Many people would like to have their pet rabbits indoors and include them in family activities but worry about any toileting mess their bunnies might make. However, rabbits can in fact be trained to use a litterbox – just like cats – and the process is not as difficult as many believe.
Setting up the litter tray
First make sure that you choose an appropriate litter tray. Check out the selection at your local pet store as litter trays now come in a variety of shapes, styles and sizes. Most of the basic ones for cats can work well for rabbits as well, although you may find ones designed for rabbits, in order to fit into the corner of a cage.
Size is important. The litter tray must be able to fit comfortably into your rabbit’s cage or hutch – if it can’t, then you may need to invest in a bigger cage or hutch. Remember, rabbits must have ample room to stretch, play, eat and use their littler box. At the same time, the litter tray itself should be big enough for your rabbit to lie down in. Rabbits actually like to spend quite a lot of time in their litter boxes so it needs to be spacious enough for them to feel comfortable in. It might mean experimenting with a few different litter boxes to find the right one for your bunny.
Lastly, be very careful when choosing the type of litter: rabbits actually like to munch and chew while they are in the litter tray so make sure the litter is something that won’t harm them if ingested. A simple set-up of newspaper to line the bottom of the tray, covered by timothy hay works very well in many cases. The newspaper will help to absorb any urine and the fresh hay will provide a natural fragrance to mask the odours, as well as being fine for your rabbit to graze on. Just make sure that you clean the box and change the litter regularly. It is crucial that you don’t use any pine wood or cedar shavings – or clumping cat litter – as these can cause severe liver problems or even be fatal if ingested.
Teaching your rabbit to use the litter tray
Just like with puppies and kittens, the key to success in housetraining rabbits is supervision and confinement. In other words, confine him to his cage (with litter tray) when you cannot supervise and keep him in a small play area at all other times where you can watch him easily. Make sure a litter tray is easily accessible at all times. Keep a lookout for the signs that your rabbit is thinking of toileting – such as lifting his tail or heading purposefully into a specific corner and gently but firmly direct him to his litter tray. Only when your bunny is consistently using his litter tray should you gradually increase the area he is allowed in.
Don’t forget to change the litter tray regularly. Rabbits are more likely to soil outside their litter tray if they find it dirty so the more fresh and clean you keep it, the more they will be inclined to use it. Regular cleaning will also have the added bonus of reducing any odours.
Finally, try to follow your rabbit’s preferences – for example, if you notice that he always prefers to toilet in a certain corner, place the litter tray there. This simple act can make a big difference to how fast your rabbit learns to use his litter tray.
Some rabbits can take a bit longer to grasp the concept of house training and may need a little help. If you find that you have been following all the steps listed above and your bunny is still having accidents, consider placing multiple litter boxes in his environment. This will often provide the extra hint needed to help him make the connection.
Remember that rabbits can be easily stressed by changes in their routine – for example, if you move house, add another pet to your family or even if their cage mate dies. In such circumstances, it is normal for your rabbit to have a few setbacks or even forget their house training – often it is the only way they can express their distress. Just be patient and repeat the steps you did in the beginning, confining and supervising him again until he is using his litter tray regularly again.
Finally, if there haven’t been any major changes and your rabbit suddenly starts having accidents when he was previously fine, it may be worth taking him to the vet for an examination as there are several health-related problems which may interfere with normal toileting function. These include things like urinary tract infections, bladder stones and kidney disease, which can cause your rabbit to lose control of his bladder or bowels. In such cases, veterinary treatment may be required to help get your rabbit back on track.
A few things can help when it comes to house training rabbits – first, bunnies that have been neutered or spayed are usually much easier to house train than those that have not be spayed, as adult rabbits will have a strong tendency to mark their territory. Secondly, young bunnies may take longer to house train than adult rabbits so you may require more patience and understanding during the learning process.