By nature, rabbits choose one or a few places (usually
corners) to deposit their urine and most of their pills.
Urine-training involves little more than putting a litterbox
where the rabbit chooses to go. Pill training requires
only that you give them a place which they know will
not be invaded by others. Here are some suggestions
to help you train your rabbit to use the litterbox.
make a difference?
Older rabbits are easier to train than younger rabbits,
especially babies. A rabbit's attention span and knack
for learning increases as he grows up. If you have a
baby, stick with it! And if you are deciding whether
to adopt an older rabbit, or litter train your older
rabbit, go for it!
Spaying/Neutering make a difference?
Yes! This is often the most important factor. When rabbits
reach the age of 4-6 months, their hormones become active
and they usually begin marking their territory. By spaying
or neutering your rabbit, s/he will be more likely to
use his/her litterbox (as well as be much healthier
types of litter should I use?
It depends on what's available in your area and what
your rabbit's habits are. Keep in mind the following
as you choose your litter:
- most rabbits spend lots of time in their litter
- rabbits will always nibble some of the litter
- rabbit urine has a very strong odour.
- House Rabbit Society recommends organic litters,
made from alfalfa, oat, citrus or paper. (Some brands
to look for: Care Fresh, Cat Country, Critter Country,
Stay away from litters made
from softwoods, like pine or cedar shavings or chips,
as these products are thought to cause liver damage
in rabbits who use them. CatWorks litter has been linked
to zinc poisoning. Another approach is to place a handful
of hay in each box, or to simply use hay as litter.
Obviously, you need to change the hay fairly frequently
(daily), since your rabbit will be eating it.
Pros and cons of the various types of litter include:
- clay litter is dusty--if your bunny is a digger,
the dust can make her vulnerable to pneumonia
- the deodorant crystals in some clay litters are
- clumping litters will clump inside the rabbit's
digestive and respiratory tracts (the latter if they
manage to make enough dust to breathe) causing serious
problems and often leading to death
- pine and cedar shavings emit gases which cause liver
damage when breathed by the bunny
- corn cob litter isn't absorbent and doesn't control
odour, and has the risk of being eaten and causing
a lethal blockage.
- oat- and alfalfa-based litters have excellent oduor
controlling qualities, but if a rabbit eats too much
of the litter, they expand and cause bloating; these
types of litter, too, can be added, with the bunny's
waste, to compost
- newspapers are absorbent, but don't control odour
- citrus-based litters work well, offer no dangers,
and can be composted, but may be hard to get and expensive
in some areas of the country/world
- some people have reported success with peat moss
which can also be composted
- Many people have great success with litter made
from paper pulp or recycled paper products. These
litters are very good at absorbing and cutting down
on odours. Such litter brands, CAREfresh or Pet's
Preference are available in Singapore. These litters
are harmless if ingested.
- Compressed sawdust pellets are inexpensive, highly
absorbent litters used in many foster homes. They
are made from softwood or hardwood sawdust, but they
are not toxic because the phenolic compounds are removed
during their manufacture. Their wood composition helps
control bacterial growth and odours. Wood stove fuel
pellets and Feline Pine are two examples of this product.
Feline pine is available in Singapore.
- Litters made from Aspen bark are safe and good at
absorbing odours. Oxbow AspenFresh is also available
- An economical and safe litter is the food pellets
- If bought in 50 LB bags, rabbit pellets are cheaper
than most litters. They don't absorb as quickly, but
they do absorb and they do control odour. And of course,
they can be used in compost. This option may not be
the best one for a rabbit who is overweight though.
my rabbit get confused if I use food pellets for litter?
A young rabbit may use both the litter and its food
dish for both food and litter. However, if you always
dump the soiled food out of the dish into the litter
box, and clean the dish before more food is given, the
rabbit will very quickly catch on.
Rabbits will nibble at the food pellets in the litter
box for a while when they are fresh, but as the litter
become soiled, they lose interest.
Finally, some rabbits insist on urinating or dropping
pills in their dishes. This is not confusion, but a
statement to others that "This is MY food dish!"
Clean litterboxes often, to encourage your rabbit to
use them. Use white vinegar to rinse boxes out--for
tough stains, let pans soak. Accidents outside of the
cage can be cleaned up with white vinegar or club soda.
If the urine has already dried, you can try products
like Hutch Clean and Supreme Home Help (available in
Singapore) to remove the stain and odour. To dispose
of organic litters, they can be used as mulch, or can
be composted. Rabbit pills can be directly applied to
plants as fertilizer.
kinds of cages work best?
Use a cage large enough to contain a small litterbox
(along with bunny's food and water bowls, toys, etc.)
and still allow enough room for the rabbit to stretch
out. Place the box in the corner of the cage where he
goes. With a litterbox in the cage, when the rabbit
is confined to his cage when you're not home, cage time
is learning time.
if my cage is on legs or has a door which opens on top
such that my rabbit can't get into it on his own?
