If you think litterbox training is just for cats and small dogs, think again! Rabbits can be trained to use a litterbox with relative ease.
Why is it so easy?
Rabbits tend to choose just a few places for a bathroom. They aren’t like dogs, who will lift their legs just about anywhere! You may notice that your rabbit has already chosen a particular spot to serve as bathroom -- usually a cage corner. Placing the litterbox where the bunny is already going will make things super easy!
Older rabbits are actually easier to litter train than babies and young rabbits. This is because a bunny’s attention span grows with age! So don’t worry about trying to teach that old rabbit new tricks -- he will amaze you with his ability to learn and adapt to the litterbox.
Rabbits that are spayed or neutered are also easier to train. Unfixed rabbits will start to mark their territory by the time they are six months old. A bunny that has been neutered will be more likely to use a litterbox because the hormones won’t be encouraging marking.
Choosing the right kind of litter
The right kind of litter is an important choice -- some litters can cause health problems or serious illness in rabbits. The type of litter you provide is important because:
You should avoid litters made from soft wood, like pine shavings or cedar chips. These types of wood are thought to cause liver damage in rabbits! And don’t choose a deodorant litter -- the deodorant crystals may be toxic. Skip the clumping kind of litter, because if the litter is ingested, it can clump up in your rabbit’s digestive system. And think twice about clay litters -- a rabbit who likes to dig can kick up a lot of dust. Inhaling the dust can make them susceptible to respiratory infections.
Organic litters -- like those made from alfalfa, oats, citrus peels, or paper -- are a great choice because they are generally safe for your rabbit and can be turned into rich, fertilizing mulch for your garden. Even shredded newsprint can be a great litter, as long as the ink is non-toxic.
Other things to consider in your litter:
Oat and alfalfa litters are good at controlling urine odors. However, your rabbit may end up with an upset stomach if he nibbles too much litter -- the litter expands as it absorbs liquids and can cause bloating.
Newspapers are highly absorbent, but don’t do a thing to control urine odors.
Citrus-based litters are safe and effective in controlling odor but can be expensive. They may not even be available in your area, which means the extra cost of having it shipped.
Litter made from paper pulp or recycled paper is highly absorbent and helps cut down odors. These litters are safe for your little nibbler.
Compressed hardwood pellets are absorbent and affordable. Unlike soft woods, these pellets are non-toxic.
The actual training
Start by determining where your rabbit is urinating. Place your litterbox there! If your rabbit has a separate cage and running space, place at least one box in each location.
If your rabbit chooses to urinate in a corner where there is not a litterbox, move the box to that new location. The key to making litterbox training easy is to put the box where your bunny is already going to the bathroom. You can also start with many litterboxes and gradually cut back on the number of boxes.
Don’t rush your rabbit! Give him time to explore, and be patient if he has accidents. If you catch him urinating in the wrong place, gently herd him towards his litterbox. Don’t chase him or frighten him -- you don’t want him to associate the litterbox with a bad experience. Make the litterbox a positive place to be and he’ll be happy to use it.
If your rabbit is hesitant to enter the litterbox -- this may be more of a problem with a covered box than an open box -- try placing a handful of fresh hay inside the box. The snack will entice your rabbit to go inside and investigate, and encourage him to go back. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a bit of hay in your rabbit’s litterbox at all times.
Your rabbit may kick litter out of the box; this is easily solved by choosing a litterbox with a cover. Don’t have the cage space for a cover? You can put a larger, shallow pan underneath the litterbox to catch the litter.
Cleaning the litterbox
A litterbox that is regularly cleaned out will be more welcoming for your bunny -- would you want to use a bathroom where nobody ever flushed? Clear away waste daily, or at least every other day. Completely change the litter at least once a week. You can rinse the box itself with white vinegar to remove stains and lingering odors.
Rabbit droppings actually do make a great fertilizer -- some gardeners refer to it as “black gold”. If you have chosen an organic litter, you can take the litter and droppings and apply them directly to plants as fertilizer. If you are not using organic litter, you can just save the droppings and mix them into the soil.