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Rabbit Behaviour Problem: Digging the Carpet

My name is Clover and I just love to dig the carpet in the corner behind the sofa, and under the table, and just to the left of the window. Sometimes I stop when my mum shouts and claps her hands, but I'll be back digging again as soon as her back is turned. She's really worried that eating carpet might be bad for my tummy, and she'd like it if I'd stop ruining the decor too.

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

Boredom

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:

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:

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.

Tunnels

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.

Digging Box

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.

Alternative Activities

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.

Conclusion

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

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