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 their 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 their 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

Example of a rabbit that has out grown one of the corner litter boxes. Image by SeyraW.

There are a large variety of products and options that are appropriate for use with rabbits.

How big should the litter box be?

Two 5 lb rabbits in an underbed storage litter box. To learn how to make this specific litter box, see here.

Rectangular cat litter boxes are a pretty standard choice of litter boxes for rabbit owners. 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
It's always a good idea to use a larger litter box! Image by A.L. Mitchell

To decide the minimum 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 - 18.5"L x 15"W x 5"H
  • over 10 pounds or bonded pairs: extra-large - 23"L x 18"W x 6.5"H

Not only is a large litter box more comfortable for your rabbit to use, using a larger litter box than the minimum can also allow you to change the litter box less often as the litter will not be fully used up as quickly.

If you have multiple 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.

You can also use regular appropriately-sized clear storage totes as litter boxes, too, such as this 28 qt clear Sterilite tote.

Corner 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.

Some large corner litter boxes available:

We would suggest removing the grids of the litter boxes that come with a wire floor as rabbits can break their nails and toes if they jump out badly unless it is absolutely necessary for hygiene. Some fluffy lionhead and angora rabbits may benefit with a wire floor to prevent urine staining and litter sticking to their fur, but most other rabbits do not need it.

Metal litter boxes

Non-plastic litter boxes can be a good choice for rabbits that like to chew and eat the edges of their plastic litter boxes.

One idea is to check out restaurant steam pans such as the following:

as well as stainless steel cat litter boxes:

Low-sided 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 feeding and potting trays. You can also manually cut down an entry way on one side of a regular litter box.

Litter boxes for diggers, long-haired rabbits, and litter eaters

For rabbits that like to dig, long-haired rabbits that may get litter stuck to their fur, and rabbits that can't stop eating their rabbit-safe litter, it may be a good idea to invest in a litter box setup that prevents access to the litter with a rabbit-safe mesh or grid.

To make your own gridded litter box, you can use material like 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. These materials should be placed directly on top of the litter and do not directly support their weight.

If you decide to use something stiffer and heavy-duty like hardware cloth or egg-crate lighting as the main layer instead, another layer of softer mesh or rubber hole mats linked below or a thick layer of hay should be placed on top for comfort to prevent sore hocks and broken nails and toes from the larger holes.

A few commercially available litter boxes with grids:

Some commercial plastic and mesh mesh mat options:

Some DIY gridded litter box setup combinations:

And some fancier litter box/hay rack setups:

A few DIY litter box instructions:

Covered litter boxes

In general, we would not recommend covered litter boxes for rabbits as they reduce air circulation and can make it easy to overlook regular cleaning. Build-up of ammonia can cause respiratory issues over time, so it is important to be on top of litter box cleaning if you decide to use a covered litter box for appearance or other reasons.

If you have issues with rabbits kicking out litter or feces or eating outside of their litter box, usually a high-sided litter box can solve most of these issues.

Extra resources

Appropriate litter substrate

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

Lynn Miller's detailed report of 10 different types of rabbit safe litter products. Everything from wood stove pellets to popular recycled paper products. Things tested were absorbency, order control, and daily use. Includes final grades along with a final thoughts section: Testing Rabbit Litter Products.
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]

A few sad stories about owners using inappropriate litters with rabbits:

Heat-treated and kiln-dried pine chips or compressed pine pellets are safe for rabbits because the treatment and manufacturing process removes the dangerous aromatic oils,[6][7][8] 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 them doing so, you may wish to invest in a gridded litter box or make your own mesh cover for the litter. In the case of a grided 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, since it is below the mesh/grid. 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 resources on making your own litter:

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 unsanitary, but rabbits tend to eat and poop and pee at the same time and place. As a result, keeping their food in or near a litter box will help encourage proper litter habits. If you are worried about your rabbit getting sick from trying to eat soiled hay, rabbits will not consume the urine-soaked hay and will dig and eat around it.

While you are litter training, you may also wish to place some of the bunny's poops and urine-soaked paper or hay in a fresh litter box to let them know that the litter box is an acceptable place to potty.

How much litter should I put inside?

A thin layer of around an inch of most types of litter substrates is sufficient 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 - your will probably be okay for at least 3 days depending on substrate type, but this will depend on the litter habits of your rabbits and how many rabbits are using the single litter box.

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 produce mountains of poop but it is not as big of an issue for sanitation as soaked litter.

If your rabbit seems to not use their litter box after a while, it may be because it is too dirty. Rabbits are meticulous creatures, as you can tell from their grooming habits, and some rabbits will not use dirty litter boxes. Additionally, if urine is in contact with the rabbit's paws too long, it will stain and may even burn their feet. As a result, please make an effort to change your rabbit's litter box regularly.

For bunny owners that use wood pellet litters, you can make the pellets go much further by pre-expanding the pellets with water before use in a litter box. The absorption efficiency is the same, and you can use even less litter for the same effectiveness!

A bowl of expanded wooden pellet litter, made from 600cc of pellets and enough to fill an entire large litterbox. See u/bookman796's full image album here for instructions.
A new litter box with pre-expanded wood pellet litter, enough for a week of regular bunny use. See u/sneaky_dragon's full image album of used litter box here.

How can I reduce hay waste?

Some may be concerned at the waste of hay by placing it in the litter box. The waste can be usually 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. However, please note that some rabbits may enjoy pulling out all the hay from the hay racks anyways before consuming any, which would defeat the purpose of the purchase.

