Like us, rabbits can be stressed out.
They’re even more prone to it since they’re naturally fearful.
And if it continues, it could lead to several problems.
Such as depression or stomach issues.
This is why it’s best to put an end to their stress asap.
But, how can you do it?
Read on to find out:
- 21 effective ways to reduce a rabbit’s stress.
- How heat, hygiene, and cage sizes affect bunnies.
- The common causes of their stress and its visible signs.
- Things you might be doing wrong that add up to the problem.
- And so much more…
How to reduce stress in rabbits?
To reduce stress in rabbits, you have to know its cause first. Then observe their body language. The next steps will be based on the reason. Say, they might be lonely and need a friend. But, playing calming music, giving a safe place, having a routine, and right handling may work in most situations.
So, before we proceed to the tips…
What are the common causes of stress in rabbits?
According to vets, it’s usually due to:
- Poor health.
- Improper handling.
- Lack of companionship.
- Unsuitable environment.
But, loud noises, changes in routine, and hot weather may also be the reason.
And if your bun seems to be down or irritated, the things below might help you calm them down.
21 effective ways to reduce stress in rabbits
#1: Play some soothing music
Do you have a certain Spotify playlist that calms you whenever you feel stressed out?
Well, good news, because this can also work for rabbits!.
Yup! This was proven by a study in 2018.
Researchers made 5 male New Zealand white rabbits listen to soothing music played from a CD.
It’s called ‘Pet Melodies Rabbit Edition.‘ And it’s specially designed for bunnies.
The tracks were played from 7 am to 4 pm every weekday. Then the radio was always turned off during the night.
And the results?
They found that rabbits had less cortisol in their stools after 6 months of listening to the music.
By the way, cortisol is also known as the ‘stress hormone.’
So, this means that the bunnies’ stress levels were reduced.
But wait. The study doesn’t end here yet.
Researchers studied the rabbits once more – 6 months after.
And they said that their cortisol levels increased again. Which might be due to the absence of music enrichment.
What to do?
If you can’t find the exact CD used in the study, this Youtube video might also work:
Note: To make bunnies at ease while listening, set the volume to a comfortable level. Say, it shouldn’t be too loud that you have to scream to talk to other people while it’s playing.
#2: Always keep their environment quiet
You may have noticed this already. But rabbits are highly responsive to noises.
Even the slightest sounds can easily give them a shock. This is why a noisy environment will also cause them stress.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should stay quiet all the time.
Just avoid creating unnecessary loud noises. And try to move as gently as possible to not startle your fur baby.
Also, take note of these other reminders:
- Play some calming music to buffer external sounds. (The one I mentioned above.)
- Place their hutch in a quiet corner. Avoid putting it in busy places (e.g., near the hallway, living room, kitchen).
- Remind children (if there’s any) that they should be aware of the rabbit in the house. And avoid making sudden loud noises.
Interesting fact: Did you know that up-eared rabbits can follow 2 different sounds at once? This is because experts say that they could use their ears separately.
#3: Provide a ‘safe haven’ for them
Next, it’s also recommended to give bunnies a place where they can hide.
Somewhere they could retreat to when they’re scared. Or a spot where they can calm down when they’re stressed.
This is helpful if you can’t avoid or get rid of their stressors.
But even if it’s not the case, your bunny will still appreciate this.
According to specialists, hiding is an instinct in rabbits.
Remember, they’re prey animals.
They quickly seek refuge when they feel unsafe in an area. So if they don’t have places to hide…
It could result in stress.
What to do?
The RSPCA says that you should give at least 1 hiding spot for every rabbit.
Here are some ideas that you may try:
- Low chairs.
- Rabbit tunnels.
- Wooden crates.
- Spare room with their cage and favorite toys.
- Plain cardboard boxes with multiple entries (without prints and staples).
Then after providing a safe haven, the next step will be making it feel ‘homey.’
Put some familiar scents inside. Like their towels or toys.
