Litter Training

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Related FAQ: Litter Training FAQ


Rabbits are easily litter trained. By nature, many rabbits will choose to relieve themselves in the same place. However, do note that realistic litter training is that a rabbit will pee consistently in his litter box(es) and nowhere else. It is very common for rabbits to poop in small amounts in their housing enclosure outside of the litter box for territorial reasons. Also, sometimes poop may be kicked out when the rabbit jumps from his litter box. This should not be a large problem because rabbit poop does not smell and is easy to pick up, sweep, or vacuum if your rabbit is healthy.

Litter boxes

Many pet stores carry litter boxes that are specially marketed for rabbits. These litter boxes are typically triangular in shape and are meant to be placed in the corner of a cage or enclosure. Some examples can be found here. However, these corner litter boxes are typically only suitable for very small young rabbits and breeds unless you look for a large one, like the following:

As a more popular choice, cat litter boxes may also be used. These can easily be found for cheap at places like Walmart, Target, and Kmart or online at Amazon.com for around $4-8.

A 4.5 lb rabbit in a giant-sized litter box

To decide what size of cat litter box to get, use the following guide:

  • under 5 pounds: medium - 16"L x 12"W x 4"H
  • under 10 pounds: large - 18-1/2"L x 15"W x 6"H
  • over 10 pounds or bonded pairs: extra-large - 22"L x 16"W x 6-1/2"H
Two 5 lb rabbits in an underbed storage litter box. To learn how to make this specific litter box, see here.

If you have a pair of rabbits that share a litter box, you will want to give them plenty of room -- the bigger the better! A cheap alternative for a large litter box is an underbed storage box which come in a variety of colors, sizes, and heights. Another idea is to buy a cheap large plastic tote and cut out an entryway in one or more sides. Otherwise, have multiple litter boxes.

If you have a disabled, elderly, or young bunny that doesn't like to or is unable to hop, try low-sided litter boxes or potting trays. You can also manually cut down an entry way on one side of a regular litter box.

If your bunny likes to dig in his litter box, you may wish to invest in a covered litter box or a sifting litter box. Rabbits like to back up into a side or corner to pee, so make sure you get a box tall enough to cover his behind.

To make your own sifting litter box, you can use material like egg crate lighting panels, hardware cloth, plastic canvas, or window screening. Be careful that the material you use will not rust or corrode due to bunny urine and that you cover or hide all sharp edges. Do not have holes any bigger 1/2" for a medium sized rabbit and 1/4" for a small rabbit.

Here are some more resources on litter box options, including some DIY.

The following are some custom litter boxes you may purchase for your rabbit.

A list of litter box example setups can be found here.

Appropriate litter substrate

It is important to choose a rabbit-safe material to use in the litter box.

Rabbit claiming a mountain of Carefresh litter.

Rabbit-safe litters include the following:

The following litters are not recommended for use with rabbits:

  • untreated softwood chips (i.e. pine and cedar)
  • clay and clumping cat litters
  • corn or wheat based litters
  • CatWorks litter (manufactured by Absorption Corporation) linked to zinc poisoning, by Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM, Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital[1]

Untreated softwood chips can cause liver problems,[2][3] and the latter two types can cause severe problems when eaten, such as blockages and digestive problems.[4][5] Heat-treated and kiln-dried pine chips are safe for rabbits because the treatment removes the dangerous aromatic oils,[6][7] but it may be dustier compared to hardwood chips.

Make sure that your bunny is not ingesting too much of the litter substrate regardless of type. If you see him doing so, you may wish to invest in a sifting litter box or make your own mesh cover for the litter. In the case of a sifting litter box, using clay and clumping cat litters and corn or wheat based litters is safe because the rabbit will be unable to ingest the litter. However, do continue to stay away from untreated softwood chips as litter because it is the aromatic oils that are potentially dangerous, not the consumption.

A useful guide from the House Rabbit Society to print out when shopping for litter brands can be found here. See Costs of rabbit ownership#Litter costs for a comparison of prices of litter.

Some more links to read for more information on appropriate litter have been listed below.

