Keeping Your Rabbit Happy: Here’s What You Need to Know

| July 28, 2023

Success! You’ve adopted your rabbit and are excited to provide them with proper care. You’ve done your research on healthy foods for your bouncy friend, you’ve purchased an enclosure that is well-equipped to provide safe shelter, and you’ve bought some fun toys to give to your rabbit. But what does happiness actually look like in a rabbit and what can we do to ensure they always feel loved? 

Enrichment In and Out of their Cage

Rabbits crave companionship from their human companion. Think of them as extroverted introverts who enjoy their alone time but also seek to recharge and connect with loved ones. They enjoy spending time outside of their enclosure, so long as the area is rabbit-proofed by eliminating exposed wires and anything harmful they can chew on. Ultimately, rabbits can be kept free-roaming in the house just like a dog or cat, but make sure they are litter-trained first! Use their out-of-cage enrichment as bonding time by reading to them, playing interactive games like a game of toss with a toy or treat, or simply petting them. You may find your rabbit nuzzling into your lap, savouring the company and closeness. 

Additionally, rabbits are natural foragers, burrowers, and expert Hide n’ Seek players, so make sure their enclosure is well-equipped to enact on these instincts. Provide treats buried into a forage mat to entice your rabbit to dig for something tasty. Add lots of hideaways to their enclosure so they can relax and unwind when they need alone time. Their happiness is infectious as watching them hop, dig, and explore their rabbit wonderland will surely bring a smile to your face! 

Understanding Body Language

Rabbits communicate their feelings through various behaviours, much like cats or dogs. By paying attention to their body language, you can gain insight into their emotional state. Here are some key indicators to observe as your rabbit goes about their day: 

  • Ears: Relaxed and upright ears generally indicate satisfaction, while ears pinned back suggest stress. 
  • Eyes: Bright and alert eyes show curiosity and inquisitiveness. Half-closed or squinty eyes may signal a desire for rest. Wide eyes can be a sign of fear or stress. 
  • Tail: An upright or straight tail often signifies confidence and contentment. A tucked or lowered tail may indicate fear or submission. 
  • Physical Behaviours: Rabbits exhibit specific physical behaviours that convey different messages. For instance, “binkying,” which involves leaping, twisting, and kicking their hind legs in the air, is a joyful expression of pure happiness and excitement. Grooming themselves or their human companions shows trust and affection. On the other hand, excessive scratching, biting, or thumping may indicate frustration, discomfort, or territorial behaviour. 
  • Vocalizations: Soft purring or humming sounds indicate contentment and relaxation. However, loud growling, grunting, or shrieking noises are signs of distress or pain. 

Remember to consider all these signs in conjunction with one another to better understand your rabbit’s emotional state. When you notice signs of happiness, take note of what you did to evoke that response, as it will guide you in continuing to care for your rabbit’s well-being. 

Positive Reinforcement

Like all pets, rabbits thrive on positive reinforcement for their mental health. They are often timid creatures, so negative or harsh actions such as yelling, punishment, or time-outs can be detrimental to their mental and physical health. Instead, focus on positive reinforcement techniques to keep them content. Ensure you reward them immediately after they exhibit the desired behaviour, as timing is crucial. Here are some tips to incorporate positive reinforcement into your rabbit’s daily routine: 

  • Teach them tricks: Any animal can learn tricks when rewarded for their actions. Consider teaching your rabbit how to sit, not only providing mental stimulation but also impressing guests who visit your home! 
  • Litterbox training: This not only makes cleaning easier for you but also provides an opportunity to bond with your rabbit. Reward them with their favourite treat when they use the litterbox properly. 
  • Handling comfort: Remember that rabbits are naturally timid animals and need to establish trust before any handling takes place. Offer them a treat to take from your hand, allowing them to be more comfortable in your space. This will help them understand that your only intention is to make them happy. 

When choosing to train your rabbit, break each task into smaller steps and reward them for accomplishing each step. This approach not only gives your rabbit a sense of achievement but also helps them develop skills that will strengthen your bond throughout their entire lives.