Why Do Rabbits Dig?

lop-eared rabbit digging in dirt outside

Instinct is one of the main reasons for rabbit digging. qimono/pixabay.com

Rabbits and digging go together like dogs and barking; it’s just something that many rabbits do. Some rabbits dig more than others, and no dirt is needed to dig. Rabbits can make the dig motions anywhere. Why do rabbits dig? You can’t really expect an answer from your bunny, but you can make an educated guess. One reason probably accounts for most rabbit digging, but a few other reasons also exist.

The Power Of Instinct

You might have guessed that instinct drives a majority of rabbit digging. Most rabbit species in the wild live in underground burrows that they dig. A notable exception are cottontail rabbits, which live in nests rather than burrows. Burrows provide some safety from predators and extreme temperatures. A group of burrows where numerous rabbits live is called a warren. All domesticated rabbit breeds are descended from the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), which burrows, so your bunny pal has burrowing in his or her genes.

At first, digging might seem cute. Your rabbit might paw at the carpeting, couch cushion, your bed quilt, or other household item or furnishing. This is unlikely to harm anything unless you let it continue or encourage it. Repeated digging can cause damage to items.

Digging is also a reason that adventures outside in an exercise pen or other containment must always be supervised. You don’t want your rabbit to dig under an obstacle and escape.

On the plus side, because rabbits enjoy digging it’s a great way to offer them exercise and enrichment. If you have a safe outdoor space with dirt available, such as a fenced-in backyard or safe outdoor area for an x-pen, then supervising your bunny for outdoor playtime could lead to dig-time. You might also offer a dig box for your rabbit. This can be large-scale like the size of a sandbox for children, or just a high-sided plastic container or sturdy cardboard box that’s at least twice the size of your rabbit. Experiment with “fillings” to find what your rabbits like best, as long as the filling is rabbit-safe. Crumpled paper, heaps of hay, clean dirt, small pieces of fabric that lack any nap, and biodegradable packing peanuts are some fillings to consider. Be sure to keep the box clean, removing any soiled items and completely cleaning it regularly.

Other Causes Of Rabbit Digging

Beyond instinct, digging might just be an expression of your bunny’s thoughts. Curiosity, boredom, stress, fear, wanting attention, seeking a cozy spot to lounge in — any of these and more could be some of the less common reasons why a rabbit digs.

To know what’s going on, take your cue from what’s happening in your furry friend’s life. Has anything changed in the environment? Have there been any changes in the household — more people or less, more pets or less? Are you interacting with your rabbit a lot more or a lot less than usual? A young rabbit is more likely to chew things, dig, and spray than an adult rabbit.

In the book “Exotic Pet Behavior Birds, Reptiles, And Small Mammals” co-author Teresa Bradley Bays, DVM, states that rabbits who scratch at the floor might do so to get attention or be picked up.

What To Do About Rabbit Digging

Although rabbits are hard-wired to dig, people who share their lives with them might not be fans of the behavior. If you want your rabbit to stop digging, what can you do? The behavior probably can’t be eliminated, but minimizing it is possible.

Your best ally in the battle against digging is distraction. When you see your bunny digging, call out his or her name to get your pal to come to you, try starting a game or just stomp your foot on the ground at least several feet away. Use the foot stomp as a way of communicating, not to scare your rabbit, so stomp just enough to make a noise. A treat is another distraction, but beware offering too many in one day and unbalancing your rabbit’s diet.

Another way to distract your pal is to offer him or her safe digging options to enjoy. The dig box mentioned previously is one option. Another is to provide grass mats specifically made for rabbits for your bunny to rest on, dig, or chew as he or she wishes. These are available at pet supply outlets and some rabbit rescues that sell supplies.

If the digging seems obsessive, it might be time for a veterinary visit to rule out any possible medical issues. Also, obsessive digging could occur if a rabbit is not spayed/neutered or if he or she doesn’t get enough time to free-roam a bunny-safe area outside the cage.

The rabbits subreddit at Reddit, an internet discussion site, includes numerous posts about digging. This reddit has comments about spayed/neutered rabbits that are digging at carpeting.

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