Just like cats, bunnies can be litter trained, which is why so many bunny owners are able to let their buns run free in the house. Most rabbits prefer to do their business in one spot, and so litter training comes naturally.
The Perfect Litter Box
Ideally, your rabbit should be housed in a 4×4 space without a wire bottom, and so a plastic litter box made for cats should be able to fit nicely. In the Adoption Center, our larger bunnies use low, plastic storage tubs that you can buy at Target or Wal-Mart. Or, some bunny parents use the plastic tray that goes at the bottom of dog crates as an extra large, super low, litter box. This is an especially good option for bunnies that have difficulty climbing into higher boxes due to arthritis or old age.
Litter should cover at least half the box, although some people choose to line the entire box with litter, which works just as well. Paper based litter, such as CareFresh, Yesterday’s News, or even shredded newspaper (made with soy-based ink), is a safe option. Pelleted horse or cat bedding made from kiln-dried pine or aspen– such as Feline Pine-is another affordable option, but the bedding must be kiln-dried to remove harmful phenols and hydrocarbons. Alternatively, in some areas and seasons you can find wood stove pellet, which is also a great option and is very similar to Feline Pine. Many people use a combination of one or more types of litter!
Other types of litter, such as clumping litter, deodorant crystals, corncob litter, or oat- and alfalfa-based litters are dangerous or toxic if ingested, so they should be avoided. Softwood (such as pine- or cedar-based litters) or clay litter can be dangerous if inhaled, so avoid those types as well.
The other half of the litter box should be where you keep your bunny’s hay. You will need to refill this daily, as bunnies need to have a constant fresh supply of hay. Not only will having hay in the litter box encourage your rabbit to get into the box, but it will also encourage them to eat their hay. Believe it or not, rabbits like to have something to munch on while doing their business!
You should clean your bunnies litter box at least every other day with a safe, non-toxic cleaner such as white vinegar or baking soda. You could also use cleaning products made for animals like Nature’s Miracle. The litter and hay should be disposed of and if you’re using an organic litter it can be composed into an excellent fertilizer.
How To Litter Box Train
It’s imperative to litter box training that your rabbit be spayed/neutered. Unaltered rabbits with raging hormones will mark their territory with urine, and therefore are not easily litter box trained.
Once your bunny is fixed, the most frequently used training method is to start small. Put the litter box in the bunny’s 4×4 space. If she goes in another area, move the box to that area until she starts using the box. If she still refuses, you may have to temporarily reduce her space until she gets the idea.
After she is consistently using her litter box in her 4×4 space, you can let her out, but only with careful supervision and preferably in a room where you can easily keep an eye on her, like a small bedroom. If she attempts to urinate in a corner or space where there is no box, loudly and sharply tell her “No” and nicely herd her back to her box. You must keep an eye on your bunny until she is completely trained, and never scold her after she has an accident, as it is only effective if you catch her in the act. Never, ever hit your rabbit for any reason- by simply telling your bunny “No!” you are doing enough. Also whenever you see your bunny using the box, make sure to give her lots of praise.
You can continue increasing her free space as she consistently uses the litter box, but make sure to go slowly. If you plan on allowing your bunny to have lots of space, it can be very helpful to have multiple litter boxes, especially if she is able to go up and down stairs.
A few things to keep in mind: if your bunny is consistently using the litter box for an extended period of time, and then suddenly starts urinating outside the box, it could be a sign of an issue such as a urinary tract infection, bladder sludge, kidney stones or bladder stones. Assuming there are no external stressors, such as a new member of the household, furniture rearranging, unusual visitors in the home, etc., the bunny should be taken to see a vet.
Also, many bunnies will continue to mark their territory with bunny poops even after they are spayed/neutered, especially if there is another bunny in the home. So, if your bunny is pooping small amounts outside of the box, this is completely normal. Fortunately, healthy rabbit poops are hard and dry, and easy to clean up. In addition, if your bunny lives in a 4×4 space, this is generally what she considers her territory, and will not mark outside of that space.
Finally, remember that all bunnies are different and while this method works for most buns, it may not work for yours. If you are struggling with litter box training, please feel free to contact us at OHRR for support and advice!