Rabbit Behaviour Problem: Digging the Carpet
Do you have a rabbit like Clover that likes to dig and chew your carpet? Read on to learn what rabbits have against carpet and how to stop the digging.
Why Rabbits Dig
Did you know that the scientific name for rabbits 'Oryctolagus cuniculus' means hare-like digger? Digging is built into your rabbit's genetic code. Rabbits dig to build tunnels, to create a comfortable spot to rest, and to manipulate their environment and the things in it. In the natural environment your rabbit would be digging at soil, the problem is, you've covered the soil over with carpet.
It's important to understand that your rabbit isn't being 'naughty' so saying "no", spraying water, clapping your hands or any other method of expressing displeasure will not stop it, because training your rabbit to ignore her instinct to dig (which you’re unlikely to manage anyway) won’t make it go away.
From Your Rabbit's Point of View
- This corner would be the perfect entrance for a burrow for me to hide/nap in.
- The tunnel-like space behind the sofa would be perfect if only it had another exit.
- I don't really understand why I'm not allowed to extend my own home - I'd be happy to share the new space with you.
- This dirt tastes like carpet!
Not all digging is a rabbit just being a rabbit. When digging becomes repetitive and purposeless, such as if Harriet digs in the same spot for hours, it may have become an abnormal or 'stereotypical' behaviour. When animals perform stereotypical behaviours like repetitive digging, chewing the bars, pacing their cage, rattling their water bottle, or over grooming, it is a sign they are bored, stressed, or frustrated. It means that something about their living arrangement isn't meeting their needs. To stop it you need to address the underlying causes of that frustration. For more on this see: Chewing the Cage Bars.
The activities suggested below for addressing digging would also help as part of a wider lifestyle change to relieve boredom.
How to stop Rabbits Digging
I'm not going to tell you how to stop your rabbit digging! Again, the key thing to remember is digging is a normal behaviour, it's just the environment, your living room, isn't suited to it. Instead of trying to stop your rabbit digging, you need to alter the environment so your rabbit can dig without destroying your house.
To do this, it's best to approach the issue from two angles:
- Protect areas you don't want digging to occur
- Provide areas that are okay for your rabbit to dig in
Protecting Your Home
There are many ways you can protect against damage from digging; you'll need to decide for yourself what would work with your living space, but here are some ideas:
- Protect the corners of carpet with a heavy tile, lump of wood, paving slab or brick - pick something that matches your decor. Something quite flat will work best so your rabbit stands on top. Taller objects will just create a new corner a few inches out from the old one. Another option is perspex, which you can fix to the carpet with double-sided tape.
- Sometimes just moving a heavy object and rearranging the furniture to block the area will break the habit when combined with providing alternative digging opportunities.
- If you have expensive flooring, you can protect it with a cheaper cover such as a rug. A sheet of plywood covered in lino/vinyl flooring makes an excellent easy clean floor for a pen. Grass mats are a good flooring option for a small area - but they may need replacing regularly as bunnies love to chew them.
- If your rabbit is digging the back of the sofa, fit a chew proof tunnel along behind it, this allows your rabbit to enjoy the space, but prevents them trying to expand into the sofa, floor or walls.
- If your rabbit is outside and digging your lawn rather than carpet, cut the grass short and put down a layer of mesh so it sits snug to the ground - pin it in place with wire pegs. The grass will grow through, hiding the mesh, but your rabbit won't be able to dig. Alternatively lift the top inch of turf, put down the mesh and relay the turf.
Activities that Support Digging
It's important that at the same time you remove the opportunity to dig in the place you don't want, that you provide new opportunities in areas that are suitable. If you don't your rabbit will find her own in a different spot and you'll be back to square one.
One of the main purposes behind digging is to create a tunnel, so providing tunnel like spaces can help reduce your rabbits urge to dig. Cardboard boxes are excellent for this, you can link several together to create a whole tunnel system and your rabbit can chew her own entrances and exits in the cardboard to satisfy her urge to manipulate her environment.
Although cardboard is cheap and easy, tunnels can be made from lots of different things - plastic pipes, fabric (although watch for chewing), paper or a sheet draped over a stick or string, even a row of footstools.
Rabbit's like their living spaces to have multiple entrances/exits as in the wild this would help them retreat from predators. This is another reason behind digging: your rabbit feels the need to create a new exit, so providing these spots to hide and run through can make a big difference.
Providing a box specifically for digging is a create way to support your rabbits natural behaviour. Any biggish box will do - fill in with soil, shredded paper, hay, straw or even snow (clear up before it melts). A small entrance or even a tunnel leading in will help contain any mess. Hiding pieces of food will help encourage your rabbit to try it out and digging for treats is a great activity in its own right.
It's important that your rabbit has the opportunity to dig, but the amount of digging can also be reduced by providing more non-digging based activities. If your rabbit uses up her spare time on foraging for food, interacting with a companion or playing with toys then she has less time left over for digging. Making sure your rabbit has a variety of things to do will create a more balanced activity schedule with less emphasis on hours of trying to tunnel through your carpet.
The most important thing to remember is digging is normal rabbit behaviour. The problem is the environment you provide, not your rabbit. Your goal should be to transfer the digging behaviour from the areas that are destructive to outlets that are more suitable.
Did this article help you understand your rabbit's behaviour? If so, you might like to try my book: Understanding Your Rabbit's Habits
- Learn to speak bunny with an illustrated guide to body language
- Understand the motivation behind your bunnies behaviours
- Find out how to support your bunnies behavioural needs