Why Do Rabbits Dig Holes?

Wild rabbits are well known for digging holes in the ground. Rabbits live in sizable colonies underground for their own safety. They emerge to graze and exercise, but eventually return to their warrens. Naturally, in order to make these holes, rabbits need to dig.

Your rabbit is digging based on instinct. In domesticated rabbits, digging is recreational rather than a matter of survival. Your rabbit will rarely be happier than when she has a digging box to root through.

These instincts can also be paired with behaviors. If she digs to excess and doesn’t seem interested in anything else, your rabbit may be stressed. Likewise, your rabbit may be digging for attention. If you tell her off for making a noise, she’ll quickly realize that digging gets your attention.

Do All Rabbits Dig?

All domesticated breeds of rabbit will have an instinct to dig, This is because the vast majority of wild rabbits engage in this behavior. The only real exception is the Cottontail rabbit.

Cottontail rabbits live in overground nests, rather than warrens. This breed will still seek shelter, but prefers to use existing holes. Hollow logs, for example. A cottontail may also try her luck by hiding in an existing rabbit hole.

Incidentally, hares also live above ground. This can be a way to distinguish between rabbits and hares while in the wild. If the animal leaps underground, it’s far more likely to be a rabbit.

Cottontails are the rabbit breed most commonly found in the United States. Domesticated rabbits are the offspring of European breeds, though. This is why your own pet retains a wild instinct to dig.

Why Do Rabbits Love Digging?

If you spot your pet rabbit digging, she will be embracing her instincts. Wild rabbits dig all the time, for a wide range of reasons. This innate desire to dig is also hardwired into your pet.

  • Safety and privacy. They will eat and sleep underground where they are safe from predators.
  • Somewhere to escape to if chased. It takes a rabbit a while to climb a tree. It’s easier to get to safety underground.
  • Protection from the elements. If it’s raining, or just freezing, rabbits can pass the time underground in shelter. They’ll re-emerge when the weather is better.

None of this applies to your pet rabbit. You provide shelter, in the form of a hutch. You protect your rabbit from potential predators. You construct ‘bedroom’ areas in your rabbit’s hutch, so she can have some privacy.

Domesticated rabbits still have the desire to dig. Instinct is a powerful thing, and it cannot be ignored. Due to this instinct, as San Diego Rabbits explains, digging is fun for your pet.

Is it Safe to Let My Rabbit Dig in My Yard?

When you release your rabbit for some free-range exercise time, you’ll probably find her digging. Maybe she makes a beeline for soil and digs in this dirt. Alternatively, she may prefer to dig up your lawn or flowerbeds. Rabbits can destroy in minutes what took weeks and months to create.

Rabbits can dig further underground than you may realize. A typical rabbit burrow in the wild is around a foot deep. If your rabbit is determined to go further, though, she will. This means that your pet could dig her way under a fence and into the world.

do rabbits dig holes to have babies?

This is not a good thing. Domesticated rabbits are not capable of surviving in the wild. They lack the savvy and life experience required to stay safe.

Even in urban areas, there will be plenty of animals that could harm her. Local cats, for example, could chase your rabbit. Foxes may also roam.

You’ll also need to protect your rabbit from humans. If your pet discovers the yard of another property, she may dig there. If the owner of the home isn’t a rabbit lover, traps may be set. Your pet could also eat toxic plants or weeds.

It’s best to create a digging box for your rabbit. This way, she’ll be able to embrace her natural instincts in a safe environment. A digging box will also keep your rabbit entertained for hours. It’s a natural boredom buster.

How to Create a Digging Box for Rabbits

A digging box is a vessel that’s filled with material that your pet can dig through. A cardboard box will do, if it’s of sufficient size. You could also consider filling a sandpit with appropriate materials.

The location of the digging box depends on is the size. A small box can be stored in your pet’s hutch. A larger box can be kept outside. In an ideal world, have two digging boxes.

A box in your rabbit’s hutch will keep her amused while you can’t. This will be useful in the morning, and last thing at night. Rabbits tend to be active long before we wake, and after we go to bed.

If you place another, larger digging box outside, your rabbit can dig while exercising. It will be easier to clean than clearing out an entire hutch. Appropriate materials for rabbits to dig through include:

  • Hay. This is arguably the easiest, and best, solution for your rabbit’s digging needs. Fill a box with hay, and leave your rabbit to enjoy herself.
  • Shredded Paper. Rabbits also love to dig and sift through shredded paper. If you have a home office and a shredder, drop the remnants into a digging box.
  • Yellow Pages or Telephone Directory. This doubles as a toy. Lay this book in a box, and place your rabbit inside. She’ll start tearing at the pages with teeth and claws. When she’s done, she’ll be able to dig around.
  • Paper Bags. Rabbits love the rustling sound, and your pet will enjoy digging and tearing the bag apart. Hide a treat in the bag for extra fun.
  • Towels. If you have an old towel, leave it in a digging box for your rabbit. She will enjoy scratching and bunching it, and the material will not hurt her claws.
  • Soil. If all else fails, you can fill a box with soil. Consider this carefully, though. Soil is messy, so your pet will need a wash after. Also, you’ll be creating an association with soil and recreation. Your rabbit may understandably assume that your flowerbeds are fair game.

