Mental stimulation is a form of behavioural enrichment for small animals. Almost anything positive that is out of their normal routine can be mentally stimulating for them. For additional examples of activities that also have a cognitive effect, please refer to Oral, Tactile, Physical.
Changing their Environment
Rearranging the items in a small animal’s cage is easy to do and takes very little time. Simply moving the item (food dish or hiding place) to the opposite corner makes the animal think about where it is, and try to find it or relocate it to a place that they would prefer. Different “furniture” pieces (branches, bedding) can also be introduced and rotated from time to time. In order to prevent fear and stress, novel items should be introduced one at a time on a scheduled basis:
- Cardboard – boxes with holes cut into them make great hiding places. Tubes can be stuffed with hay and healthy treats as part of their daily ration
- Tunnels – plastic and fabric tunnels can be purchased commercially. Create tunnels from cardboard boxes or tubes and large ceramic pipes (with a wide diameter)
- Mirrors – where rabbits have to be kept singly, a mirror may offer some comfort, particularly for females. However, the effects can be quite short-lived so this is only recommended for use temporarily to alleviate loneliness. If providing mirrors, ensure they are securely fastened to avoid injury
- Digging opportunities – many domestic rabbits will perform this behaviour so try providing them with some form of “digging box.” Safe places to dig include large plant pots or litter trays filled with earth, cardboard boxes filled with shredded paper or sandpits filled with child-friendly sand
Toys and Objects
The following has been adapted from the RSPCA. Toys should allow animals to perform normal behaviours, e.g. digging, chewing, chin marking, jumping. Different animals enjoy different toys. Try providing different items until you find the ones they like best.
- Objects to manipulate or throw (e.g. untreated straw, wicker, sea-grass mats and baskets, balls and plastic flower pots.) Solid plastic baby toys (e.g. key rings, rattles, stacking cups,) and some robust cat and parrot toys can make good rabbit toys
- Paper – let them shred paper (e.g. newspaper, paper bags with the handles removed and telephone directories with the glossy covers removed). Wrap your rabbits’ favourite food in brown paper to unwrap
- Cardboard – tubes can be stuffed with hay and healthy treats as part of their daily ration
- Toys – balls, rings, empty tin cans, chewing blocks are good entertainment for them. They also love things that they can carry, push, bury or hide. Toys can be placed on the floor of the cage, but can also be hung from the cage as well.
Ensure there are no small parts that could be swallowed. Supervise the use of toys and objects. Hide food in/under some of these objects