How to play with your Rabbit

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Rabbits are fiercely independent animals, combine that with  prey animal instincts that tell them to run & hide and it’s easy to see why many people think rabbits make stand-offish, boring pets.  But the truth is, rabbits are really social animals.  They would love the opportunity to interact with you or play with toys.  Playtime with your bunnies helps build a bond between you and provides them with mental stimulation & exercise.

The two most important things to remember when playing with your rabbit are

1) do it on your rabbit’s terms

2) go slow & be patient

The more you often you play, the more your rabbit will trust you

Play on your rabbit’s terms

*Take advantage of your rabbit’s most active times to schedule “play dates”.  Most rabbits are active early in the morning and at night

*Let your rabbit tell you when she is ready to play.  You will know she wants to play when she is tugging at your sleeves or pants leg, circling your feet, or maybe booping your leg then running away.  Leave some toys out and let your rabbit approach them when she is ready

*Get down to rabbit level.  If you are standing,  your rabbit sees you as a giant and will be less likely to approach you or let her guard down to play with toys.  Sit, or better yet, lay down on the floor and wait for your rabbit to come to you.  She needs to feel safe & comfortable before she will drop her guard.  Don’t force her to sit with you.

*When your rabbit loses interest in a toy or in playing with you, let him go.

click here to read more about understanding rabbit behaviors

Go Slow & Be Patient

*Be patient, especially with a new rabbit or if you are just starting to introduce play.  Don’t push it if your rabbit seems uninterested, but try again the next day or at another time.  It might take several invitations!

*Rabbits are naturally timid, avoid sudden movements and loud noises.   Do not yell at your rabbit.  Unless your rabbit is already comfortable with your dog or cat, don’t let them in the room during playtime and try to minimize dog barking.

*Speak softly & happily whenever you are with your rabbit, even just to clean their cages.  Some rabbits also respond to rhythmic talking like reading aloud.  My rabbits enjoy singing & music.  You want your rabbit to associate you with feeling safe

*Do not try to rough house with your rabbit.  He will likely just become frightened

*Keep in mind most rabbits do not enjoy being picked up.  It is scary for them, when a much larger animal scoops them up it generally ends with them being eaten so their instincts tell them to run. They will be much more relaxed if all their feet are on the floor.  But many do enjoy cuddles on your lap or sitting next to you

“Games” & Toys to Try

Spend some time observing your rabbit to see what her play personality is.  Rabbits like games that cater to their natural instincts.  Rabbits are not dogs, they don’t play games like fetch or tug.  Some rabbits like knocking things over, some like to steal things and then run off, some like shredding & digging, some like throwing things, some enjoy figuring out puzzles

Bowling bunnies:  get a child’s plastic bowling set and set the pins up for your bunny to knock over.  You can also stand up a few toilet paper tubes or empty oatmeal cans (stuff them with hay or treats for added interest)

Furry bunny thief:  lay on the floor with an envelope, stick, or other small object in your hand and let her steal it, take it back and repeat. Sit with an apple slice or other treat in your open palm and let your bunny take it.

Furry destroyers:  fill a shoe box with shredded paper and let her go to town, give her a straw mat to dig at.  Let them shred a newspaper or phone book.  Set up cardboard boxes for them to hide in and chew on

Baseball bunnies: rabbits that like to toss things will love plastic baby toys (like plastic key sets), knotted jute ropes, small blocks of wood, plastic cat toys with bells, willow balls, toilet paper tubes

Brainy bunnies: logic games are great mental stimulation.  Hide a papaya tablet (you can find these in the vitamin section at most nutrition stores and they are great for bunny digestion) or use some other type of treat in a loosely closed fist. Hold both fists in front of your rabbit and make him choose the fist with a treat before giving it to him.    There are all kinds of logic toys for sale that have your rabbit perform various tasks to get rewards.  You can make your own by cutting a couple holes in a toilet paper tube and putting small treats in it (make the holes larger than the treat), tape up the ends and have your rabbit roll it around to get the treats out