If it is on legs, build a ramp or stairs, or pile boxes
to make steps--anything so that he can come and go on
If the door is on top, put a small stool or box inside
to help him get out, a board or piece of rug to help
him walk to the edge of the cage, and a ramp, stairs,
stool, or boxes to help him get down (and up again).
if my cage is too small for a litter box or I don't
use a cage?
If your cage is too small for a litter box, you may
have a cage which is too small for your rabbit. (See
Section E on the Rabbit's Environment (not yet written).)
Or you may have a dwarf rabbit and can't get a small
litter box. A good substitute is a Pyrex baking dish.
Even 9" x 9" is sufficient for a Netherland
You may have a cage with wire on the bottom and a tray
underneath that catches the urine. In this case, the
tray is the litter box and the cage itself is where
the bunny learns to go. You can often place the litter
box in the tray, under the cage, so that you need not
fill the entire bottom with litter.
If you don't use a cage, you need to give the bunny
a particular area to call its own. Just put a litter
box wherever the bunny seems to prefer.
All rabbits will drop pills around their cages to mark
it as their own. This is not failure to be litter-trained.
It is very important for your rabbit to identify the
cage as her property so that when she leaves the cage
for the bigger world of your house, he will distinguish
the family's area from her own and avoid marking it.
To encourage this, make the rabbit the king of his cage.
Try not to force him in or out of it-- coax him. Do
not do things to his cage which he doesn't like, or
things to him which he doesn't like while he's in the
The trick to getting the rabbit to keep his pills in
the cage is to give him ownership of his cage--respect
the cage as HIS:
- Don't reach into the cage to take him out; open
the door and let him come out if and when HE wants
to come out;
- Don't catch him and put him back in the cage or
it will be his prison, not his home. Herd him back
gently, and let him choose to go in to get away from
you (I walk behind my buns, clap my hands, and say
"bedtime." They know that I'll not stop
harassing them with this until they go into their
cage, so they run in except when they feel they haven't
gotten their fair share of time outside the cage.)
- It's a bit like a child going home and closing the
door, because someone is calling him names. They may
make the playground an unpleasant place for her, but
they can't bother him in his own home.
- If the rabbit has been snuggling with you, it's
okay to carry him to the door of the cage and let
him go in--just don't put him directly into the cage,
and never chase and trap him and put him in the cage.
- Don't reach into the cage to get food dishes--anchor
them near the door of the cage so they can be filled
with a minimum of trespassing into the cage, or wait
until the rabbit is out to fill them.
- Don't clean the cage while the rabbit is in it--wait
until he comes out. He'll come over and supervise
you, even help you move things which you've set down
outside the cage, but as long as he isn't in the cage,
he won't see your cleaning as an invasion of his territory.
(Smart rabbits--I wouldn't object if someone were
cleaning my house, either...)
The same technique can be used if a rabbit doesn't
live in a cage, but in a particular part of a room.
Mark the territory with a rug, tape, whatever, and don't
trespass over that.
my rabbit have a running space?
Even if your goal is to let your rabbit have full run
of the house, you must start small. Start with a cage
and a small running space, and when your rabbit is sufficiently
well-trained in that space, gradually give him more
space. But do so gradually! If you overwhelm him with
too much freedom before he's ready, he will forget where
his box is and will lose his good habits.
the actual method?
Start with a box in the cage, and one or more boxes
in the rabbit's running space. If he urinates in a corner
of the cage not containing the box, move the box to
that corner until he gets it right. Don't be concerned
if your bunny curls up in his litterbox--this is natural.
Once he's using the box in the cage, open her door and
allow his into her running space. Watch him go in and
out on his own. If he heads to a corner where there's
no box, or lifts up his tail in the characteristic fashion,
cry "no" in a single, sharp burst of sound.
Gently herd him back to his cage and his litterbox,
or into one of the boxes in his room. Be careful, however.
You don't want to make the cage or the litterbox seem
like punishment. A handful of hay in the box makes it
a more welcoming place. After he first uses the box,
praise him and give him his favorite treat. Once he
uses the box in his room a couple of times, you're well
on your way, as his habits will be on their way to forming.
As she gets better trained, you can increase his space.
Don't hurry this process. And if the area becomes very
big, or includes a second floor, be sure to include
more litterboxes, so as not to confuse him. Remember,
as he becomes more confident and uses fewer boxes, you
can start to remove some of her early, "training"
boxes. Get your rabbit into a daily routine and try
not to vary it. Rabbits are very habitual creatures
and once a routine is established, they usually prefer
to stick with it.
The more, the merrier, especially if your rabbit is
a bit of a slow learner, or is especially obstinate
about where he wants her box(es) to go. As his habits
improve, you can decrease the number of litterboxes.
litter out of the box
Some rabbits love to kick their litter out of the box.