Preparing your litter box

A basic litter box should consist first of a layer of your chosen litter substrate and then a layer of hay to encourage your rabbit to eat in it. It may sound gross, but rabbits tend to eat and poop and pee at the same time and place. As a result, keeping his munchies in or near a litter box will encourage proper litter habits. If you are worried about the rabbit getting sick, he is smart enough and will not consume the urine-soaked hay.

A thin layer of around an inch of litter substrate is acceptable if you change the litter box every day or every other day. If you wish to change the litter box less, put a layer of around 3-4 inches of litter substrate. You will probably be fine for at least 3 days. The main reason to change a litter box is due to the odor or lack of litter substrate left to absorb urine. Urine is the main cause of rabbit odor and is used as the main method by rabbits to mark territory. Your rabbit will probably also produce mountains of poop but it is not as big of a problem as soaked litter. If your rabbit seems to not use his litter box after a while, it may be because it is too dirty. Rabbits are meticulous creatures -- you can tell from their grooming habits -- and will not use dirty litter boxes. Additionally, if urine is in contact with the bun's paws too long, it will stain and may even burn his feet. As a result, please make an effort to change your rabbit's litter box regularly.

Some may be concerned at the waste of hay by placing it in the litter box. The waste can be reduced by instead placing a hay rack near the litter box so that the rabbit can sit in the box and eat. It is less of a concern if you have bought a bale of hay for your rabbit. Ultimately, it is a good idea to combine the location of the hay feeding and bathroom.

You may also wish to place some of the bunny's poops and urine-soaked paper or hay in the litter box to let him know that the litter box is an acceptable place to potty.

Some more links to read for more information on setting up a litter box have been listed below.

Changing the litter box

Commonly, the entire litter box is dumped and refreshed when it's time to change the litter. This is the easiest method. If you are more proactive, you can go through and scoop out only the wet litter and replace that section. A sifting litter box can allow you to recoup the most hay and make it easier to pick out the poop and scoop out wet litter.

Be careful about changing the litter box too often. The rabbit can get the impression that he is not supposed to use it if he never finds his scent there.

Make a mixture of water and vinegar, around 1:1, to wipe down the litter box to dissolve any deposits that rabbit urine leaves. This mixture is also useful to help clean surfaces that your bunny has marked. The vinegar will break down the scent to reduce urges to re-mark.

Training methods

As a note to begin with, before we go into training methods, spaying or neutering your rabbit will go a long way towards consistent litter habits. As Dana Krempels, Ph.D., states,[8]
The most important thing to remember is that your rabbit is very unlikely to retain reliable litterbox habits upon reaching sexual maturity unless she is spayed/he is neutered. Sex hormones give a rabbit an uncontrollable desire to mark the territory with urine and specially scented fecal pellets. Spay/neuter will eliminate/greatly reduce this drive, as well as eliminate the risk of uterine/ovarian cancer and unwanted pregnancy in females. And let's not forget the huge relief from endless sexual frustration that spayed/neutered animals enjoy.

Once you have set up a proper litter box, place it in area where the bunny can be comfortably confined for a couple of days except when let out for exercise and play. You may place it in any corner of the housing enclosure but be warned that you may need to move it if the bunny decides to pick its own potty corner. Rabbits are rather stubborn, and it tends to be easier to go along with their choice rather than try to adjust them. Reward the rabbit with more and more free space when it pees and poops in the litter box consistently.

Rabbit peeing position

It is expected that the bunny will have poor litter habits the first few days, but clean up any messes not in the litter box with a mixture of 1:1 vinegar:water or a pet-friendly enzymatic cleaner like Nature's Miracle to rid of the scent and discourage the urge to re-mark. Plain soap and water are not sufficient to clean out all traces of urine scent. If you catch the rabbit peeing or pooping outside, try to interrupt it and move the rabbit in the litter box. Reward with treats whenever you see the rabbit going in the right spot. You may also place some pee-stained papers and poop pellets in the litter box to let them know that it's an acceptable place to potty.

The hay in or over the litter box should encourage proper litter habits since, as we stated earlier, disgusting as it is, a rabbit will often happily munch on one end and potty from the other at the same time. You can reinforce the behavior by rewarding the rabbit with a healthy treat when you see it sitting in the litter box.

