What do rabbits need to be happy?

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Rabbits don’t need much to be happy. They can have hours of fun with a paper bag, for example. But it’s important that, as house rabbit caregivers, we learn how to treat our rabbits so that they can be happy.

That sounds obvious, but it wasn’t that long ago that we thought it was perfectly acceptable to keep rabbits in hutches in the bottom of the garden, even though we’d be shocked if someone kept a dog like that.

In order to be happy rabbits need:

An appropriate environment

Rabbits need a lot of room to run and play. If you’re not planning on letting them free-roam, then they’ll either need a large enclosure, or a few hours out of the enclosure every day – preferably both.

There’s no point me giving dimensions as to the perfect size for a rabbit pen, because rabbits vary wildly in size.

The general rule of thumb I like to give, is that your rabbit should have ample run to do crazy zoomie displays.

A companion

Rabbits are social animals, and the majority of them will need to be kept in pairs. To be honest, it’s easier to look after a pair, because they don’t demand so much attention, and it’s barely any more expensive.

Sure, you have to pay for spaying or higher rescue fees, but my two small rabbits cost me far less in food than my one big rabbit.

If you have a single bun, you’re the companion, and you’ll need to spend a lot of time with your rabbit. It’s pretty easy to do with house rabbits, since companionship is as easy as watching TV together.

A proper diet

I have a full article on what to feed your rabbit daily here, but it boils down to a diet that’s 85% fresh hay, 10% fresh vegetables, and 5% pellets.

That’s (broadly) 1/4 cup of pellets per 6lbs of rabbit, fresh veggies equal to the size of their head, and 2x their body size in hay.

Someone to take care of them

Rabbits are very delicate animals, and can succumb to illness like GI stasis fast. Because they’re prey animals, they hide the fact that they’re ill, because a sick rabbit is an easy prey.

Taking the time to get to know and observe your rabbit is as important as providing them with enough space or a great diet.

It’s also important to accept your rabbit the way that they are – don’t force them into being handled or picked up when they clearly don’t like it. You’re just asking to be bitten and kicked.

How can you tell if a rabbit’s happy?

Happy rabbits are pretty easy to tell. There are the zoomies and binkies, which are so funny to watch. Relaxed, happy rabbits will lie down on the floor in various stages of flatness.

If you’ve ever had a grumpy rabbit then you’ll know this, but grumpy doesn’t mean unhappy.

One of my rabbits was SO grumpy, but she did super high binkies – she just didn’t look like she was enjoying herself. I drove myself mad googling ‘unhappy rabbit binkies’ but nothing comes up. The general consensus is that if a bunny binkies, they’re happy.

The same rabbit was also super docile, even at the vets. She loved being groomed (but only with finger combing – she didn’t like plucking or brushes) and was happy to flump at our feet, but her facial expressions always looked kinda mad.

She also didn’t like toys – her idea of playing was running around, and she also liked sitting in boxes (I’m beginning to wonder if she was cat).

She was perfectly happy, she was just quieter about it, and not bothered about human attention (she demanded grooms from her mate, but never ever reciprocated). I wonder if she thought she was the dominant one in the whole household and had to act accordingly?

How can you tell if a rabbit isn’t happy?

The first sign of unhappiness in a rabbit is lethargy. I’ve had some lazy rabbits in my time, but even they had the occasional bout of energy. Sitting the corner, hunched up, can be a sign of illness, pain, or unhappiness.

It’s also a sign of unhappiness if your rabbit is scared of you. It’s natural for rabbits to be scared of you when you first bring them home, but over time it should subside.

If it doesn’t make sure that your bunny has somewhere they can run to that you don’t go. Even if I’m taking my rabbits to vets, I block up their little space rather than go in and grab them from it. Although generally putting some herbs in the carry case negates the need to do this.

Aggression can be a sign of unhappiness, but not unhealthiness as such. Often rabbits that have been neglected or misunderstood can be aggressive, and it can be difficult and stressful to calm them down, but it is possible. You just need to be very patient and calm.

One of our rabbits was very aggressive and it took us months to even understand her behaviour (I believe it was 100000% attention-seeking) – but once she understood that I wasn’t going to pick her up, or even stroke her anywhere but on her face, she began to slowly trust us. She felt in control of our interactions without needing to resort to biting.

Oh, and letting her take her aggression out on sofa cushions really helped.

Not all rabbits binky, but almost all will exhibit some kind of crazy behaviour when they’re excited and happy, even it’s just a head shake or tail-flick.

What to do if you think your rabbit isn’t happy

If you suspect your rabbit isn’t happy, consider these questions:

  • Do they have enough room to run and play?
  • Do they have plenty of toys to keep them entertained?
  • Do they have a good diet?
  • Would they benefit from having a partner?
  • Are you giving them enough time?
  • Are they frightened of something in the house? Other pets can be stressful, and it may be in your rabbit’s best interests to keep other pets separate and see if that curbs their anxiety.

Finally, think about your behaviour towards your rabbit – are you insisting on handling them and picking them up? It’s much better to sit on the floor and let them come to you.

Final thoughts on keeping happy rabbits

Nothing beats a happy rabbit. When you bring a sad, timid rescue bunny home and they start doing crazy zoomies a couple of weeks later, or flopping over on their side is just the best.

Remember that rabbits can have behavioural issues like dogs and cats, but you need to be more sympathetic with your approach since rabbits are hard-wired to run and be scared from anything remotely resembling danger.

That’s why I recommend covering up wires and baseboards etc, rather than waiting for them to chew them and then scolding them. At least in the beginning when they’re getting used to you.

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