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Why Do Rabbits Dig Shallow Holes?

Have you ever wondered why rabbits dig shallow holes or why your pet rabbits dig carpets, and furniture, or scratch the bottom of their hutch?

The affinity for digging is not exclusive to wild rabbits only. Rabbits kept as pets also possess instincts to dig shallow holes, and they do so when their surroundings permit them.

This article will explain why rabbits dig shallow holes, the difference between wild and pet rabbits’ digging behavior, the impacts, and much more.

Rabbit Behavior & Instincts

Despite their tame appearances and generally docile nature, Rabbits are fundamentally connected to their instincts.

In the wild, rabbits belong to a class of animals known as lagomorphs, characterized by certain instinctual behaviors and designed for survival.

One of these behaviors is digging.

Digging is a behavior that is inherent in rabbits, almost as much as hopping or eating greens.

In their natural habitats, rabbits dig complex burrows, also known as ‘warrens,’ providing protection from predators, shelter from harsh weather conditions, and space for nesting.

Why Do Rabbits Dig Shallow Holes

The digging habits of rabbits, particularly their penchant for creating shallow holes, are a fascinating aspect of their behavior.

These seemingly inconsequential excavations play vital roles in a rabbit’s life, underlining the instincts and survival mechanisms ingrained in these creatures.

Let’s delve into the specific purposes these shallow holes serve.

1. Exploration & Foraging

Rabbits are curious creatures with a natural curiosity about their environment. Digging shallow holes offers them an opportunity to explore their surroundings more thoroughly.

Digging enables rabbits to engage with different textures and materials in the environment, enriching their sensory experiences.

Moreover, these shallow holes serve a practical purpose in a rabbit’s search for food. While digging, rabbits can uncover various roots, shoots, or other plant materials that form a part of their diet.

This foraging aspect is vital for wild rabbits, helping them locate food sources they might otherwise miss.

2. Play & Exercise

Rabbits are energetic animals that require plenty of physical activities to keep them healthy and prevent boredom.

Digging shallow holes provides excellent exercise, engaging different muscle groups and offering entertainment. It allows rabbits to expend energy, keeping them active and fit.

As part of play behavior, you might notice rabbits leaping in and out of these holes, chasing each other around them, or even playfully wrestling near these shallow depressions.

Such activities provide physical exercise and stimulate their minds, promoting overall well-being.

3. Hiding & Security

Despite being famous as domestic pets, rabbits are prey animals with instincts for self-preservation deeply embedded in their nature.

They instinctively understand that they need places to hide from potential threats.

Shallow holes serve as an ideal refuge for these animals. They allow rabbits to disappear quickly, helping them evade predators or any perceived dangers.

Even in a safe, domestic environment, rabbits may dig shallow holes as part of their instinctual need for security.

It gives them a sense of safety and control over their environment, enhancing their comfort.

4. Nesting & Pseudopregnancy

In the wild, female rabbits or does often dig shallow holes as part of their nesting behavior. They prepare a safe, cozy spot where they can give birth and care for their young.

These ‘nests’ are typically lined with fur plucked from the doe’s body to warm the newborn kits.

In domestic rabbits, even when not pregnant, does may sometimes display nesting behavior, including digging shallow holes.

This is due to pseudopregnancy, where the rabbit’s hormonal changes mimic the symptoms of pregnancy.

This behavior underscores the powerful instinctual drives that shape rabbit behavior, even when the circumstances of their existence have changed.

Differences Between Wild & Domesticated Rabbit Digging Behavior

Whether in the wild or domesticated, Rabbits share an innate instinct to dig.

This instinct, while standard across all rabbits, is expressed differently based on their living environments.

Let’s delve into the distinct behaviors exhibited by wild and domesticated rabbits and the factors influencing their digging habits.

Wild Rabbit Digging Behavior

Wild rabbits live in an environment rich in opportunities for digging. With access to vast landscapes, they have the freedom to express their instincts fully.

The act of digging for a wild rabbit serves several vital functions.

Firstly, wild rabbits dig to create elaborate burrow systems, known as warrens. These can be several meters long, containing various chambers for nesting and escape routes.

Digging such complex systems allows wild rabbits to have a haven against predators and harsh weather conditions.

Also, shallow holes have a place in a wild rabbit’s life.

They serve as a temporary hideout or decoy to confuse predators, a temporary refuge they can dart into while their central warren is elsewhere.

These shallow holes can also serve as play zones or foraging areas where they can uncover roots and shoots.

Domesticated Rabbit Digging Behavior

Domestic rabbits, on the other hand, often live in more constrained environments.

They don’t have the luxury of open fields to dig deep warrens, and their opportunities to express this instinct can be considerably limited.

However, this doesn’t mean they lose the instinct to dig.

Without dirt or grass, a domestic rabbit might dig into soft materials like bedding, carpets, and furniture.

Their digging might not result in a complex network of tunnels like their wild counterparts, but they will create small hollows or indentations that serve a similar purpose.

Domestic rabbits may also tend to scratch the bottom, dig into corners, or at the edges of their cages, mirroring the boundary-marking behavior seen in wild rabbits.

In addition, domestic rabbits will also show nesting behaviors.

Female rabbits, or does, will often create shallow nests using their bedding material, especially during a pseudopregnancy.

Lastly, pet rabbits may dig shallow holes to access an outdoor run or garden.

These holes can be an outlet for their playful energy or a quick hideout spot, similar to wild rabbits.

Factors Influencing Digging Behavior

Several factors can influence the differences between wild and domesticated rabbit digging behavior.

The primary factor is undoubtedly the environment.

Wild rabbits have more space and natural materials for digging, while domestic rabbits are often limited by their living conditions.

