All About Digging Behaviors in Pet Rabbits

Digging, scratching, burrowing – it’s just natural rabbit behavior. But when those fluffy feet start tearing up your carpet and flooring, it becomes a frustrating problem for any bunny owner! Why do rabbits insist on digging where they shouldn’t? Can you protect your home from these destructive digging habits? Get ready to hop down the rabbit hole as we uncover the secrets of your pet’s tunneling tendencies. From providing appropriate outlets to tips for litter box diggers, this complete guide will give you all the tools to curb undesirable digging and harness your rabbit’s energetic excavating instincts in a positive way. Read on to save your home from those relentless rabbits feet!

Why do rabbits dig?

Rabbits are natural diggers. In the wild, they dig burrows to live in and to hide from predators. Even domesticated rabbits retain this natural instinct to dig. Digging behaviors serve several purposes for pet rabbits. Some key reasons rabbits dig include:

Digging nests

One of the main reasons rabbits dig is to create nests. In the wild, rabbits dig burrows in the ground to give birth and raise their young in. The burrows provide protection and shelter. Even domesticated rabbits exhibit nesting behaviors. A female rabbit may dig and pull out her own fur to create a nest when she is pregnant. She wants to prepare a safe, comfortable space for her kits. Spayed female rabbits may also dig nests due to false pregnancy. The hormonal changes make her maternal instincts kick in, so she tries to prepare for babies that will never come. Providing your spayed female rabbit with a nest box filled with hay or straw can satisfy this natural urge to dig a nest.

Fun

Digging provides mental stimulation and entertainment for rabbits. Rabbits are intelligent, active animals that need activities to engage their minds and bodies. Digging gives them an outlet to expend energy. It provides enrichment to their day. Many rabbits find the act of digging and burrowing to be fun and rewarding. Providing a dig box filled with shredded paper, strips of fabric or cardboard, or even a small mound of straw can give your rabbit a designated place to dig for enjoyment. Rotate different shreddable materials to keep it interesting.

Stress/Boredom

When rabbits are stressed or bored, they may turn to destructive digging behaviors. Without proper outlets, the natural desire to dig can lead to digging at carpets, walls, furniture, litterboxes, or anywhere else that seems diggable. Stressful situations like a new home, bonding with a new rabbit partner, or not getting enough exercise can trigger destructive digging. Make sure your rabbit has places where he is allowed to dig, like a dig box. Providing ample space to run and play, rotating toys to prevent boredom, and addressing sources of stress can also curb unwanted digging.

Attention

Sometimes rabbits dig for your attention. If you react strongly to the digging, either by scolding the rabbit or immediately intervening, the rabbit learns that digging gets a response from you. Rabbits crave interaction with their owners. Even negative attention is better than being ignored in a rabbit's mind. Reduce reactions to benign digging so as not to reinforce the behavior. Redirect to appropriate scratching surfaces instead of discipline.

Why your rabbit digs on you

You may notice your rabbit digging and pulling at your clothes, furniture, or carpeting while you are holding or petting him. This is a social behavior rabbits use to groom their partners. In the wild, rabbits will groom each other by nuzzling, licking, and lightly nipping. The scratching motion mimics this social bonding. Enjoy the interaction as your rabbit tries to reciprocate your affection. Provide old towels or t-shirts for your rabbit to dig into while with you.

How to protect your carpet from your rabbit

If your rabbit is digging at your carpets and flooring, take action to protect your home. Untreated carpet digging can damage flooring and baseboards. Try these approaches:

Alternate floorings

Cover carpeting in your rabbit's space with alternate dig-proof flooring. Tile, wood, concrete, or vinyl flooring hold up better to scratching. You can also use grass mats or interlocking foam floor tiles. These provide traction and cushioning without being diggable. Limit access to carpeted areas until digging is under control.

Cover the carpet

If removing all carpeting is not an option, protect the carpet in key areas. Place grass mats, yoga mats, or interlocking floor tiles over the carpet where your rabbit spends most of his time. You can also block access to carpet with cardboard barriers or NIC grids. Use baby gates to keep your rabbit out of carpeted rooms when you are not home to supervise.

Give your rabbit other options

Provide appealing alternatives to satisfy your rabbit's natural digging urges. Place a dig box or cat litter box filled with shredded paper or strips of cardboard in a corner that your rabbit likes to dig at. You can also designate an area where digging is allowed using NIC grids or cardboard barriers. Place toys and chews in this space to make it even more enticing.

Spay or neuter your rabbit

If your rabbit is not already fixed, get him spayed or neutered. The hormonal drives and territorial behaviors associated with mating often cause and exacerbate digging. Getting your rabbit spayed or neutered can dramatically reduce these undesirable behaviors.

Dealing with litter box digging rabbits

Some rabbits dig at their litter boxes. While rabbits do need to forage in litter, excessive digging can make a mess. Here are some tips for dealing with litter box digging:

Use a Covered Litter Box

Covered litter boxes with a grate or hood can contain some of the mess from litter flinging. The top allows your rabbit to hop in but prevents the litter from scattering outside the box.

Try a Different Litte

The texture of the litter may encourage your rabbit to dig. Try switching to a pelleted paper, aspen shavings, or citrus-scented litter instead of traditional clay. The new substrate may curb the digging.

Increase Litter Box Size

Give your rabbit more room to move by using a bigger litter box or adding a second box. Crowded boxes can trigger territorial digging.

Clean Boxes Frequently

Stay on top of cleaning the litter boxes at least once a day. Soiled litter can send the signal that it's time to dig a new "hole." Keeping the box fresh minimizes this.

Add Hay

Place a pile of hay in or next to the litter box. The hay satisfies natural foraging needs while also encouraging positive litter box habits.

Use a Sifting Box

Boxes with mesh or grate bottoms allow urine and feces to fall through while retaining the litter. This stops the litter from being kicked out as easily.

Try Litter Box Liners

Line the box with reusable puppy training pads, incontinence pads, or fleece blankets. These can contain some of the mess and are easier to shake out than replacing all the litter.

With patience and consistency, litter box digging can be minimized. Do not punish or yell at a digging rabbit, as this can worsen stress levels. Make the litter box setup appealing so your rabbit wants to use it appropriately.

Reference:
https://rabbitbreeders.us/articles/digging/

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