Litterbox training

ANY rabbit can learn to use a litterbox regardless of age, breed, or temperment. Whether you're bringing bunny in from outdoors (and if you are, YAY! Applause! Thanks for being humane!) or bringing a new bun home; all it takes is time, patience, consistence, and the understanding that different buns will learn at different paces.

I rescued an 8-year-old boybun who had never seen a litterbox in his life and he was using the box consistently by the end of day one. Others have taken from a few days to a few weeks. Baby buns are like any other baby - be it human, puppy or rabbit, they need time and patience to learn what's expected of them.

As they sexually mature at 4 to 6 months of age, the urge to mark their territory will hit. Spay or neuter will nip it in the bud. Don't wait too long to fix your rabbit or hormonal urges will become established behavior. Be aware that spay and neuter is essential for consistently good potty habits in any rabbit. Rabbits are naturally clean animals and very intelligent, but hormones are a powerful force. It will take a month or so for the hormones to die out.

The Box

First off, forget about litterboxes marketed specifically for rabbits. "Raised corners" aside, they're too small and have lowered edges that render them useless if that's the direction bun chooses to relieve himself in. Get a good-sized kitty litterbox with some depth for hay and a bit of digging if bun so desires. He'll also want to kick back in there so make sure it's large enough for a proper lie down. Matched pairs will need a bigger box than a single bun.

The Litter

Stay away from cedar or pine shavings. The wood used is treated with chemicals that when mixed with urine release toxic fumes... causing lung damage in small animals. The toxins travel from the lungs into the bloodstream, passing through the liver and kidneys - causing damage to both. The smaller the animal, the quicker and more extensive the damage. I'm not saying a bigger bun is safer, I'm saying if you know anyone who has their rabbits (or any other small animals) on shavings - please warn them of the danger. Aspen wood shavings are safe but not very absorbent.

Also, do not use clay or clumping cat litters. They wreak havoc on the respiratory system and can be fatal if ingested.

We recommend recycled paper products; they're safe for animals and the environment, absorbent, and good at odor control. These litters come in a hard pellet or soft form. Some well-known brand names are Carefresh, Yesterday's News, Soft-Sorbent, and Eco-Fresh. Put an inch or so of litter in the box and top it with a "nest" of hay. The hay will encourage bun to spend time in the box, further strengthening his potty habits. He'll re-arrange and nibble the hay, never eating anything he's soiled. Don't be surprised to see him napping in there too. Clean as needed, replacing the hay daily. (See Feeding Basics for hay info.)

The Process

Start in a restricted exercise pen, a roomy cage, or a small room such as a bathroom or laundry room. (Be sure it's rabbit-proofed!) Rabbits are creatures of habit and usually choose one spot to eliminate in. Put the litterbox in that corner. Always supervise and expand bunny's area gradually as his habits become more consistent. If you see your bun exhibiting behaviors that indicate he's about to go potty (lifting his tail or hiney, backing up etc.) scoop him up and get him to his box as quick as you can. Always reward good behavior with petting and praise. A treat wouldn't hurt either!


Rules of thumb:

If your previously potty-trained bun begins to have potty accidents, get him checked for a urinary tract infection or other health problems. If the vet gives him a clean bill of health and he's still having accidents, it may not be an accident. There may be a change in your home or routine that's upsetting him. New babies, even a new couch, can upset your bun and he only has a few ways to express his displeasure. Unfortunately, peeing inappropriately is one of them. (Others are ignoring you or destroying something.)

Multiple rabbits can bring on marking behavior. This may or may not stop with time. If it becomes a problem, simply restrict the "enemy camps" to different parts of the house. There is also an adjustment period for any bun coming into a new home, whether as a single bun or as a mate, when marking occurs for a short time. Introduce them to their new surroundings slowly, expanding their territory a bit at a time, and supervise to avoid accidents.

Handicapped buns

There are litterboxes marketed for dogs/puppies that work great for buns with mobility issues such as arthritis, headtilt, or blindness. They're roomy and have a lower entry point in the front.

In closing I again want to stress the ingredients for successful littertraining: Spay/neuter, patience, time, consistence, more patience, and love. Feel free to contact us with any problems or questions.

copyright c. mc intire 2006. not to be used or posted on alternate websites without author permission.