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Litter Box Training for Rabbits

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Despite the all too common view of pet rabbits, rabbits are not best kept outdoors in small cages with limited human contact. Many rabbits now live indoors with their owners, allowing them much more of the social contact they need. Many indoor rabbits use a litter box, just like house cats. In fact, spayed and neutered rabbits are actually quite easily trained to use a litter box. Litter-box training requires a little bit of space, litter boxes, bunny-approved litter and a little patience. Keep in mind that litter-box training is likely to be successful only for spayed and neutered rabbits, because most unaltered rabbits will continue to mark their territory.

Litter and a box

Litter boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the standard large cat box, without a lid, seems to work the best for rabbits. Small corner boxes sold in pet stores for rabbits are usually too small and don’t allow the rabbit to lie down and stretch out. Sometimes bigger is better, especially with multiple rabbits that might try to use the box at the same time.

Litter is readily available at many pet stores; however, rabbit-savvy veterinarians do not recommend the wood shavings most often sold in these stores. Pine and cedar shavings release oils that can be toxic to the liver and irritate the respiratory system, and clay litters can cause blockages in a rabbit’s digestive tract. While sitting in and after leaving a litter box, a rabbit will clean himself, ingesting the small grains of clay or sand. This clay builds up in a rabbit’s stomach as it absorbs liquid and expands, sometimes forming deadly blockages. Instead of wood shavings or clay litters, recycled paper products are recommended by veterinarians for use as bunny litter.

The “bathroom”

Set up a small area, about four by five feet, to start training your rabbit. A “puppy pen” works well for both rabbit housing and training. These pens allow the rabbit to hop around while still being near the litter box. Place the litter box, containing some soiled litter, in a corner. If starting with a cage, place the box in the location your rabbit already uses to eliminate. Also place a small amount of timothy hay in the box to coax your rabbit to jump in. This will familiarize your rabbit with the box and keep him coming back for more hay.

If your rabbit uses another area to eliminate, place a litter box in that area as well. Sometimes rabbits don’t approve of the location you picked, but are still willing to use a box. After the rabbit uses the box well for a few days to a week, increase the size of the rabbit area by a couple square feet. Over time, you can increase the size of the training area to reinforce good litter box habits, or decrease the size if your rabbit “misses.” After training, placing litter boxes in one area often works well for an entire house; however some rabbits require a box in every room, especially if there are multiple rabbits.

Some rabbits have a tendency to mark their territory despite being spayed or neutered. Other rabbits tend to use multiple areas of their cage instead of just the litter box. It is always possible to cover the entire floor of a cage with litter boxes. You can also slowly “trick” the rabbit into using a box by placing pellets and a water bowl in the box.  Rabbits with true urinary incontinence should be treated by a veterinarian, but these rabbits may still have accidents on occasion.

Unwanted “presents”

Many people litter-train their rabbits only to be frustrated with the few fecal balls occasionally left behind on the floor. Rabbits also mark their territory by dropping fecal pellets, and as they defecate, the anal sacs on either side of the rectum release a small amount of scent onto the fecal pellet.  This is normal behavior and means that even the best of rabbits will drop a few here and there. So you should not be discouraged if a litter-trained rabbit leaves a gift from time to time. Thankfully, these “presents” are dry and can be easily cleaned up.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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