This way, they’ll be enticed to go inside. Plus, they’ll also feel safer.
Note: It’s good for rabbits to hide and satisfy their instincts. But, withdrawing all day might not be a good thing. They may be even more stressed, terrified, or worse, sick. So also pay close attention to your bunny.
#4: Don’t rush, let them come to you
Yes, rabbits are fun to cuddle with.
They’re little fluff balls that usually enjoy some lovin.’
However, some of them might also not be up for it. Especially if they’re not used to being handled yet.
This is why being touched or picked up all of a sudden can cause great stress to rabbits as well.
So if yours is like this, what should you do?
First, stay a safe distance from your bunny.
Get to their level and sit down on the floor near them (but not too close!).
Then let them be aware of your presence and be patient.
Let them come to you.
So if they see you around and you don’t seem like a threat, they’ll surely move closer to you.
Just give them plenty of time. And avoid forcing cuddles or any interaction if they’re still nervous.
We’ll get to the signs of stress in rabbits later. So stay tuned! 🙂
#5: Relax and keep your composure
If you’re waiting for your bunny to come or if you’re already handling them, always remain calm.
By doing this, you’re making yourself less intimidating, but more approachable to them. Which can help lessen their stress.
Rabbits might be capable of sensing our emotions
There are many anecdotes of rabbit parents saying that their house buns can tell whether they’re happy or sad.
But, there’s no specific research about this on bunnies yet.
However, studies on dogs and cats reveal that they indeed recognize human emotions.
They use both visual and auditory signals to detect what we feel. Say, our facial expressions, body language, and tone.
So if they can sense our feelings, there’s also a possibility that rabbits have the same ability.
Since well, bunnies are smart and trainable too.
They could learn tricks and solve puzzles. Plus, they can also recognize their humans’ faces.
Reading recommendation: Rabbits vs Dogs: 13 Fun Reasons Why Rabbits Are Better Pets
#6: Handle them as gently as you can
Now, if your new bunny allows being picked up. Or if your long-time fur baby is now scared of cuddling…
You also have to make sure that you’re doing it the right way.
“What is the proper way to handle a rabbit?”
Follow these steps as per PDSA:
- Put one hand under a rabbit’s chest.
- Place the other one below their hind legs as support.
- Slowly raise them up while holding their body close to you.
- Ensure that you hold them firmly – but not too tight so they’ll feel comfortable.
Also, keep these reminders in mind:
- Always provide support for their back and rear legs.
- Avoid holding them by their ears (this will be painful!).
- Put towels on slippery surfaces to make them feel safer.
Note: If possible, only let older children and adults handle your rabbit. And teach other people in the house how to properly hold one.
#7: Avoid holding them frequently
If being picked up seems to stress your bunny a lot, it’s best to tone it down. And do other things that they’ll enjoy instead.
Although it’s nice to get them used to being handled, it might have an opposite effect on them. Especially when done too much.
And the supposed ‘fun’ activity might become a stressful one for them.
So, as much as possible, pick your rabbit a few times a day. And only do it when necessary.
Keep it at a minimum. Then watch your bunny’s reaction for several days.
This is to see whether it has an effect on them or not.
#8: Give them a larger space to move around
Rabbits are full of energy and love hopping around.
So if they’re confined in a small space. And have nothing better to do…
What will happen?
Of course, they’ll be stressed out.
So, what can you do?
Option #1: Extend their living space
If your bunny’s bummed out, it could be that their hutch doesn’t have enough space to move around.
For this, you can attach a ‘run’ or install an exercise pen around.
Think of it as a yard or a playground where your bun can enjoy more freedom and exercise.
However, also ensure that both their hutch and run are of the right size.
What are the minimum size requirements for rabbit cages?