General toys bunnies like:
*make a cardboard “house” for your bunny by taping a couple boxes together and cutting out a door, she will enjoy running in and out, hiding and chewing on the house!
*Rabbits love tunnels, you can buy cat tunnels, use cardboard concrete forms or cut the bottoms out of a few large plastic pots and tape them together
*lay down flat on the ground, either on your stomach or back and let your rabbits climb on you, jumping up and down is great exercise for them

Want more toy inspiration?  Check out my post “Easy DIY Rabbit Toys” for easy (and free!) toy ideas!


41 comments

  1. Victoria says:

    Thank you thisbis very helpful. I have threes rabbits(maddeline, mocha&lunar.)(lunar meanse moon eclipse) and lunar is the only one yhat will ley me pick him up. I’m going to try to play with them and see wah happens

    • Liz says:

      Is your rabbit neutered? That *should* stop him from doing that. If he is not neutered PLEASE don’t get a female unless you want a million little rabbits lol! Sometimes even fixed rabbits will mount each other though to show who is in charge. So your rabbit is either trying to show your friend who is in charge or is just getting his urges out (it’s actually more likely the first one if he is only doing it to your friend and not you who he already accepts as lead rabbit). Your friend (or you) needs to show the rabbit that behavior is unacceptable. When he does that pick him up and move him across the room and firmly say no. It might take several tries, but eventually he will get the hint.

  2. Eleanor says:

    Hey so I have a standard Chinchilla and she is very shy and doesn’t get around much even when she has the opportunity to. She is also afraid of everything except for me. And has anxiety when I take her out of her cage. How can I get her to move around and play more? Is it something that I am doing wrong?

    • Liz says:

      I don’t have much experience with Chinchillas, but I know they can be a little skiddish as small herd animals. I would suggest you move really slow with her. Don’t take her out of her cage, leave the door open and try to tempt her out. Sit quietly on the floor and let her come to you. If she comes up to investigate you and runs when you pet her, you might need to just spend a few days letting her come to you without you petting her. Many small animals can be shy around humans and earning their trust can just take some time. My best advice would be to move slow, talk quietly and let her take the lead! 🙂

      • Eleanor says:

        Well she is a rabbit her breed is a standard chinchilla the name is confusing giving the fact she is not actually a chinchilla. Maybe she is named after the chinchilla not just because of the looks but because of the skittish nature.

        • Liz says:

          lol I have definitely seen standard chinchilla rabbits – I was just reading too fast! They were bred specifically to resemble chinchilla’s soft grey coats. But again, I would just start small and slow and hopefully she will come around!

    • Rebecca Doussan says:

      They take a lot of time attention and Love.
      Sing to her while you pet her gently daily She will start to open up to you coming out. Try it!?

  3. Pamela Primakov says:

    Hi Liz. We have a 5 month old lion head male who is adorable, mischievous, interactive and fiesty. We have a scheduled neuter date when he is six months old. He gets lots of interaction time with my busy home of teenagers but I fear as they head off to college he may need a more available companion. Thoughts on introducing a companion bunny ? I understand this can be a process and, if not done correctly, unpleasant for the bunnies.

    • Liz says:

      Hi Pamela, rabbits are naturally predisposed to living in groups and most rabbits will enjoy having another rabbit around eventually. The easiest bond to establish in adult rabbits is male/female as in the wild that is how most rabbits live (but please only do this after both the rabbits are fixed!!!). It can take about a month for the hormones to settle down after getting fixed. When introducing the new friends, it’s best to move slowly. Put them in separate cages next to each other for about a week to let them get used to the idea of another rabbit in the house. Let them out of the cage for free time only one at a time, or gate off an area for each rabbit. For the first meeting, you should sit on the ground with them to supervise and better to intervene. Start out giving them about 15 minutes of meeting time the first day, gradually increasing it by about 15 minutes a day until they seem to be cool with one another. What is likely to happen at the first meeting is some circling and mounting behavior. It is not about mating, it’s about establishing who is the dominant rabbit. It’s fine to let that happen, as long as they aren’t hurting each other. Good luck!

