Rabbits love to dig – there’s no getting around it.
But for those who have rabbits as pets, it can be a challenge to find an appropriate spot for them to express this natural instinct.
It’s not always practical to let them do it in their habitat and letting them loose to dig in the yard may be asking for trouble (tearing up the garden, escaping under the fence, etc.).
One solution is to give your rabbit access to a sandbox or “dig box” – but many people worry if doing so is safe.
Are Sandboxes Safe for Rabbits?
Sandboxes are safe for rabbits as long as the sand being used is kid-safe play sand. A rabbit should never play in regular sand as it often contains germs and parasites that could be harmful. It also contains high levels of dust that could cause respiratory issues.
If you want to learn more about creating a sandbox for your rabbit, and how to do so safely, check out the rest of this article!
Give Your Rabbit Its Own Sandbox
Firstly, it’s never a good idea to let your rabbit (or any other animal) share a sandbox with your children.
This is primarily for the protection of your children, as the presence of an animal (along with their toys and snacks) can make your kiddo’s sandbox less hygienic and may even attract insects.
Likewise, for the health and well-being of your rabbit, it’s best to keep any other pets out of the bunny’s box so they don’t bury their own treasures in it or use it as a bathroom.
Sand vs Dirt vs Other Materials for Rabbits Sandbox
The next major aspect of making a safe dig box for your rabbit is the type of material you’ll fill it with.
Bunnies in the wild like to dig in both sand and dirt, but for the long-term health of your big-eared friend, it’s worth understanding a few key points about both.
Natural, untreated sand can harbor bacteria and germs, particularly if it’s moist. It may work for some bunnies out in the wild, but for domestic bunnies, you’ll probably want something safer.
Commercial play sand is a better option, but be careful not to get any that contain silica (aka quartz) or chemical additives. These types of sand may be toxic to rabbits and can release a lot of dust that irritates the eyes or respiratory system.
If you’re going to use sand, only use non-toxic, silica-free, child-safe play sand that’s been sanitized and treated for use in sandboxes.
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Even the safest sand does come with some risks and drawbacks, though. The biggest risk is sand impaction, which is a blockage in the digestive system caused by too much sand being ingested.
Rabbits may inadvertently swallow small amounts of sand as they dig, clean themselves, or munch on treats in their sandbox.
Always supervise your rabbit while they play in their dig box and observe them for signs of sand impaction afterward – vomiting, constipation, lethargy, and loss of appetite are a few of the symptoms.
Another risk is that some sand might get stuck in their ears or privates and cause an infection, but this is pretty uncommon.
One downside of sand is that it’s not ideal for tunneling, which many rabbits (especially females) love to do.
Most people consider plain dirt or soil preferable to sand for a couple of reasons.
Soil tends to hold up a little better to tunneling (doesn’t collapse as easily), particularly if it’s not too crumbly.
Most rabbits also tend to take more interest in soil, presumably since it more closely represents the environments in their wild ancestors built their burrows and warrens in.
One downside of dirt is that it can be a little messy – it doesn’t come out of fur quite as easily as sand. If using dirt, make sure you get plain topsoil with no fertilizers, additives, or rough gravel.
Some people also use a mixture of soil and sand for a lighter, less clumpy consistency.
Some people forego sand and soil and opt for wood pellets, hay, or cardboard/paper shavings.
These do make for a cleaner rabbit after playtime, but not all rabbits will be interested in digging in these materials. Some may want to use it exclusively as a litter box!
Where to Put Your Rabbits Sandbox
Another important aspect of a safe bunny dig box or sandbox is where you put it. You’ll want to choose a spot that’s nice and shady, so your rabbit doesn’t get too hot while he or she plays.
Of course, part of the reason rabbits dig is to find protection from the elements – but it’s best to help them out as much as possible.
You’ll also want to keep in mind the threat of predators and birds of prey. A cage or enclosure around the sandbox may be a good idea for added protection.
Many people solve both problems by putting their rabbit’s dig box indoors. Of course, depending on the size of the box, this may not be practical for everyone.
Your rabbit may also fling sand or dirt all over the place, but with high enough walls, the worst of the mess can be avoided.
Choosing the Right Box
Finally, you’ll want to choose the right box for both safety and practicality. There are a few aspects to consider, so we’ll look at each in turn.
The size of your dig box ultimately depends on the size of your rabbit and how much space you have. To be enjoyable and stimulating, the box should be at least 2-3 times bigger than your rabbit in terms of surface area – but they won’t mind if it’s bigger!
The walls should extend several inches above the surface of the digging material for containment. If it’s indoors, you may want them even higher to prevent a mess. You can even add little ramps for your bunny to get in and out without having to leap for it.
The depth of the sand or dirt should ideally be around 12-18 inches to allow for plenty of exploration and activity (particularly for larger rabbits), but plenty of rabbits are satisfied with half that amount.
If you’re building the box yourself, it’s best to use smooth lumber that doesn’t have any chemical coating or finish, in case your rabbit decides to chew on it.
Some woods are also toxic to rabbits (cedar, birch, and oak are just a few examples) so make sure you use a rabbit-safe (and untreated) wood such as aspen, maple, or willow.
A plastic sandbox or kiddie pool may also work well. Some people even use aquariums or plastic totes.
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If the box is to be installed outdoors and it doesn’t have a solid bottom already, you’ll want to put a barrier between the ground and the digging material. This is both to help keep bugs out and to keep your rabbit from digging too deep into the ground.
A layer of chicken wire combined with landscape fabric is an inexpensive solution – or you can simply build the box with a wooden bottom.
Maintain Your Rabbit’s Dig Box
Once you’ve got your box set up and your rabbit is enjoying it, all you need to do is keep it clean. There are a few easy steps for this.
Keep It Covered – A tight-fitting cover will not only help protect the box from the elements but also help keep out insects and other animals (it may look like a perfect bathroom to the neighborhood cat). If your box didn’t come with a cover, making one shouldn’t be too difficult.
Clean the Sand – Over time, debris and forgotten treats may accumulate in the dig box, so it’s best to scoop and sift the sand or soil periodically. Your rabbit may even have left some droppings, so it’s all the more important to clean it regularly.
Replace the Sand – Especially since your rabbit may occasionally want to use the dig box as a bathroom (males often do this to mark their territory), you’ll want to replace the sand or dirt with a fresh batch every so often – once a year at a minimum.
A dig box is a great way to enhance your rabbit’s quality of life and improve their mental health. If you make it with safety in mind and keep it clean, it should give you and your bunny years of fun!