The rabbit’s breed can also influence behavior. Certain breeds, like the European rabbit, are more prone to digging due to their wild heritage.

Impact of Rabbit Digging on Your Garden or Yard

While allowing rabbits to express their natural behaviors like digging is crucial, it can lead to some challenges, especially when it comes to maintaining a neat and tidy garden, lawn, or yard.

In this section, we delve into the specific impacts of rabbit digging on your garden or yard and provide some strategies to manage and mitigate these effects.

1. Disruption of Plant Life

One of the most apparent impacts of rabbit digging is the disruption to plant life. Rabbits are not discerning diggers; they often dig wherever the urge strikes.

This can result in uprooted plants, disrupted flower beds, and vegetable patches.

These excavations can affect your plants’ overall health and growth, particularly if your rabbit has a favorite digging spot.

2. Changes to Landscape

Rabbit digging can significantly alter the landscape of your garden or yard.

Their shallow holes can create uneven ground, making walking or carrying out garden maintenance tasks more challenging.

Over time, these diggings can even affect the stability of structures such as fences or garden sheds, mainly if your rabbit is a persistent digger.

3. Soil Displacement

The act of digging naturally displaces soil. This can lead to soil ending up in undesired places, like your patio, pond, or even your home.

In extreme cases, persistent digging can result in soil erosion, especially in areas with a slope, which can lead to more significant landscape issues.

Mitigation Strategies

While the impact of rabbit digging can be quite significant, there are several strategies you can employ to manage and mitigate these effects.

1. Designate a Digging Area

One effective strategy is to designate a specific area in your garden or yard as a rabbit-approved digging area.

This can be a sandbox or a section of your garden where you don’t mind a bit of disruption.

Providing a designated area can give your rabbit the freedom to express their natural digging behaviors without wreaking havoc on the rest of your garden.

2. Use Protective Fencing

Protective fencing can effectively keep rabbits away from specific areas of your garden or yard.

Installing a low fence around your flower beds or vegetable patches can deter your rabbit from digging in these areas.

Ensure the fence is dug into the ground to prevent your rabbit from burrowing underneath.

3. Provide Supervised Outdoor Time

Another option is to allow your rabbit outside only under supervision.

While this method requires more time and attention, it lets you control where and when your rabbit digs.

If your rabbit starts digging in an undesired spot, you can gently redirect them to a more appropriate location.

4. Use Digging Alternatives

Finally, providing your rabbit with alternatives to digging in your garden or yard can help satisfy their urge to dig.

This can include indoor digging boxes filled with safe substrates like sand, shredded paper, or soil.

Toys that encourage similar behaviors to dig, such as tunnel toys, can also provide a beneficial outlet for their digging instincts.

Safe Alternatives for Rabbits to Exercise Their Digging Instinct

The instinct to dig is deeply ingrained in rabbits; providing safe and stimulating alternatives to channel this behavior is crucial, especially for domestic rabbits.

This approach ensures that your rabbit can satisfy their instincts while preserving your home and garden.

Here are some creative alternatives and strategies for your rabbit to exercise their digging instinct safely.

1. Digging Boxes

A digging box is an excellent solution for a rabbit’s digging instinct.

You can use a sturdy plastic storage box or a large cardboard box for this purpose. Fill it with a rabbit-safe substrate such as shredded paper, hay, sand, or soil.

The depth should allow your rabbit to dig without reaching the bottom easily.

Your rabbit can tunnel through the material, toss it around, and generally indulge their digging instincts without causing any damage to your household items.

You can also hide treats or toys inside the box to encourage your rabbit to dig and keep them interested.

2. Digging Mats

A digging mat is a specially designed product that can cater to a rabbit’s digging behavior. These mats are usually made from safe, chewable materials and can be pretty durable.

Your rabbit can scratch and dig at the mat, providing them with an outlet for their energy. Moreover, digging mats can also contribute to keeping your rabbit’s nails trimmed.

3. Tunnel Toys

Rabbits love tunneling, which is closely related to their digging instincts. Providing tunnel toys can help fulfill this instinct.

You can find a wide variety of tunnels designed for rabbits in pet stores, made from materials ranging from hay to hard plastic.

Tunnel toys not only encourage digging-like behavior but also promote exercise and exploration. Also, they serve as excellent hiding spots, catering to your rabbit’s instinctual need for safety and security.

4. Puzzles and Foraging Toys

Rabbits are intelligent animals that enjoy problem-solving.

Puzzles and foraging toys can be an excellent way to stimulate their brains and allow them to use their instincts.

For example, treat-dispensing toys require your rabbit to dig or nudge the toy to release the treats, offering a rewarding experience.

5. Outdoor Digging Patches

Creating a designated digging patch can be an excellent option if you have outdoor space and don’t mind a bit of digging.

A specific area of your garden, preferably one that doesn’t have any plants, can be set aside for your rabbit.

This allows your rabbits to dig naturally without destroying your garden.

Ensure the area is secure to prevent your rabbit from digging out of your yard.

6. Rotate Toys

It would help if you considered rotating their toys, including their digging box contents, to keep your rabbit interested and engaged.

Rabbits can get bored with the same toys, leading them to seek entertainment elsewhere, like your lawn, carpet, clothes, garden, or furniture.

If you Introduce new toys or change the digging toys, you will help maintain their interest and satisfy their digging instincts.


Whether for exploration, play, hiding, or nesting, digging is an essential part of a rabbit’s life, whether wild or domesticated.

Their digging instinct can be challenging to manage domestically, particularly when it impacts your valuables.

However, with the right strategies, you can allow your pet rabbit to express this natural behavior healthily and without causing destruction.

We hope this article helped you know why rabbits dig shallow holes. If you have any questions, comment below, and we will answer them.

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