Do not get too frustrated with the rabbit if it does not seem like it is getting the point. Remember, rabbits do not respond well to physical discipline. They are easily frightened and hurt. Some bunnies may take a while to learn but generally should get better in a week or two. A rabbit at any age can learn proper potty habits given enough time and motivation.

Common problems

While many times rabbits will litter train themselves easily, other times rabbits will refuse to properly litter train for a variety of reasons.

Eliminating outside of the box

Do note that realistic litter training is that a rabbit will pee consistently in his litter box(es) and nowhere else. It is very common for rabbits to poop in small amounts in their housing enclosure outside of the litter box for territorial reasons. Also, sometimes poop may be kicked out when the rabbit jumps from his litter box. This should not be a large problem because rabbit poop does not smell and is easy to pick up, sweep, or vacuum if your rabbit is healthy.

Although rabbits are typically easy to litter train, some rabbits may display problem behavior, such as relieving themselves outside of the litter box and peeing on beds and couches. The cause for this varies, but in many cases can be solved by spaying or neutering an intact rabbit.[9][10]

Some rabbits like to lounge in their litter boxes and consequently will not use them to poop and pee in. In this instance, try offering other sleeping locations like a cardboard box or a pet bed or provide another litter box that he can properly use to not soil his sleeping location.

If your rabbit has already been fixed, environmental changes, stress, and medical problems can also cause poor litter habits. The introduction of a new pet (bunny, cat, dog, or other) will cause your bun to feel territorial and poop everywhere. The same may occur if you move around furniture too much or move to a new place. However, as the rabbit gets used to the new environment, his litter habits should return to normal. If no stressful or environmental factors can be detected, your bun may have a urinary tract infection (UTI) or another condition that is causing a weak bladder. In this case, please take your rabbit to your rabbit-savvy veterinarian to be properly diagnosed and medicated if necessary.

If the rabbit reliably uses his litter box in his area yet consistently potties in another corner when let free to exercise and play, you may wish to set up another litter box in that corner if properly cleaning up after him does not change his behavior. Like stated before, rabbits are very stubborn, and it may be easier to compromise.

Some rabbits may accidentally eliminate over the side of the litter box. Rabbits typically shuffle back into a corner and lift their tails to urinate, and if the tray is too shallow, the rabbit may miss the edge. To fix this issue, get a tray with higher sides or make your own urine guard. One idea is to use a plastic folder as a urine guard.

Digging in the box

Rabbits have a natural instinct to dig, and this sometimes results in them digging in the litter box and thus flinging clean and dirty litter and poo everywhere. Although there is not much you can do to stop the rabbit from digging, there are a few things you can try to prevent messes. A sifting litter box with litter underneath the sifting portion prevents the rabbit from digging in the litter. You may also try making your own mesh cover to sit on top of the litter or use a baking cooling rack. You can also put the litter box in a larger cardboard box to contain the mess and make it easier to clean up.

See the previous Litter Boxes section for more details and ideas.

Smelly litter box

If your litter box smells, that is a sign that you should be changing your litter box more frequently. A proper litter box should not give off any odor. Anecdotally, paper-based litters will require cleaning most often, while the wood-based litters can last for 3+ days before requiring a change.

Extra resources

The following are some additional resources about bad litter box habits.

Further reading

Here are some relevant discussions on litter training rabbits.

References

  1. Zooh Corner Rabbit Rescue, Zinc Poisoning Linked to Litter
  2. House Rabbit Society, Marinell Harriman, Litterboxes and Liver Disease
  3. House Rabbit Society, George Flentke, Ph.D., The Dangers of Softwood Shavings
  4. Zooh Corner, Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM, Zinc Poisoning Linked to Litter
  5. Zooh Corner, Litter Boxes, Liver Disease and Your Rabbit
  6. Corinne Fayo, The Truth About Pine Shavings
  7. Raising-Rabbits.com, Rabbit Litter
  8. Dana Krempels, Ph.D., Training Your Rabbit: Reality 101
  9. House Rabbit Society, FAQ: Litter Training
  10. Wikihow.com, How to Litter Train a Rabbit