The American Rabbit Breeders Association, a.k.a. ARBA says that it’ll depend on their weight.
|Weight||Minimum floor area||Minimum height (interior)|
|Less than 4.4. lb (2 kg)||1.5 ft2 (0.14 m2)||14 in (35.5 cm)|
|4.4 to 8.8 lb (2 to 4 kg)||3 ft2 (0.28 m2)||14 in (35.5 cm)|
|8.8 to 11.9 lb (4 to 5.4 kg)||4 ft2 (0.37 m2)||14 in (35.5 cm)|
|Greater than 11.99 lb (5.4 kg)||5 ft2 (0.46 m2)||14 in (35.5 cm)|
Note: The space for your rabbit’s feeders isn’t included in the floor areas above. So if you want them to be inside the cage too, go for a slightly bigger size.
While for runs, experts recommend a minimum measurement of 3 x 6 x 8 ft (1 x 2 x 2.5 m).
Option #2: Allow them to freely roam around
First of all, this will not be a good idea if your bunny isn’t trained yet.
And if you haven’t done any ‘rabbit-proofing’ inside your home.
Because you might be the one who’ll be stressed out.
It may be fun in the beginning. But once your bun starts chewing everything or pooping everywhere, it could be so frustrating.
However, if you still opt for this…
You might also want to check out: 23 Tips To Stop A Rabbit From Chewing Everything (How-To) & 19 Tips To Stop A Rabbit From Pooping Everywhere (How-To)
#9: Ensure that they have a clean and comfy space
Rabbits are said to be obsessed with grooming themselves.
This is why they don’t even need to take a shower. (Oh yes!)
But since they like being clean…
They may also appreciate a safe and hygienic spot. And this may take their worries away too.
So aside from a bigger area, also take note of these things:
- Cover any sharp edges in their hutch or pen. Avoid injuries by using plastic guards as protection.
- Put a resting board. This is to prevent your bunny from getting sore hocks. Especially if they have a wired cage.
- Place an absorbent bedding. This is for hutches with a solid base. You may use straws, bunny-safe wood chips, or shavings.
- Change their bedding regularly. Check it daily to see if it’s already soiled or damaged. Then wash it right away or replace it with a new one.
#10: Allow them to play in a bigger area
Although you’ve already provided your rabbit with an indoor run…
It still might not be enough to lessen their stress.
So if possible, reduce their cage time as well. Then allow them to play in an outdoor run.
Having a bigger space to hop and move around will encourage them to exercise more. And being physically fit and active could lessen stress and prevent boredom.
Before doing this, let me remind you that the outdoors have hazards too. Such as:
- Toxic plants.
- Too much sun exposure.
Keeping in mind the latter, only let your bunny outside when it’s not too hot.
Enclose the space to keep them safe from predators. Also, make sure that there are no toxic plants around.
And that the lawn doesn’t have any fertilizers or pesticides.
How much exercise do rabbits need every day?
According to experts, they require at least 3 hours of running outside.
So the more, the better! 🙂
#11: Add some enriching activities to their daily routine
To keep rabbits away from stress…
It’s also best to give them some enrichment.
“What do you mean by that?”
It means upgrading their daily routine. By adding more fun and stimulation that your bunny needs.
What activities should I provide?
The first one is digging.
Rabbits are burrowers.
They love to hide. And they also feel some kind of satisfaction from it.
So, if you can provide opportunities for them to dig to their heart’s content…
They’ll love you for it. Plus, it’ll also keep them occupied, so less stress for them!
Some digging spot ideas are:
- Litter trays.
- Large shallow planters.
- Sandpits (filled with children’s play sand).
The other one is foraging.
Bunnies also like adventure and searching for food.
So apart from giving them treats in their dish, also make them snuffle around for more goodies.
- Feed them using a treat ball.
- Let them find hidden food in a snack box.
- Get a willow tunnel and stuff it with herbs and hay.
- Fill a plain cardboard tube, box, paper bag with treats.
Note: Always supervise your rabbit while playing. Especially with cardboards and paper. This is because ingesting large amounts of these may harm them.