Avoid using sand, sawdust, or clay in a digging box. This can get into a rabbit’s eyes and nose, causing her irritation.  It’s also best to avoid using rabbit litter as this can cause allergic reactions. You also do not want to create an association between litter and play.

Your rabbit will likely use litter for her bedding, and her toilet area. If she assumes that all litter is for digging, you’ll end up with a smelly hutch. Your pet also risks urine scalding on her belly if she lies in her own pee.

Why Do Rabbits Dig Holes and Then Fill Them in?

If your rabbit is prone to digging holes in your lawn, you’ll notice a curious phenomenon. Your pet will tend to dig a hole, then cover it up again. What does this achieve?

The answer to this is, once again, instinct. Your rabbit will be compelled to do this, because it’s what a wild rabbit would do. Explanations for this seemingly pointless activity include:

  • False den. Rabbits are smart animals. They know that predators will check holes in the ground for prey. Creating a fake warren could provide some fleeing time.
  • Hiding her warren. This is especially likely if your pet is pregnant, or experiencing a pseudopregnancy. She would hide her babies in this shallow, covered hole until feeding time.
  • Driven out. The rabbit planned to use the hole as a warren, but was driven out. Maybe a snake slithered in. Maybe a more dominant rabbit found the hole and claimed it.
  • Planning to use the hole as a warren. She doesn’t want anybody or anything else stealing it. She is covering it up, hoping that it’s suitably camouflaged. She will return later, having eaten.
do female rabbits dig more than males?

Why Do Rabbits Dig in Their Cage?

It’s perfectly natural for your rabbit to dig in her hutch. She’ll largely do this for entertainment. If there is plenty of hay in her hutch, she’ll remain amused for a while. Even if your pet reaches the bottom of her hutch, she can dig laterally.

Step up the entertainment value of these excavations by hiding rewards in the hay. Small food treats are best, such as raisins. Your rabbit will feel that she has more purpose to dig now. Just remove them before they go moldy. Moldy food will make a rabbit sick.

There are caveats to how much you should encourage this behavior, though. Think about the noise. If your rabbit’s hutch is situated indoors, you may be kept awake by the digging. What starts out as cute can become infuriating.

This may actually be your rabbit’s intention. It will not escape her attention that digging is noisy. If she disturbs your sleep and you tell her to stop, you’re setting a precedent. Any attention is good attention to a rabbit.

Pay attention to your pet’s demeanor, alongside the digging behavior. If the digging is constant, your rabbit may be bored or stressed. If the hutch is too small, for example, your pet may be attempting to tunnel her way out.

Keep an eye on where your pet is focusing her attention. If she keeps digging the same spot, block it off. Eventually, your rabbit will make a hole and escape. This behavior suggests that your pet needs a digging box.

In addition to this, give your rabbit more time outside her hutch. Constant digging can be a sign of frustration and unspent energy. If your pet runs around more, she’ll likely contentedly sleep at night.

Above all, remember that digging is instinctual for rabbits. Never punish your pet for digging in her hutch. She’s doing what comes naturally. Focus your energy on providing different entertainment.

Why Do Rabbits Dig at Your Clothes?

If you have forged a bond with your rabbit, she’ll enjoy relaxing in your lap. This is quite common in the evening. Once a rabbit has concluded her post-afternoon nap exploration, she’ll relax with her human family.

When your rabbit assumes this position, she’ll likely begin digging and scratching at your clothes. As is so often the case with rabbit behavior, there are multiple possible explanations for this.

  • Getting more comfortable. She is digging and kneading material, in an attempt at building a nest. Rabbits like things just so. Your pet may grunt in disapproval if you smooth your clothes out afterward.
  • Curious about the material of your clothing. It’s unlike anything she usually walks on. Can this material be dug up? Can exciting treats be excavated from within?
  • Trying to get your attention. She either wants to be released or continue what you’re doing.

There is a range of further steps involved with the latter explanation. Watch your rabbit’s body language and listen for vocalizations. These will provide insight into what she wants.

  • If your pet seems agitated, crawling around, she likely wants to leave. Maybe she needs the bathroom, or she is bored with sitting still.
  • If you’re petting your rabbit and she starts digging, she loves or hates it. Listen out for sounds. If she clicks her teeth and purrs, she is enjoying the attention. If she grunts or growls, she is saying, “that’s enough now, leave me alone please.”

Don’t drive yourself crazy asking, “why do rabbits dig on me?” Just look and listen out for physical or verbal cues. The act of digging itself remains instinctive. Additional reactions will tell you more.

Do Female Rabbits Dig More Than Males?

Some rabbit experts have observed that females tend to dig more than males. There are several explanations for this.

  • Female rabbits tend to be more territorial. This means they’ll dig holes and claim them for themselves. Unspayed rabbits will be particularly prone to this behavior.
  • Female rabbits give birth to the young. Digging and nesting is a big part of this process.
  • In the wild, digging holes is done by females in rabbit colonies. This instinct will again be carried over to domesticated pets.
  • Female rabbits are sometimes less social and outgoing than male counterparts. Digging a hole means the rabbit will have somewhere private to hide.

