SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Problem behaviour in rabbits - digging and chewing

Some behaviours such as digging and chewing are normal behaviours for rabbits. Here are some tips on how to stop them becoming a problem.


Digging is a normal rabbit behaviour. In the wild, rabbits dig burrows in order to:

  • escape from predators;
  • have a comfy, safe place to sleep; and
  • to have their babies.

It is important that your rabbits have the ability to dig in order to meet their behavioural needs.

Hutches with mesh on the bottom can hurt your rabbits’ feet. Large mesh can cause injuries as a rabbits’ feet can become trapped, and small mesh can cause rubbing damage, feels unnatural and can prevent a rabbit from nibbling on grass. Rabbits’ feet should be checked daily for signs of injury and damage (especially Rex rabbits who have particularly sensitive feet due to their lack of fur).

SPCA NZ does not recommend using mesh on the base of your rabbits’ hutch due to the injuries and discomfort it causes. Providing your rabbits with stimulating things to do and opportunities to dig in places that you are happy for them to do so will help to reduce your rabbits’ desire to dig elsewhere or to try to escape.

How to prevent problem digging:

  1. Make sure your rabbits have LOTS of things to do.
    • Provide lots of enrichment to keep your bunnies busy.
    • Make sure that you do not house rabbits alone, they are a social species who need to be housed with at least one other rabbit. Before getting your rabbit a compatible partner, make sure they are desexed as this provides lots of health and behavioural benefits, as well as making sure that more rabbits are not born (as there are already so many without homes in NZ).
  2. Provide the opportunity for your rabbits to dig safely when they are outside of the hutch. Ideas on how to do this include:
    • Outdoors: Provide “digging boxes”.
      • These can be boxes, containers or even a kids’ shell pool filled with dirt, shredder paper or child-friendly sand that your rabbit is allowed to dig in.
      • Place your rabbits’ favourite foods around the digging box to encourage your rabbits to use the box.
    • Indoors: Some rabbits like to "organise" rugs, bedding, pillows or towels. If your rabbits spend a lot of time on the bed, pushing, pulling and biting the sheets and blankets until these objects are just right, they will also probably enjoy their own material to bunch around on the floor; this is known as “bunching”.
      • Provide towels, blankets or bath/shower matts that your rabbits can rearrange with their feet.
      • Always monitor these items for chewing and remove them if you believe that your rabbits might be able to ingest or shred the material.
  3. Provide your rabbits with opportunities to burrow or hide.
    • Tunnels, cardboard boxes or open carry boxes simulate burrows or hiding spots. You can make them more interesting by joining them together or moving them to maintain your rabbits’ interest.
    • Place your rabbits’ favourite foods around the tunnels or boxes to encourage your rabbits to use them.
  4. Desex your rabbits.
  • A desexed rabbit has less desire to escape to find mates and so is less likely to try to dig out of their enclosure.
  • Desexing rabbits also means that you can keep them in pairs (even same sexed pairs should be desexed in order to prevent potential behavioural problems). It is very important for rabbits to be housed with other rabbits (never guinea pigs) as they are a social species who crave the company of their own species. Keeping a rabbit on his/her own means that he/she is more likely to display unwanted behavioural problems in response to being unhappy.


Chewing is a normal rabbit behaviour. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously, and it is important that they have the opportunity to wear down their teeth to prevent them from becoming overgrown. But this need to chew need not become a problem for rabbit owners – there are many things you can do to prevent your rabbits from chewing the wrong things.

How to prevent problem chewing:

  1. Provide safe items for your rabbits to chew.
    • You can buy wooden toys that are specifically marked as safe for rabbits.
    • Untreated wooden branches such as Willow, Spruce and Apple are safe for rabbits to chew.
    • Hay (and grass) should make up the majority of your rabbits’ diet. Providing a sufficient supply of hay and/or grass will also help to wear down your rabbits’ teeth. Make sure that the hay is clean, free of mould or dust and is placed off the ground to avoid soiling.
  2. If your rabbits come inside your house, remove items that you do not want your rabbits to chew.
    • Hide or remove electrical cords (under carpet or mats etc) or cover them with plastic tubing to reduce the risk of accidents.
    • Place houseplants in an area well away from your rabbits. Remember that simply putting houseplants out of reach may not be enough to prevent your rabbits from eating leaves that have fallen off the plant onto the floor where the rabbits can reach them. Many houseplants can be poisonous for rabbits.
    • Cover table legs if they may get chewed on.
  3. BEFORE you let your rabbits explore a new area it should be rabbit-proofed.
    • Always supervise your rabbits when they are in the house or an unfamiliar area. Rabbits have a different visual perspective to humans and may find toxic or unsafe items low down that you have missed.
Download our Rabbit Care Brochure (PDF)
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