This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.
In a nutshell, you sit down and watch your rabbit play until they call on you. It’s like playing with a toddler that wants to be left alone.
Because your rabbit doesn’t want to play with toys you give them. They want you to go away and leave that delicious corner of the sofa for them to rip at.
All jokes aside, it’s fun playing with rabbits, once you’ve figured out their body language.
Rabbit body language can be very confusing if you’re not used to it.
How much time should I spend playing with my rabbit?
This depends on your rabbit.
If you have a pair of bunnies, they may never want to play. I’ve also had single rabbits that wanted to play all the time, and others that want to be left completely alone.
The funniest combo is a pair of rabbits, one of whom wants to play with you and the other that wants to be left alone. There’s nothing more disconcerting than chilling on the floor chucking toilet roll tubes at one pet whilst another plots your death, not six feet away.
Take the time to learn what your rabbit wants.
Often, it’s just a case of sitting on the floor for half an hour whilst they potter around you, occasionally chinning your knee (just in case you thought it was your knee – they need to reinforce that it is, in fact, their knee, and you’re just borrowing it).
Holly doesn’t care if we play with her or not. She likes to come over for head scratches on occasion, but i get the impression that what she really wants is an audience to watch her zoom around.
And access to the corner of the couch.
What does a rabbit think when you play with it?
Normally ‘go away’.
No, some rabbits love to play with their human, but it can be hard to tell, because rabbits don’t do facial expressions like we do.
Over time, dogs have learned to mimic certain facial expressions that humans use. So dogs will smile at a human even though they’d never bare their teeth to another dog unless they felt threatened or wanted to attack.
Dogs bond with humans because they know, deep down, that they rely on them. They’ve been domesticated as companion animals for thousands of years.
Cats have been domesticated for thousands of years, but they’re more likely to identify as self-sufficient (whether they are or not). They were also worshipped, and used for pest control. They are godlike and useful, and won’t less forget that.
Whilst some dogs and cats are scared of humans, this is a learned behaviour. Very few dogs and cats are lost causes that will never trust one person.
Why am I talking about this?
Because there’s a fundamental difference between cats/dogs and rabbits and that influences how they play.
However domesticated and reliant on humans dogs and cats are, they’re predators.
Rabbits are prey. And they can’t forget that.
Over time, rabbits are becoming less frightened. Some rabbit aren’t scared of humans at all, and will happily flump on a complete stranger.
Others will never be able to shake the fear that they’ll be chucked in the pot and cooked for dinner.
Don’t be surprised if your rabbit runs away if you try to play with them.
It’s hard-wired into them. The reason that some rabbits aren’t fearful is that pet rabbits are evolving. Their brains are fundamentally different from wild rabbits. Some wild rabbits will actually die of fright if they’re kept as pets.
By the way, I’m aware that in US pet rabbits and wild rabbits are totally different animals (obviously both lagomorphs, but they can’t interbreed) but in the UK, they’re the same animal. But with different brains.
Games you can play with your rabbit
Start off with games you can play from a distance. A good (if weird) one is to get a load of old toilet roll tubes and put them on their ends. Your rabbit will have a wild old time pushing them over.
They seem to love it, whilst also being angry, which is the general attitude of a rabbit at play.
One of my rabbits used to love being ‘trapped’ by circle of toilet roll tubes (we’d put them round him in a circle) and then he’d have a whale of a time chucking them all about.
You can also try rolling a ball (treat balls are good) towards your rabbit, but don’t be surprised if they run away and look affronted. And don’t expect them to push it back.
You can set up agility style courses for rabbits – tunnels, lines of toilet role tubes, put treats in a dig box etc. In my experience they’ll be terrified of it for months, and then love it. You have to play the long game when it comes to entertaining rabbits.
Do rabbits like being chased?
Right, don’t be mad at me for this, but some do.
DON’T CHASE YOUR BUNNY UNLESS THEY ASK TO BE CHASED
It’ll really frighten them.
And it’s not easy to tell if your rabbit is asking to be chased. It’s actually quite painful.
Like I mentioned, reading rabbit body language isn’t easy.
Only one of my rabbits liked to be chased, and I really wish I’d realised earlier. One because she loved it and two because I thought she was biting me because she was mean. No.
So, Big Blue Isobel came us as a rescue and she was MEAN. She’d bite, and it HURT. But once she’d calmed down she discovered she LOVED to be petted, but she’d still bite us if she could.
Cue a lot of evenings sat on a stool next to her pen stroking her over the top of the bars. When we’d let her out to free roam, we’d have to barricade the sofa to stop her jumping on us and biting us. It was terrifying considering she could easily scale a four-foot barrier and she was the size of a medium dog.
It didn’t take long for us to work out that she wasn’t biting us because she was mad – she was trying to get our attention.
This made us feel better but…it still fucking hurts. I mean, she’d draw blood.
We’d have to wear thick shoes to walk around in, and at first she’d attack our feet…and then get super excited if we ran.
That’s when we knew. This was all a game. It wasn’t her fault she was an overenthusiastic player.
So we’d do that run that’s basically just shuffling your feet so you’re moving quickly but not very far away from her, and then whip around and do it towards her.
She loved it. Still bit us occasionally though.
There’s nothing quite like spending your Saturday nights barricaded in your sofa with a glass of wine wearing a pair of wellies.
What to do if your rabbit doesn’t want to play
Leave them alone. Try setting up toys for them to play with, and then sitting a little way away.
It can take rabbits a little while to understand that this isn’t all an elaborate rabbit-trap. Fair enough, since they have a long history of being various creature’s dinner.
How not to play with your rabbit
Don’t expect your rabbit to play like a dog or cat. Don’t be rough or loud. They’re delicate creatures (even though their bites are not).
Some rabbits don’t play with toys. They prefer to run around and binky and zoom. Some won’t play with toys until they’re eleven years old and suddenly decide a jangly ball is the best thing ever (they usually discover this at 3am).
Final thoughts on playing with house rabbits
Let your rabbit lead the play. Offer them lots of toys and see if any take their fancy.
You don’t need to invest money in this. Try:
Holly feels very strongly about blankets. We don’t know if she loves it or hates, but she…has feelings.
This blanket will be ripped up, dug in, and probs peed on. An old towel is perfect.
- A box
In fact, a GREAT toy is two box stacked on top of each other, so that you can put treats in the top one and your rabbit has to stand up to get the treats.
I use my rabbit’s pellet food as treats because they absolutely love it.
Do not put anything in the box like a blanket. It may stir something in your rabbit’s little brain that will prompt them to pee on the blanket. Box or blanket. Not both. I have no idea why this should be, I’m just giving you a heads up
- A paper bag
Primark do great ones. Big enough for most bunnies (our French lop fit in hers) and they’re apparently a LOT of fun for rabbits. I think they like the rustling noise.
- Something they can pick up and throw
Baby toys like plastic keys and stacking cups are often recommended, but if you’re on a budget, a small box (maybe a cardboard food package), or a toilet roll tube, or a plastic cup.
Rabbits like to throw stuff. They don’t care what it is.
I see a lot of people suggesting toilet roll tubes stuffed with hay, but none of my rabbits have ever eaten the hay from the tubes.
They’ve chucked the tubes, but the hay was immaterial. Waste of good hay really.
So, you don’t need to pick up your rabbit and snuggle with them to play. In fact most of them will hate that.
Instead, sit on the floor and chuck toilet roll tubes
at to them. Sounds weird, but there you go.