Rabbits are naturally good diggers – they dig for attention, out of boredom, and for a bunch of other reasons. But if your rabbit is digging on you, there could be a specific message that your rabbit is trying to convey.
Wild rabbits have to dig their warrens (homes) where they live and shelter from predators. Domesticated rabbits don’t need to dig warrens, but the instinct is still there and it can be problematic if they have long claws as they can cause damage to your skin and clothes.
Read on to find out all the reasons a rabbit might dig, how to prevent digging, and more.
There are multiple reasons why your rabbit might be digging on you, and even more reasons why they might dig in the ground.
Here’s why your rabbit might be digging on you:
- To tell you to put them down: If you’re holding your rabbit, they might feel unsafe and panicky. They could be digging on you to ask to be put down. If you don’t listen, they might become more stressed and get aggressive – biting and kicking.
- They’re being territorial: In addition to spraying, chinning, and defecating, rabbits might dig to cover-up or investigate a new scent.
- They’re bored: Rabbits need a lot of stimulation to prevent boredom and depression. When they’re bored, rabbits are more likely to be destructive.
- You smell: Rabbits have strong senses of smell, and any new, unfamiliar smells will put them on edge. Changing your smell (e.g. wearing perfume, being sweaty, or holding another animal) could cause your rabbit to dig towards the new smell.
- Your rabbit wants to play: Digging can be a sign from a rabbit to come and play with them. It could be them initiating a game or getting your attention.
- They feel anxious: A stressed rabbit will want to fight or flee, but if they’re being held and need to escape they might instinctively start digging.
- To assert dominance: Sometimes rabbits want to be independent and digging to dictate your time (to demand a cuddle, playing, for you to leave them alone, or for attention) is one of the ways they will show you that they’re the boss.
- They’re showing off: You might find your unneutered male rabbit digging in front of a female to try and impress her. It’s the rabbit’s way of proving that they’re capable of creating a home and is considered as an act of courting.
- They want attention: Digging as a form of communication could be your rabbit asking you to pay attention to them, asking to be cuddled or picked up, or because they want something.
- Tell you something is wrong: A rabbit in pain or sick might dig as a sign to leave them alone. This is rare since it would take quite a bit of effort to dig when they are feeling under the weather.
- To release energy: A young rabbit full of energy might dig to burn some pent up energy off. This is more likely if they’ve been cooped up in a cage.
Having your rabbit dig on you is not an enjoyable experience, and it’s possible to teach them not to do this but always remember that you shouldn’t punish your rabbit for this behavior – you’ll just scare them and break their trust.
Instead of punishment, try one of these methods to try and get your rabbit to stop digging on you:
- Give them toys: Preventing boredom and stimulating your rabbit might remove the need to dig in the first place. Rabbits are intelligent animals and need to keep busy, so toys will keep them occupied (and not digging) for hours.
- Get a grass mat or digging box: Providing a specific outlet to dig will teach your rabbit it’s okay to dig on their grass mat, so in theory, they don’t need to dig on you. They get to satisfy the urge to dig in a controlled, safe way that’s not on you. This compromise works for both of you!.
- Play with your rabbit: Your rabbit needs a lot of social interaction. Digging could be them asking for your attention, so spending time with them will not only strengthen your bond but also keep them entertained.
- Tell them off: If you loudly exclaim ‘ow [your rabbit’s name]’ or clap your hands you’ll teach them that you are upset with what they’re doing. Sooner or later they’ll learn not to do it because they understand that you don’t like it.
- Neuter your rabbit: Digging can be because your rabbit is being aggressive or territorial. If your rabbit notices a scent they don’t like (e.g. that of another rabbit), they could be digging to investigate it.
- Ignore them: When your rabbit digs on you, put them down and turn your back. This signals to your rabbit through body language that you aren’t happy with them.
- Reward not digging: If your rabbit sits on your lap without digging, give them a treat or positive reinforcement to teach them that sitting nicely and not digging is good.
- Distract them: When your rabbit is digging you could redirect their attention with toys, food, or something else that causes them to stop digging and focus on something else.
- Take them to a vet: If your rabbit is in pain or discomfort, they might be acting out of character and trying to let you know something is wrong. An examination by a vet will confirm if there’s a problem.
Another way to help is getting their nails regularly trimmed. This is better for them when they’re moving around and won’t be so painful when they’re digging on you.
Be extra careful though, as they have veins in their nails. If you aren’t confident doing it yourself, make an appointment with your vet. For more advice on rabbit nail clipping, head over to this website.
If you want to create an environment where you can allow your rabbit to dig, there are a few ways to do this.
If you have a garden area that’s secure and rabbit-proof (i.e. no poisonous plants, escape routes, or danger) you can let your rabbit free-roam outside as long as you’re watching them.
This means your rabbit can dig in the ground as they would in the wild – but you should make sure that they don’t vanish into the ground – placing wire around the edge of the garden will act as a deterrent to the rabbit digging out.
You can make a box yourself for your rabbit to dig in. It’ll need to be at least twice the size of your rabbit. You could use a high-sided litter box, a sandpit, or any other concrete enclosure that will contain them.
You can offer your rabbit sand or soil to dig in, but bear in mind these can create quite a mess. Recently turned over, crumbly soil is also a good option, and you can add sand to clay soil to make it lighter.
If you don’t have the space or material for your rabbit to dig, you could give them a pile of crumpled-up paper or old towels and clothes to let them play with. You could also buy and cut down scratch mats from the store to protect your flooring. Rabbits enjoy foraging for food, so a fun game you could play is burying or hiding food under hay or somewhere where they have to figure out how to find the food. This is good for their mental stimulation and mimics the behavior of wild rabbits.