      • Babsy says:

        ZOh c’mon he”s a Bunny its what they do naturually,yep he”s a boy Bunny,good at what he does and is in charge,.he’s supposed to be making a whole warren of Bunnies,where they can be a huge happy family;fabulous parents;blessed with a whole family in one go!
        Of course In the warren,warm clean &safe,they’ll have a partner for life and are deeply emotionally bonded,perfect parents ,blessed with large family.They’ll be knowledgeable of all the plants growing within thier half sq.mile territory and will keep each other in tip-top health,peak of fitness.When they come out Dawn &Dusk,maybe more if safe!They’ll look after the Earth ensuring the structure(vital to human existence)of the soil is perfect to sustain life;human & Bunnies for decsdes to come.Busily improving the structure.
        Man cannot inhabit the Earth without structure,think sonk holes,dust bowls etc.zNo Bunnies =disaster.
        So punishing Boy Bunny,may tangle with thier emotions,that are deep and can be offended irreparably,if you dont understand what he’s trying to communicate…I would kindly let him Know that the arrangement you have ,will keep him safe..and you would love him to meet the female for life friend..and will do all you can to help him find her.So wind it down until you do..Understand him;then being as rescues are full ,really consider his happy 4 eva partner;then as interfering and as awful as it is.One of them would have to have thier reproduction abilities stopped by Bunny trained vet.Thats how drastic a step us humans must take,until the Earth is a beautful place safe from the wickedness that inhabits it now then bunnies and humans alike can really enjoy life to the full upon the Earth when that day comes bunnies can dance and be happy and humans would join them and share all the knowledge of the things growing up on the earth that are there to help us overcome all kinds of ailments without pain so do try and understand bunny boy and whatever you do always give him the very best of Your Love that’s that is what’s going to heal this earth love the bunny he’s an innocent little chap god bless. ××(Bunny kisses)

    • Kimberly Viggiano says:

      This is Great!…..I was just starting my investigating journey into getting a 2nd rabbit. My daughter has a 2 month old lion head rabbit. I feel he gets lonely and needs another playmate. We have shih-tzu’s that he plays with but I feel he needs another rabbit…Benny has made himself right at home and makes a great addition to our family. We do plan on getting him neutered. This site has given me great info and answered a lot of questions I had. Thank you.

  4. Ani English says:

    Hi Liz, my dear husband and I got our Patch from the local classifieds, so we don’t know how old he is or if he has been neutered (adult, probably, based on the condition of his hocks and that he is the size of a cat; unlikely on the neutered front). We have a friend who has expressed wanting to have a bunny playdate (hers is a female Netherland Dwarf, about a year old and not spayed?), so my question is if we are carefully supervising playtime, there would not be an express concern to fix either of our fur babies, yes?

    We do intend to give Patch a thorough check up and the surgery, but we have not yet found a small animal veterinarian (working on it) nor currently own a carrier (also working on it). I’d like to have kept this brief, but the last pieces of info I thought to provide are that we and our friend all work full-time, and each of our bunnies boasts uncontested reign of the home (the only bun). I am hoping you’re not going to outright advise against the playdate…

    • Liz says:

      I would say you have a couple real obstacles to the playdate idea. While rabbits do enjoy the company of other rabbits, generally it takes getting used to the idea of having another rabbit around. You would ideally introduce new rabbit friends gradually over the course of a couple weeks by keeping them separated by cages or gates where they can smell each other but not really interact. Some rabbits will just readily accept any new rabbit, but that is pretty rare. Your second obstacle is rabbits can be territorial, especially when they have free reign over a house. Who ever is hosting the playdate will likely be defensive about a newcomer in their space. You will have better luck if they meet on the male rabbit’s turf. The third & biggest obstacle is that neither rabbit is fixed. Not only do you not want them mating and reproducing (which can happen really quickly, they are fast little buggers lol), the hormones of unaltered rabbits are going to make him interested in basically nothing else other than mating. I wouldn’t outright advise against the playdate, but I would definitely get the rabbits fixed first and wait about a month after the operation for their hormones to settle down.