Further reading: Can rabbits eat cardboard? & Can rabbits eat paper?
#12: Give them entertaining toys
What’s the result of boredom in bunnies? As well as lack of mental stimulation?
Well, imagine being confined in a space. Alone and with nothing to do throughout the day.
I mean, sure you can live with that.
But you’ll be sad and frustrated.
So, what can you do to relieve your rabbit’s stress?
Provide them with some toys as another source of entertainment.
“What toys are suitable for them?”
Based on experts, rabbits like manipulating things. So giving them stacking cups will do.
They also love chewing.
This is why these are perfect for them:
- Chew toys made with natural materials.
- Woven grass bed mat (a chew toy and bedding).
Since you can’t play with your bun 24/7, having some fun toys around can keep them busy.
Note: Ensure that the toys are made from non-toxic materials. Say, willow, untreated wood, or plain cardboard. Also, they must not have any:
- Tiny parts (that rabbits can swallow).
#13: Spend more quality time with them every day
How much time do you spend daily with your bunny?
Because receiving less attention can also cause them to worry a lot.
Vets point out that rabbits are highly social. And in the wild, they stick together as a family.
So this being said, they’ll also love to spend enough time with their humans. Or else, they’ll be stressed out and lonely.
“What should I do?”
- Hang out with your rabbit on the floor (or anywhere they want).
- Play games with them. Like letting them knock over some plastic bowling pins. Or throw a tiny ball.
- Teach them some tricks. Do this for at least 5 to 10 minutes per session – twice or thrice a day. (Here’s a resource that might help you.)
#14: Get them a rabbit friend
If the stressed rabbit is the only bunny in the house, they might need a companion.
Yes, you can spend some time with your bun every day…
But they would still feel lonely. As they’re longing for a friend who’s always around them.
Again, bunnies are social animals. And they usually live in groups.
The House Rabbit Society even says that humans can’t fully meet this need for companionship.
So, having at least a pair of bunnies at home is ideal.
How do you pick a bunny companion?
For starters, Dr. Joe Dunne recommends a male-female pairing. This is because same-sex pairs may fight a lot.
But, if you don’t want many litters, getting them fixed is the solution.
Also, the 2 rabbits must be of the same age and size. As well as breed.
Then, you should also…
#15: Introduce the new rabbit properly
Rabbits like to have a bunny companion around.
Like any other pet, having a new furry pal may also cause them stress at the start.
They’ll view each other as rivals. And this will continue until they’re not bonded well.
So, how can you properly introduce a new rabbit?
First, make sure that there’s enough space for both of them.
Meaning, their hutch must be big to accommodate 2 rabbits. As well as their run and bedding.
Never attempt to put them in one cage during the first meeting.
You’ll only stress them out. And it could make the ‘getting-to-know’ process longer.
Next, during the first weeks, put them together in a large area. Say, the yard or outdoor run.
Keep each bunny away from each other at a safe distance. Then observe them.
Be alert for some fighting. And look for friendly signs, such as:
- Sitting side by side.
- Following one another.
Now, if they interact with each other…
- Switch their beddings every day. This is for them to get used to each other’s scents.
- You can put them in one hutch. But provided that there’s a physical barrier that separates them.
- Keep their meetings short and positive. Play with them while they’re both outdoors. Also, give them a few small treats.
Note: Two rabbits may not bond overnight or after a few days. So be patient and expect that this will take a lot of time.
#16: Create a daily schedule for them and stick with it
Routines make our days structured.
We know what’ll most likely happen in a day. And this somehow puts us at ease.
But guess what.
Daily routines also have the same effect on rabbits.
Given that they’re naturally fearful…
If something unexpected happens, it could easily throw them off guard.
So to reduce your bunny’s worries and to make them feel safer, you also need to create a daily routine for them.
By doing these things around the same time every day:
Ensure that the schedule fits both you and your bunny’s lifestyle. And also, to achieve this, you have to be consistent.