You can get a covered litterbox (with a hood) to help
solve this problem. You can also try experimenting with
over the edge of the litterbox
A second problem is that rabbits often back up so far
in the litterbox that the urine goes over the edge.
Again, a covered litterbox can solve this problem. Another
solution would be to get a dishpan or other type of
tub with much higher sides. Still another solution would
be to get a "urine guard" to place around
the back of the cage, to keep the litter from spraying
outside of the cage.
should I do if my rabbit insists on using another spot?
Compromise. If your rabbit continually urinates in a
spot where there is no litterbox, put his box where
he will use it, even if it means rearranging his cage
or moving a table in the living room. It is much easier
to oblige him than to try to work against a determined
are the most common litter training mistakes?
- Letting the bunny out of the cage and not watching
him with undivided attention;
(You can't watch TV or read the paper or knit or talk
on the phone and expect to keep your mind on what
the bunny is doing every second--if he urinates without
being "caught" and herded to the litter
box, he'll be that much slower in learning what he's
supposed to do.)
- Trying to get there in a hurry.
(Rabbits take time. Perhaps that's one of their special
gifts to us in this hectic world. They require that
we take time out to sit and watch and do nothing else.
Besides getting a well-trained rabbit for your efforts,
you also get a short period of time each day to watch
one of the most charming little creatures on earth
explore, skip for joy, and in general entertain you
with his bunny-ness.)
should I do if my rabbit starts dribbling all over his
cage instead of using the litter box?
Dribbles usually indicate a bladder infection. Get your
rabbit to a rabbit-veterinarian who will probably put
him on an antibiotic. If the dribbling stops, you know
that that was the problem. (Beware of antibiotics given
by veterinarians who are not familiar with rabbits as
If the "dribbles" are more than dribbles,
or if the antibiotic doesn't stop the problem, consider
any factors that may be making your rabbit feel insecure
(new pet, house guests, change in location of cage,
etc.), anything which can cause a rabbit to mark her
cage more enthusiastically (similar to someone having
a dispute with a neighbor about the location of a fence
setting up a flag as the property boundary marker).
does my rabbit urinate or leave pills right beside the
The three most common things which are related to poor
litter habits (especially if the bun had been using
the litterbox in the past) are:
- Urinary Tract infections; sludge in the bladder;
bladder stones; kidney disease. This should be treated
by a qualified veterinarian.
- A common example is Oreo, a 8.5 year Dutch who had
75% kidney failure and began urinating on the floor
next to the litterbox when her problems first began.
Hershey (her mate) did the same thing when he had
a severe UTI last year. After the UTI was cleared
up, he began to use the litterbox again.
- Behaviour related.
Once the possibility of physiological causes is eliminated,
the behavioural reasons seem to go something like
Miss bunny eliminates next to her litterbox because
of some stress, eg, a break in her routine such
as less or more running time than usual, visitors
at home, kids home from college or summer camp,
any intensely emotional event whether good or bad.
It could even be a single incident such as being
frightened by a sudden noise (car backfiring, etc)
while she's in her box, which she then associates
with being in the box. Whatever the reason, she's
feeling insecure and tries to rebuild her confidence
by "underlining her signature" (signature
being her droppings in the box; underlining, the
puddles/piles beside it). Unless it's an ongoing
stress that can be removed, figuring out the cause
is not particularly relevant. The important factor
is not what happened the first time but the habit
that often grows from it. She pees beside the box
today because she did it yesterday. Many people
do not take action for the first few incidents,
especially with a rabbit who's always been good
about using the litterbox. They figure it's a fluke
which will disappear as suddenly as it started.
This only gives the habit time to take firm root.
By day 3, the habit is fairly entrenched, and correction
of the perceived cause will not solve the problem.
What WILL solve it? The usual: confinement, praise,
rewards, vigilant observation and supervision during
free-run time. But there's a catch-22 to this method.
It generally requires a change in Miss bunny's routine,
which is a common cause for the behaviour in the
first place. Iknow of no easy way around this knot.
The hard way is to confine, praise, etc with minimal
change to her usual routine. Sometimes i add a box
to the rabbit's area. the novelty makes the box
attractive (as do treats placed in it). She hops
in to investigate, and voila! She eliminates IN
A BOX. This is good behavior, worthy of lavish rewards.
It's often easier to get her to go in a new box
than to go in the one she's been eliminating next
It's important for people to understand that this
process can take time. A rabbit who's been perfectly
box-trained for 3 years and has peed next to the
box for 3 days may need 3 weeks of intensive training
to get back to her old, good behaviour. Why is it
that bad habits take longer to undo than to initiate
while the reverse is true of good habits?
- Territory related.
Winston, a religious litterbox user began urinating
on the floor next to the litterbox near the gate...
when Buttercup arrived on the opposite side of the
gate. After Winston got used to Buttercup, and had
"his" territory sufficiently marked, he
stopped using the floor and resumed using the litterbox.