Training a Rabbit to Use a Litter Box
Rabbits in the House
We all love those cute little rabbit eyes and twitching nose and little cottontail. But did you know that cute little rabbit inside the hutch on the back patio would love to join you inside? Sure you bring him inside every now and then, but did you know that he could be litter trained just like a house cat? It might seem hard to believe but rabbits are capable of learning like many pets by using positive reinforcement and utilizing rabbits own tendencies.
The first thing you will want to do when litter box training a rabbit is to choose the proper litter and litter box. There are a lot of different litters to choose from. Some rabbit owners use wood shavings for bedding such as cedar, pine, or aspen. Wood based litters are usually the least expensive. Rabbits may snack on their litter. The oils in cedar and pine-based litters make them less than ideal options. If a wood shaving litter is to be used for your rabbit, then go with an Aspen-based litter.
Rabbit Litter Another good litter box substrate for rabbits is Kay-Kob bedding. Kay-Kob is derived from dried corn kernels and is very safe for the rabbit. The drawback is that it is not the best for absorption and odor reduction. The other problem I ran into with Kay-Kob is that your rabbit can kick it out of the litter box when it jumps.
Avoid Silica Based Litters
Never use silica or clay-based litters that are scoop-able and normally used for cats. These litters will be very harmful to your rabbit if they eat it. The litter I used for my rabbits was a product called Care Fresh. Care Fresh is a recycled paper litter that will absorb a lot of urine and hold odors. This recycled paper has no dyes or inks and is very safe for your rabbit.
Once you have chosen a litter for your rabbit, it's time to decide what box to put it in. There are two types of litter boxes available. There are your normal litter pans like a cat would use or there are high back corner pans. Remember, rabbits tend to go to the bathroom in corners and normal pans aren't able to keep your rabbit from making a mess. That's why the corner pan is going to be the better choice. This way we can use our rabbit's natural tendencies to go in the corners to help us along.
Once you have your rabbit litter and the correct box, remember one thing. Chances are your rabbit will have an accident. Get a good stain and odor remover. Nature's Miracle or Wee Wee is a great odor remover that will break down odors using natural enzymes. Animals tend to go to the bathroom where they smell urine already present. So as soon as your rabbit has an accident, you will need to clean it up properly.
Training Your Rabbit to Use a Litter Box
The first thing you want to do is get your rabbit to associate going to the bathroom on the litter you have chosen. To do this, you will want to confine your rabbit to a cage with the litter-lined along the bottom. Give this a few days and pay attention to which corner of the cage the rabbit prefers to use. Clean out the used litter and use some of your Enzyme cleaners on the cage (this will neutralize any urine odors), and replace it with some new litter. Preferably something with a different texture. Take a little bit of the soiled litter and line the bottom of the pan with it. Then fill the rest of the bottom of the cage with fresh litter. Put it in the corner of the cage the rabbit has been using. This will help the rabbit know that it is the same corner and keep it from using a new corner. Give this a few days and allow the rabbit to build confidence and trust in using the box
Once you feel that your rabbit is using the litter box in the cage, it's time to increase their area of play. You can buy a metal playpens. If you want to take your rabbit outside and enjoy a nice sunny day or if you want to take him on a trip, they will need some kind of enclosure. You can also control the size of the enclosure, by making it small at first and gradually make it bigger. The key is to not make the enclosed space too large all at once. If the area is smaller, your rabbit will have an easier time remembering that it is supposed to use the litter box. I would also recommend lining the area with wee pads, these pads are absorbent and will make clean up of accidents easier and it will be a different texture than your litter.
Over the next few weeks, give your rabbit more and more room to move around in. Always have the litter box present. Spend lots of time with them and give them lots of treats. Putting Timothy hay in and near their box will create a positive association with the box. Once you trust your rabbit in a larger enclosure, try giving them a smaller room to roam around in.
Keep a careful eye on your rabbit, as this will be a big transition. After a week or so, if you feel you can trust your rabbit with a larger room upgrade, introduce them to the rest of the house. Put their box in an area where they can see it and get to it easily. When you first bring them into a new room, take them to the litter box so they have a reference point. If you have a large space, try adding a few more litter boxes so they have multiple places to go. Always keep some Timothy hay nearby so they feel comfortable with it and have a reason to go back to it. If they are having problems with the larger room, go back to the smaller room for a short period of time.
The key to teaching your rabbit to use a litter box in the house is to take it slow! Remember that while your rabbit will probably use their litter box to urinate, they might not always defecate in it. Rabbit droppings are small and hard, making them easier to clean up with a vacuum or sweeping.
Take a Step Back
If you get frustrated, never scold or hit your rabbit. This will only cause the rabbit to distrust you and cause more behavior problems. Rabbits are naturally skittish and suspicious so building trust takes time. Providing your rabbit with interactive and healthy chewable toys will increase their trust for you and give you lots of personal time with them. Remember to clean up any accidents with the enzyme cleaner so you eliminate the smell at the rabbits level, that way they won't continue going in the wrong place.