Interesting fact: Research shows that rabbits are neither diurnal or nocturnal. They’re crepuscular. And this means that they’re mostly active at dawn and dusk.
So, playing with them is ideal early in the morning. As well as during sunset when their energy is at its peak.
Have some trouble keeping them asleep at night?
Read next: How do I make my rabbit sleep at night?
#17: Maintain a cool room temperature for them
Imagine you’re in your rabbit’s shoes during hot days.
I’m sure you’ll be stressed too.
So, be conscious of the ambient temperature as well. And ensure that it’s comfy for your fur baby to keep them happy.
“What’s the ideal environmental temperature for a rabbit?”
Vets say that it should be between 50˚ to 68˚ F (10˚ C to 20˚ C).
This is because, at 71.6˚ F (22˚ C), some bunnies may start to show signs of heatstroke already.
Signs to watch out for are:
- Sudden panting.
- Excessive drooling.
- Red and warm ears.
- Wetness around their nose.
Besides adjusting the temperature, you also need to…
#18: Help them beat the heat
A hot rabbit is certainly not a happy and content one.
So, to prevent this from happening, do these tips:
- Give them shade at all times.
- Invest in a good cooling mat for their pen.
- Ensure that your bunny has enough fresh clean water.
- Provide ventilation (e.g., open the windows, turn on a fan).
- Place a frozen bottle of water covered in a towel near them.
- Move your rabbit’s outdoor hutch to a shade if the weather’s too hot.
Note: Wild rabbits dig underground to keep themselves cool. So, hiding places may also serve as ‘cooling’ spots when they feel hot.
#19: Offer them a completely healthy diet
Stress might also be linked to poor choices of food.
This is because a bunny who eats right will feel a lot better. Both physically and mentally.
There would be no tummy issues that can keep them awake at night. Or any pain that’ll stress them out.
So, what is a healthy rabbit diet?
According to VCA, hay mostly makes up their ideal daily diet. But, this should be high-quality.
They also need a little amount of fresh leafy green veggies a day.
And these are usually served as treats (taking up not more than 10% of their total food intake).
Rabbits need pellets too. And these should be 1/8-1/4 cup per 5 lb (2.25 kg) of their body weight.
What should be avoided?
Young bunnies are said to be fine with eating any hay.
But for adult rabbits, it’s best to not give them alfalfa hay as it’s too high in calcium and protein.
As well as pellets to avoid weight gain and diarrhea.
#20: Consider spaying or neutering them
No matter what we do, if the cause of stress in rabbits is hormones…
The only way to combat it is by ‘fixing’ them.
You can manage it. But still, it’s not a long-term solution.
This is because when rabbits sexually mature, they produce many hormones.
These now result in unwanted behaviors. As they act upon their instincts. Such as:
- Urine spraying.
- Being aggressive.
- Nesting behaviors.
These could stress out you and your rabbit.
So if you’re not planning to breed them, consider spaying or neutering them.
Doing it will also lessen their risk of getting reproductive cancers. Both in male and female.
Note: When is the best time to do this? Based on experts, this is usually done around 6 months of age.
#21: Learn their body language
Lastly, you may not know that what you’re doing adds up to your rabbit’s stress.
So to prevent this, watch them carefully. And try to learn their body language.
“How will I spot an anxious rabbit?”
They’ll show some of these signs:
- Teeth grinding.
- Being aggressive.
- Breathing heavily.
- Reduced appetite.
- Lack of or over-grooming.
- Changes in their toilet habits..
- Losing interest in things they like.
- Repetitive behaviors (e.g., circling, biting, head bobbing).
And it’ll also show in their appearance:
- Flattened ears.
- A tucked-in chin.
- Stiff and crouched body.
- Absence of nose twitching.
Once you notice any of these, stop what you’re doing. And never do it again if they seem so nervous.
Give your bunny some space or lead them to their safe place.