  5. Courtney says:

    Hello, I’m getting a Holland lop soon and was wondering if you had any advice? I had a rabbit about 2 years ago but he was older when I got him and didn’t seem to have been handled much before I got him. He was very shy and skittish I’m hoping for better results this time around.

    • Liz says:

      Congratulations! The most important thing you can do with your new bunny is to follow her lead. She will need some time to adjust and explore her new surroundings. As much as you want to cuddle, don’t force anything. Sit on the floor with her and let her come to you. Offer her treats and pets while she is near you, but don’t chase her when she hops off. After a couple weeks, I’m sure you guys will be best buds 🙂

        • Liz says:

          Rabbits are naturally pretty clean animals so litter training is easier than you might think. I would suggest hanging the hay manger over the litter box so she has incentive to hang there. Don’t go super crazy cleaning the box for the first couple weeks so she can get her “smell” in the area

  6. Miedeen says:

    Hello Liz, i always wanted a rabbit and next year i would be going to university. So, do you think that its a good idea if i bought one during that time?

    • Liz says:

      Having a pet while going to school can be tricky. If you are living in school dorms they probably won’t let you have an animal, and if you are renting an apartment you would have to have the permission of the landlord so it might not be the best time to have an animal to care for. Maybe a good compromise would be volunteering at your local animal shelter? Then you can get lots of bunny cuddles but not run into trouble with keeping a pet in a rental

  7. Ayman says:

    hi thank you for the infos, i have a new rabbit a week ago and hes 7 months old, when i feed him he comes to me very quickly especially on roses and greens…
    but i really dont know how to play with him or cuddle him he will run away and it feels like he ran away not because hes scared just because he wants to play 😛

  8. Hayley says:

    Hi Liz,
    I adopted 3 rabbits from a rescue center, they were young, I have had them all sterilized but recently and on numerous occasions, my two boys have been seriously attacking each other. One has many sores, vet said he’s ok but I have separated them in the same cage as it’s quite large. The one with sores hides away mostly in his box but does eat well, how do it get them to be friends. They are 8 months old, the 3rd being a female and is also sterilized – is 10 months old. I also have a Netherlands dwarf female in a separate enclosure next door, sterilized and 6 months old, and she’s vicious- bites everyone, vet gave her the all clear, and she started before she was sterilized and didn’t calm after. Any advice is great

    • Liz says:

      So the three rabbits have been living together for months and getting along and now suddenly are fighting? I would take a look at their environment, has anything changed? Are you spending more or less time with them? Have you introduced a new element to their area they might be feeling possessive over (like a cool toy or bed or something). Even sterilized rabbits can be very territorial. They also like consistent routines and familiar spaces. If changes happen it can be stressful to them, making them agitated. If they have not been living together long, it could be they just need a longer introduction period. Some rabbits take to each other after a day or so, but some just need more time. Keep them separated but where they can see and smell each other, with short supervised times together, until everyone gets along

  9. Ana says:

    We just got a lionhead one week ago. He is about 9 weeks old. We love him so much. A few times when my son tried to hold him he bit him. My son was gentle. Any advice for us?

    • Liz says:

      Bunnies can be startled pretty easy. I would suggest having your son spend a lot of time sitting on the ground with the bunny while the bunny is running about. Let him come to your son, sniff him, see he isn’t a threat. During these times of exploring I would tell your son not to try and pick the bunny up, just let him play and be with him. Hopefully he was warm up soon!