Ultimately, it is a good idea to combine the location of the hay feeding and bathroom to encourage proper litter training, and important not to be too stingy with hay wastage. Hay is a very important part of their diet, and inadequate consumption can lead to more serious health problems and expensive vet bills that end up more costly than buying some extra hay.

Should I use litter box liners?

In general, we do not recommend using plastic litter box liners as they are environmentally wasteful and dangerous if the rabbit decides to chew on them. Some owners may also use pee pads similarly, and the same warnings apply.

If you would like an environmentally friendly and compostable option, using newspaper or magazine pages (only if the rabbit doesn't dig and chew at them) is safe to help make cleaning the bottom easier.

Extra resources

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

Changing the litter box

Typically, the entire litter box is dumped and refreshed when it is time to change the litter.

If you are more proactive, you can go through and scoop out only the wet litter and replace that section. A gridded litter box can allow you to recoup the most hay and make it easier to pick out the poop and scoop out wet litter.

Example of a heavily-used litter box for an adult rabbit after one day.
C T. (2022). Litter Box Cleaning with Screen

If provided with appropriately sized and number of litter boxes, owners should not need to change litter boxes more than once a day. Most rabbit owners change the litter box once every 2 to 4 days, depending on their set-up, standards, and their rabbit's preferences. Be careful about changing the litter box too often. The rabbit can get the impression that they are not supposed to use the box if they never find their scent there. Note that the need to change the litter box should be distinct from refreshing and refilling hay. If you see that your rabbit's litter box is low on hay, do not wait until you change the litter box to refill it.

Use vinegar (cheap white grocery store vinegar is sufficient) to wipe down the litter box to dissolve any deposits that rabbit urine leaves. You can dilute this down to 1:1 water:vinegar or use straight full concentration vinegar. Leave it to soak for a while for especially stubborn white stains - you may also need to assist with some manual scrubbing.

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.

For owners that live in an apartment or would like to do it indoors, the easiest and tidiest method is to put the entire litter box in a trash bag and then shake it hard to dump out all the litter. Follow up with a quick wipe with a wet paper towel soaked in vinegar. You may also choose to rinse the box in the bathtub, but be careful about cleaning out all the solids in the litter box first or they may clog your drain.

For owners with a yard, you can usually dump the entire litter box contents into a compost pile if you don't use plastic liners, and hose down or power wash the box on the lawn to clean off the rest.

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,[9]

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 their 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 they pee and poop 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 them 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, disgusting as it may seem to humans, 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 them sitting in the litter box.

Do not get too frustrated with the rabbit if they do not seem to be 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.

If there are particular problem areas that you can't seem to get your rabbit to stop urinating in, you may need to add another litter box there, cover it with a slick material like a marble tile to make it unattractive for urination, or even remove the problematic surface or block off the area completely.

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 their 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 their 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.[10][11] If your rabbit is altered, angry bunnies may intentionally pee to show their displeasure.[12] The Litter Training FAQ also has more ideas on how to specifically teach your rabbit from peeing in a certain area.

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 they can properly use to not soil their 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, their 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 their litter box in their 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 them does not change their 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. This may also happen with a litterbox that is too small for your rabbit.[13]

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 hay, litter, and poop everywhere.

Firstly, you can try to redirect their attention with an appropriate digging box - read more in the Toys article about how to set up a safe space for this behavior. Also make sure that your rabbit has sufficient space and mentally stimulating favored toys in their cage or pen, as bored rabbits will like to make messes to entertain themselves.

There are a few options you can try to prevent messes if your rabbit continues to insist on digging out their litter box.

  1. A gridded litter box with litter underneath the mesh portion prevents the rabbit from digging out the litter, but the rabbit may continue to dig out the hay on top. See the previous section Litter boxes for diggers, long-haired rabbits, and litter eaters for more tips and resources on setting one up.
  2. You can place the litter box in a larger cardboard box to contain the mess and make it easier to clean up.

Smelly litter box

If your litter box smells, that is often a sign that you should be changing your litter box more frequently. A good litter box should not give off any significant ammonia odor.

If you find that you are changing the litter too often, the following tips may be useful:

  • Type of litter. Generally, wood-based litters will absorb more odor and urine than paper-based litters. Pelleted litter will also be more efficient than shavings. The [Testing Rabbit Litter Products](https://drive.google.com/file/d/1R-RezK9efZOgH7Nz0iwh2ByhRZKLGGNo/view) comparison slideshow by Lynn Miller can also be useful in deciding on the best litter for your situation.
  • Size of litter box. The larger the litter box, the less often you will need to clean it since there will be more litter to soak up urine and its smells.
  • Amount of litter. Wood pellets will only need a very thin layer as it is incredibly efficient and will swell as it gets wet. However, if you are using a paper-based litter, you may need to add a thicker layer to extend the use of a litter box safely.

Extra resources

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

Further reading

Here are some relevant discussions on litter training rabbits.

The following are some relevant videos:

Howcast. (2013). Can Rabbits Be Litter Trained?

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. House Rabbit Society. (n.d.) Litter Training. Retrieved 29 Sep 2016 from http://rabbit.org/faq-litter-training-2/
  9. Dana Krempels, Ph.D., Training Your Rabbit: Reality 101
  10. House Rabbit Society, FAQ: Litter Training
  11. Wikihow.com, How to Litter Train a Rabbit
  12. The Language of Lagomorphs, Offended Rabbits
  13. allcreaturesrescue.org Rabbit litterbox recommendations