Playing games with your rabbits can provide them with entertainment, enrichment and exercise. It also helps you build that all-important bond with your bunny chums.
What games can you play with rabbits? As buns are prey animals, anything that involves chasing or the element of surprise will likely stress them out and is best avoided.
Lifelong rabbit lover Amy Pratt, who is known as the Bunny Lady advises: “Rabbits are social creatures who do enjoy playing with their human companions, but you need to be creative and flexible in the ways you interact. Always make sure you respect your rabbit and their personal boundaries.”
INTERACTING WITH YOUR RABBITS BOOSTS THEIR WELLBEING
Bunny experts agree that playing games and interacting with your buns is a brilliant way to deepen the bond that the two of you share. Amy Pratt reveals: “You’ll gain more insight into your rabbit’s personality, and they will slowly start to trust you more and more. Play is also a great way to encourage exercise and maintain their health.”
Rabbit Welfare, a charitable organisation that works to ensure all pet rabbits in the UK are cared for with understanding, insight and kindness, advises: “To allow your pet rabbits to carry out their natural behaviours they need to be given plenty to do. Anything that keeps your rabbits safely stimulated and active is great for their wellbeing.”
SEE THINGS FROM YOUR RABBITS’ PERSPECTIVE
Small pet expert Marylou Zarbock has some useful advice. She says: “Looking at the world from your bunny’s point of view gives you an insight into how your companion might like, or dislike, a game. Rabbits are prey animals, so they have the instinct to flee, freeze, or fight when faced with a perceived threat. Rabbits usually are not fond of loud noises, sudden movements by others or even being picked up. Getting startled is no fun for rabbits. This pretty much rules out surprise or chase games.”
LET THE FUN BEGIN
Announcing that it’s playtime by always saying the same phrase will signal to your rabbit that playtime fun is about to begin. Marylou Zarbock advises saying something along the lines of: ““Hey, Thumper, let’s play,” “Thumper, are you ready to have some fun?” or whatever phrase you wish that includes your bun’s name. Be consistent using the phrase so that your rabbit learns that when you say it, a game is about to begin. When playtime ends, have another phrase that you say to signal this. Even if your rabbit is the one to end the game, say the phrase.”
Once your rabbits understand that there’s some fun (and tasty treats) to be had, they may even start to let you know they’re up for a game. Marylou Zarbock adds: “Your rabbit might decide that it’s time to play. If a toy gets tossed at you, a ball is rolled your way or you get ‘the nudge,’ join in when you can. Your buddy wants your attention.”
For more hesitant buns, setting up explorer games that they can investigate at their own pace, can be a rewarding activity.
Rabbit Welfare suggests: “Rabbits are inquisitive and love exploring. They like to climb into and onto new toys, so give them cardboard boxes, large pipes or bits of rolled-up carpet to play with. Searching for tasty food is another favourite pastime. Why not hide titbits and watch your pets hunt for them?”
“It’s also important to remember that not all rabbits will like every way of playing,” adds Amy Pratt. “Try out some different games and different ways of interacting with your rabbit to see which ones they like best. Rabbits have the instincts to chew, dig, and forage. Knowing these behaviours, we can play games that allow your rabbit to use these natural instincts in fun and creative ways.”
7 IDEAS FOR GAMES TO PLAY WITH YOUR RABBITS
- THE NIBBLE AND SPRINT
Take a small bunch of tasty, scented greens – such as parsley, coriander or some Luscious Leaves – and sit near your bunnies. Let them come over to investigate and reward them with a little nibble. Then move to another spot and call your rabbits’ names and, when they follow, offer them another tasty titbit. Then pick up the pace and race to another spot and see if they follow (they probably will!). The game can last between five to 10 rounds or until your buns have had enough.
- MAGIC CUPS
Take two to three plastic cups (transparent for beginners), your bun’s favourite food, and sit down with your pets. Extra tasty Herby Hearts or Fruity Feasts can work well for this game. Place a little food inside the cups and put them upside down on the ground. Now encourage your bunnies to come over to investigate and to get the treat out – you may have to help them figure it out until they’ve got the hang of it. Give them lots of praise when they accomplish it. Add more food and repeat. Make sure you never leave your pet unattended with the plastic cups and don’t let them chew them.
- THE HOPPING CHALLENGE
Build a low wall out of cardboard boxes and encourage your buns to hop over them by repeating the word “hop” and holding a tasty treat in front of them. When they make the leap, reward them with the treat, along with lots of praise.
- BUNNY BOWLING
Rabbits enjoy games that cater to their natural behaviours. A game of bunny bowling will appeal to their mischievous side, as they take great delight in knocking things over. Set up some toy bowling pins, with some of their favourite nuggets scattered around them, and watch as your buns nose-bonk them all down.
- CHUCK IT
Some bunnies absolutely love picking up toys with their teeth and tossing them with a flick of their head. You can make your own by stuffing tasty hay in cardboard tubes from paper towel or loo paper rolls, which are perfect for chucking about.
- ROLL THE BALL
Get a small cat ball, preferably one with bells in it, that your rabbits can pick up with their teeth, and roll it towards your pets. After your bunnies have examined the ball, repeat the roll. After a while, you pets may start to bat the ball around with their noses or pick it up with their teeth. If they enjoy this, you may even get to the point where your buns return the ball to you so you can enjoy a game of bunny tennis together!
- FIGURE IT OUT
PDSA recommends stuffing a Kong for small pets with something tasty, like a healthy, natural rabbit treats. Your bunnies will have lots of fun working out how to get to their yummy snacks. For rabbits who love playing with balls, try introducing a treat and activity ball to provide a rewarding brain game. All you have to do is put your rabbits’ favourite food inside the hollow ball, then adjust the size of the opening to create a suitable level of difficulty. For super smart bunnies who are up for a challenge, a wooden snack cube game could fit the bill. This toy consists of one whole with three separate cubes that you can hide treats for in. A sisal rope is attached to the cubes, so your pets can pull the cubes out of the holder. The small holes in the cubes allow your bunnies to smell the treat and therefore trigger them to search for it.
EXPERT TIPS FOR HAPPY BUNNY PLAYTIMES
- Mornings and evenings are the best times for games as this is when bunnies are naturally most active.
- Get down to your buns’ level to play games. This is your rabbit’s territory and the place where they feel most secure.
- Every bunny is an individual with their own likes and dislikes so, when it comes to games, it may be better to have one-to-one playtime with each in turn. Knowing your individual bunny’s likes and dislikes will help you choose activities the two of you can enjoy together.
- Keep play sessions short – no longer than 10 to 20 minutes. If your bun loses interest or hops away, it’s time to stop the game.