Some female rabbits will have no interest in digging. Some males will spend their every waking moment kicking up the turf. It all depends on the animal’s unique personality.

Most rabbit breeders and aficionados would point toward females as being keener diggers. Factor this into your pet parenting when you choose to adopt a rabbit.

why do rabbits dig holes and then fill them in?

Do Rabbits Dig Holes to Have Babies?

In the wild, a rabbit will likely dig a hole in which to give birth. This is for privacy and security. While a rabbit gives birth, she is at her most vulnerable.

This hole will be designed to keep the baby rabbits safe. If we judge by human standards, rabbits are not the most maternal of animals. Mother rabbits do not stay with, and nurture, their young all day.

This is a rabbit protecting her babies. She knows they’ll have no chance of defending themselves. The mother stays away, hoping that any predators that detect her scent will not find her babies.

The nest of young will remain in a shallow hole, usually covered. Their mother will return once daily, often under the cover of darkness, to feed her young. Rabbit milk is high in calories, so one feeding a day is sufficient.

This is why nature ramblers discover nests of baby rabbits, and fear they have been orphaned. This is rarely the case. It’s best to leave the rabbits alone. Their mother will be visiting later, and will provide food and comfort.

A domesticated rabbit should not give birth in a hole. If your pet is pregnant, she may start digging on instinct. Once returned to her hutch, she’ll continue nesting there.

A pregnant rabbit will nest in her hutch in a similar way to how she would in a hole. She’ll line a nest with hay and her own fur, so her babies are kept warm. Once she gives birth, she’ll react the same way as a wild rabbit.

Are Wild Rabbits Digging Holes in My Lawn?

If holes appear in your lawn whenever you turn your back, critters are likely responsible. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s rabbits, though. Remember, cottontails and hares rarely dig.

It could be moles that are disturbing your lawn. There may even be snakes living within, so do not place your hand in blind. Alternatively, your lawn may be part of a rabbit warren.

Rabbits build elaborate tunnel systems. You may not just have one hole. You could have several, all of which are linked. Rabbits use these to safely travel for several miles.

Take a look at where the holes are appearing. If it’s close to a vegetable patch, rabbits are likely the culprits. The animals have found a food source, and are creating easy access. Rabbits always like to graze close to an escape route.

How to deal with the issue depends on what animals you have in your yard. To confirm if your visitors are rabbits, check the size and dimensions of the hole.

What Do Rabbit Holes Look Like?

Rabbit holes are usually around 10-15cm in diameter. There will also be a lot of soil kicked up around the hole. Rabbits are not tidy diggers. Their strong front paws kick and claw dirt quickly.

Take a look at the hole and the surrounding area. If it’s rabbits, they’ll leave evidence of their presence behind. Small droppings and tufts of fur will be a common sight. The grass around the hole will also show signs of nibbling.

A bigger hole is unlikely to belong to rabbits. Badgers, or maybe even foxes, could be nesting within. Smaller holes are likely the work of moles. It could be a humble field mouse or rat, though.

The only way to be sure is to set up a camera in your yard. Pick up a motion-sensor camera with night vision, similar to what hunters use. Checking the footage will reveal which animals are digging up your turf.

How to Stop Rabbits Digging Holes in the Garden

If you are confident that rabbits are digging holes in your yard, you’ll want to stop them. As well as the aesthetic damage, wild rabbits could harm your pet rabbit. There is no way of knowing what diseases wild animals may be carrying.

You’ll need to strike a fine balance to keep wild rabbits out of your yard while also keeping your own pet safe. Consider the following techniques.

  • Dig a trench at least three feet deep around your property and install a wire fence. It must deter rabbits from digging underneath, but also be too high to jump over.
  • Cover your yard with scents that rabbits find unappealing. Garlic and onions plants can do this.
  • Use humane rabbit traps and release any rabbits they capture back to the wild. This is a lot of work, and you’re unlikely to catch every culprit.

While rabbits digging holes in the yard are a nuisance, never harm them. There is no need. Wild rabbits tend not to stay long in one place. They’ll move on to another lawn before you know it.

Digging is arguably the most natural behavior that rabbits indulge in. If your pet has a passion for digging, humor her. She needs to get this habit out of her system. A digging box will keep your property tidy and make a cheap toy. Leave your pet to it, and she’ll amuse herself for hours.

Lou Carter

I’ve loved rabbits for as long as I can remember, so it felt natural to share my passion for lagomorphs with a much wider audience. My objective is to help owners to keep their pet rabbits happy and healthy.

Cite this article:

MLA Style: Carter, Lou. "Why Do Rabbits Dig Holes?" Rabbit Care Tips, (May 19, 2023), https://www.rabbitcaretips.com/why-do-rabbits-dig-holes/.

APA Style: Carter, L. (May 19, 2023). Why Do Rabbits Dig Holes?. Rabbit Care Tips. Retrieved May 19, 2023, from https://www.rabbitcaretips.com/why-do-rabbits-dig-holes/

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