Celia Haddon - Cat Expert

Understanding animals through their behaviour

CAN I LITTER TRAIN MY RABBIT?

Harvey whose autobiography is sold here c. Celia Haddon

Training a rabbit to use a litter tray is not difficult. Rabbits normally urinate in one place. Scoop up some of the soiled material from there and place it in a litter tray. The scent of the urine will prompt use of the litter tray. Put the litter tray over the area they are already using (Crowell-Davis, 2007). If the rabbit is in a hutch and there is not room, you are keeping it in far too small a hutch. Don’t keep the tray too dirty or too clean. The tray should stay in its place. When cleaning litter put a few poos or some soiled material back into the clean tray to remind bunny where he must go. A cat litter tray will do fine, though you can now buy triangular trays specially for rabbits.

What should I put in the litter tray?

Rabbits sometimes eat their litter. Never use clay-based clumping cat litter, conifer/pine shavings, litter with deodorant crystals, or litter made from corn cobs. Clumping litter may clump in the rabbit’s gut (Crowell-Davis 2010). Avoid the pine litter or pine shavings sometimes sold as rabbit or small pet litter – it is not safe for rabbits, despite being sold for them.

Rabbit litter is now sold online and at pet supermarkets. Brands include Carefresh, Critter Litter and Yesterday’s News. Peat or chopped straw would be fine. A cheaper version is to put a thick wad of newspaper and lots of hay in the litter tray. Or buy a bale of shredded cardboard sold as horse bedding. The hay is there to give your rabbit something to munch on, so it doesn’t chew the newspaper. There should be enough hay so that the rabbit isn’t in direct contact with the newspaper.

Rabbits (unlike cats) often spend a lot of time in the litter tray so add some hay for it to munch. If there is a large area available to your rabbit add extra trays, such as one in each room. You may need to tie the litter tray down as some  rabbits enjoy moving it around! As they don’t bury their faeces or urine, you will need to dump all the litter and excrement about every one or two days: scooping won’t work (Crowell-Davies, 2010).

REASONS WHY YOUR HOUSE RABBIT MAY STOP USING THE LITTER TRAY.

It is normal for a rabbit to leave some droppings outside the litter tray but if urine or lots of droppings appear outside the tray, then there is a problem.

  1. Your rabbit is ill. Urinary infections, bladder stones and other diseases make rabbits unreliable with the litter tray. If a previously litter trained rabbit starts missing the litter tray, it is important to consult a vet.
  2. You are not cleaning the tray frequently enough (Crowell Davies, 2010).
  3. The litter tray is in the wrong place – too near the rabbits bed or food bowls, in too busy an area like a corridor, or too far away from its normal living space. Add a second tray with some soiled material and if this is used, then and only then remove the first tray.
  4. You are cleaning the tray too much so it no longer smells like a latrine. Put back a fragment of used litter each time you have changed the tray’s contents.
  5. You are using deodorants or scented cleaning fluids. The tray must smell like a rabbit latrine not a hairdressing salon. Don’t use them.
  6. You have changed the litter type. Change it back to the one bunny is used to. If you must change, then change slowly with a handful at a time over four weeks. But it is safer to stick with what your rabbit is used to. If in doubt, put down several trays with different litter and let your rabbit choose.
  7. You have moved the location of the tray. Put it back. If you must move it, move it a few inches a day (Crowell-Davis, 2007).
  8. The litter tray is too small for your rabbit – your rabbit has outgrown it and its bottom is over the side. Get a bigger one (Crowell-Davis, 2007).
  9. There are not enough litter trays. For house rabbits there should be one in every room to which the rabbit has regular access (Crowell-Davies, 2010).
  10. There are too many rabbits per tray. There should be one litter tray per rabbit and one over (Brown, 2001).
  11. Something has frightened your rabbit while he was in the litter tray. A loud noise? An ambush by your cat? An attack by another bunny? He thinks the tray caused the fear. Try putting down a new tray with some soiled litter to see if this works. Or move the existing tray to where the rabbit is now urinating (Crowell Davies, 2010).
  12. Your rabbit’s toilet habits can be upset by moving house, a new human, a new rabbit or a change in routine. Confine your rabbit in a small area with the tray so he starts using it again then let him back into a larger area.
  13. The sides of the tray may be too high. Your rabbit is elderly or has arthritis and it hurts to get into it. Get a lower sided tray or cut the entrance lower on an existing tray.
  14. The sides of the tray may be too low. Rabbits lift their tail to urinate and if the litter tray is too low, they will pee over the top of the sides. Either put a washable mat or newspaper in that area or get a box with a higher side (Crowell-Davies, 2010).
  15. Your rabbit poos outside the tray. Well, they just do. Litter trays work for pee but not for all the poo. Add some hay to the litter tray so your rabbit stays there munching. They enjoy eating while they poo (like we enjoy reading in the loo). It will reduce the number of droppings outside the tray. If there are lots of moist droppings outside the tray, consult the article on dirty bottoms.

There’s a good article about litter training here.

REFERENCES

Brown, S. A., (2001), ‘The Domestic Rabbit: Husbandry and Clinical Techniques,’ Suppl Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet, 23, 2(A), 15-22

Crowell-Davis, S. L., (2007), ‘Behavior Problems in Pet Rabbits,’ Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, 16, 38-44

Crowell Davies,S. L., (2010), “Rabbits,’ in ed: Tynes, V. V., Behavior of Exotic Pets, Chichester, UK, Wiley-Blackwell, 69-77

COPYRIGHT.

These notes are my copyright. I am also usually happy to have the exact words reproduced on websites, in return for a link, my name, and if permission is asked beforehand. I like to check the websites where it might be used. Email me via this website for permission which will usually be given. Organisations wishing to use them in print should contact me via this website. Copyright © 2007 Celia Haddon. All Rights Reserved.

Safety notice.

All normal safety precautions should be taken when dealing with animals. The advice in this section should be taken only at the owner’s own risk. All sick animals should be seen by a vet.

General advice of the kind found in this website is no substitute for an individual consultation with a vet or qualified behaviourist working on a vet’s referral.

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