve filled one of the trays of an indoor cage with soil and placed in the rabbits run. This gives them an excellent digging pit! It needs some maintenance though, as they will use it as a litter tray too so it needs cleaned out, and of course, they’ll not always keep the soil inside the tray so the soil often needs scooped back into it. You could also fill the tray with sand, sawdust, wood-based cat litter (ours make most mess digging this stuff!) or recycled paper.

If you have a portable run in the garden, you’ve probably found they try to dig their way out? Try to let them have a little dig, and move the run regularly. This way, they’ll not do any permanent damage to your grass, and you’ll allow each area to “heal”.

Of course, I appreciate there’ll be some areas of the garden you just don’t want them to dig up, so some tips to consider:

  • Try to keep them distracted away from no-go areas by making “safe” areas of the garden more attractive to them – toys, plants & herbs that are specifically designed for your rabbit at the other end of the garden may entice them to stay away from the forbidden “fruits”.
  • You may need to fence-off areas as part of your bunny-proofing
  • Using the “conditioning technique” use rewards to keep your rabbit in check – reward your rabbit with healthy treats when they are behaving in the areas of the garden you’re happy for them to be in, and they may be less likely to want to explore other areas. If that doesn’t work in itself, you may need to consider negative conditioning, but remember a rabbit will not respond well to many punishments as they won’t always recognise a punishment for what it is, so this needs to be done VERY carefully. The only technique I would suggest is the use of a small spray of water (ensure that the water bottle/sprayer is clean and disinfected thoroughly). The spray should be small/gentle and used sparingly so only use it if the reward technique isn’t working for you, and only when they are genuinely showing signs of the behaviour you’re trying to avoid (in this case digging the wrong area of the garden). Remember also to ensure your rabbit is fully dried off before putting them back in their hutch or cage for the night, as their fine hair makes it difficult for them to dry off.

In the main though, it’s important to give your rabbit the opportunity to dig. It helps them to exercise, and allows them to use their muscles and keep them in good shape. Most of all, it’s natural behaviour, and you’ll only have a truly happy rabbit if you let them act like one. Some of the funniest moments with our rabbits have been watching them digging and rolling in the dirt!