By Molly Semones
Rabbits like to chew and dig. We found that out with our first pair of bunnies in an apartment. Luckily for us, the damage was minimal and our furniture was largely hand-me-down or thrifted. Below are tactics we’ve learned to deal with a digging and chewing bunny.
People commonly live with their house rabbits either 1) keeping them in a 4×4 or larger pen during the day, with daily exercise time in a bunny-proofed area, or 2) giving them permanent access to a room or portion of the house. Your living arrangement choice will dictate what tactics below are most effective—and necessary—for you.
Chewing and digging are natural for rabbits. The key is to redirect the behavior away from the items you want to keep intact and towards acceptable chew and dig-ables. Prevention of chewing and digging in inappropriate places while encouraging these natural behaviors in appropriate ways includes three major steps:
- Teach your rabbit what they are and aren’t allowed to chew and dig
- Block access to areas and objects that are just too tempting to resist, and
- Give bunny toys he is allowed to use to chew and dig.
How to teach your bunny he’s not allowed to chew or dig something
Speak bunny language. If you’re across the room, you can clap or thump to get his attention and let him know something’s up and that you don’t like his behavior. You can then walk up to him and put something that he is allowed to chew in front of his nose. We find toilet paper rolls very effective in this role.
Common chewing and digging targets and removing temptations
You’ll find that many of these temptations are what “bunny proofing” is all about. Bunny proofing is essential to a happy human-rabbit relationship. Take the time to bunny proof—it saves a lot of heartache!
Baseboards: Interesting and chewable, located at right about bunny’s nose level. When bunny proofing, some recommend placing wooden boards or plastic to protect the baseboard. If the area is occupied under supervision only, such drastic measures are likely not required. However, if your bunny has permanent access to a room of their own, you may want to ensure the baseboards are protected.
Wires: Some bunnies like ‘em, some bunnies don’t. Your first choice is not to have them in bunny-occupied area, second is to block access (think behind an entertainment center), third choice is to encase them in plastic tubing and block access as best as possible, and fourth is to encase in plastic and monitor for chewing if they absolutely can’t be removed when bunny is around. On that note, remember your ‘temporary’ cords when releasing bunny to play areas: chargers, video game console controllers, etc.
Carpet: Some rabbits will dig and chew carpet, and some will be perfectly uninterested. Bunnies particularly like to dig or chew at irregular portions of carpet. We’ve found when purchasing carpets for our bunny living areas, a tightly woven carpet works best, ideally with the edges of the carpet outside of the rabbit’s reach. Shag carpet is a poor choice, both for the carpet and the rabbit’s digestive system. Area rugs work nicely when you have the choice.
Furniture: Couches, chairs, tables, etc. If your rabbit takes an interest in it (and you’ll know this because you supervised them in the play area before giving them free reign!) either remove it from the room or protect it with bunny-proofing techniques. Legs and cushions are subject to potential chewing, and rabbits may also dig at cushion seats. A special note on upholstered couches and chairs that rabbits can get underneath is that they may decide to tunnel into these pieces of furniture from below. You probably want to block access if you suspect your bunny’s into spelunking.
Corners and enclosed spaces: Rabbits are prone to chewing and digging in corners and confined areas, and especially love where these things come together. Ideally, do not allow them access to these types of spaces. A piece of furniture that your rabbit can get underneath that backs up to a corner is an invitation to dig and chew; block access. To protect particularly tempting corners that you don’t want to block off, try using that corner as the location for the litter box—which they can safely dig and munch their hay in.
Finally, if you know your bunny will dig and chew items you don’t want them to, don’t leave the rabbit in his play area unsupervised. They usually know what they are and aren’t allowed to do once you’ve taught them, and typically won’t do it under your watchful eye.
Toys for chewing and digging
Give your rabbit plenty of toys to direct their attention away from furniture. Ideas include:
Cardboard boxes, which can also double as hidey-holes. These often come as a free bonus gifts when buying household supplies. If you want something prettier, products like the Cottontail Cottage are available. If your rabbit digs while in boxes, place a piece of cardboard, blanket or sacrificial carpet scrap under the box to protect your carpet or flooring.
Toilet paper and paper towel roles, cereal boxes, paper bags. Stuff any of these items with hay and you can occupy your rabbit for quite some time.
A box full of shredded paper or child-safe play sand for diggers.
Willow or twig chews. Bunnies love ‘em. Make sure any branches you give your bunnies are non-toxic to rabbits and free of pesticide sprays.
Commercial bunny and small animal toys. Widely available. Listed last because your bunny is just as likely to enjoy playing with the recyclables that you get for free, but you may be more satisfied with the aesthetics of commercial products.
Your bunny will always dig and chew. Some bunnies will dig and/or chew more or less than others. The goal is to get him to dig and chew what you consider to be appropriate, so that he won’t be interested in the rest of the house.
Sometimes you have an obstinate bunny that defies all attempts to stop inappropriate chewing and digging. For those of you who own and love these rabbits, I extend my deepest sympathies. On the flipside, yet another benefit of adoption: the volunteers at adoption sites usually know who digs and chews more than the average rabbit. If you’re not up for dealing with enthusiastic chewers and diggers, volunteers can give you the scoop and you can identify a bunny more appropriate for your home.