  10. Denise says:

    Hi I have been wanting to get a rabbit for a couple years now. after all the reading I have done on your site I see that I should get 2. Anyways I am wanting to keep them outside my question is do they need a lot of sun light? Where I want to build their yard only gets morning sun. then filtered sun by noon and complete shade By 2 PM. Is that Enough sun for them?

    • Liz says:

      Hi Denise, they will actually prefer that setup. Rabbits do better in cool temps vs hot temps so being in full sun all day would be too much for them anyway. Filtered sun is perfect 🙂

  11. Farrah says:

    My daughter’s bunny is about 6 months, not neutered yet. He is the sweetest, most tolerant bunny ever. He loves to lick my entire face and I let him because his little neck is so cute. Lol. Anyways, my other daughter has been wanted one of her own so badly. We thought about getting her one for Christmas and having them live in the same cage. 1. Do they have to be the same breed? 2. What about the same age?
    He’s a mini lop and is playful, yet very cuddly.

    • Liz says:

      They definitely do not have to be the same breed or age. I would recommend getting your current bunny neutered and get the new bunny fixed as soon as he/she is old enough. Even if you aren’t keeping a male & female together, a neutered male will live more happily with another rabbit without all the hormones. You will want to introduce them slowly, keeping them separated for a couple weeks but where they can still see each other. Many people will section off an area with baby gates or playpens. After a week or so, you can let them get together in the same space and see how it goes. Then each day gradually lengthen the time together until they are good together all the time

  12. Tami says:

    I have a lion head bunny that is an indoor bunny. We live in Az and it is hot outside. I would like to let her out more to play but I’m wondering how to safely make sure the cats will not hurt her.. do you have transitioning ideas?

    • Liz says:

      I was initially really worried about how my cats would react to the rabbits, but they were surprisingly chill! It all depends on your cat’s temperaments though of course. Are the cats currently allowed in the room with the rabbit while the rabbit is in her cage? Encourage them to go in there, to watch you as you are caring for the rabbit. If they are already used to the presence of the rabbit in the house, you can start testing out their reactions to the rabbit being loose in the house. Sit on the floor with your rabbit. Don’t restrain the rabbit or the cat though, because they are both such independent animals they are going to feel threatened, trapped, and might lash out. Just stick real close to the rabbit so you can intervene if things get out of hand. Your cat will likely just watch from afar for awhile. Eventually she will come up and sniff the rabbit, and you need to let it happen. It can be scary, but just keep an eye on your cat’s body language. Does she seem relaxed & cautious or does it seem like she is hunting? My rabbits are almost the same size as my two cats and honestly the cats right from the start have been great. A few times I have seen the cats reeeaaaalllly slow boop the bunnies on the head, but it was very playful. The rabbits actually like to chase the cats around the ottoman lol. Good luck!

  13. Dawn E Dodgen says:

    I’m adopting my first bunny tomorrow – ?
    I can’t wait to play these games with him. I’ll try to let you know how it goes.?

  14. pamela browning says:

    I enjoyed and leaned so much from your article! Thank you for all the information! However, being a writer myself, it’s important to proofread everything that you write for the public’s consumption. In the very beginning I noticed that you state that rabbits need “metal stimulation”. Surely you meant “mental stimulation”. You state the same thing later on. This could be misunderstood. Also, you offer games to play with your rabbits, and state one game is to place a papaya tablet in your fist. What is a papaya tablet? I know what papaya is, but did you mean a papaya strip of fruit or chunk? Just always proofread your material to make sure that what you are trying to convey is very clear for readers.

    • Liz says:

      Thank you Pamela – you are right, I certainly meant “mental” in that first paragraph and have fixed that. I also added some clarification about papaya tablets. They are tiny pills that many people (especially with wool breed rabbits) supplement their rabbit’s diet with. It helps guard against wool block in their digestive system and can be found at most nutritional stores. People who are new to rabbits or who don’t keep wool rabbits may not be familiar with them so a clarification is helpful. You could certainly use chunks of actual papaya or other fruits for that game though!

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