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Training a rabbit to use a litter box is quite easy and often rescues Thumper from being relegated to the backyard. Training your rabbit to use a litter box also makes your clean-up job easier. However, choosing the best litter box set-up may take a little homework. As rabbits become more popular as house pets, litter boxes designed for rabbits have also become more prevalent in the pet supply market. We are hopeful this trend will encourage people to keep their pet rabbits indoors.
First, the litter box
Generally speaking, bigger is better in litter boxes. Rabbits prefer to hop in and play around, munch on some hay and do their business. Making Thumper's litter box enjoyable will encourage him to use the box as intended. Before purchasing a litter box, make sure your cage and the cage door are big enough to accommodate the box, and bunny's water and food bowls.
Plastic cat litter trays: These come in several sizes and colors and are easily kept clean with white vinegar. They can be adapted for a rabbit by filling with non-toxic litter, placing a large handful of fresh hay in one end of the box and allowing Thumper to do the rest. Rabbits tend to enjoy this basic set-up and use it with ease. You can set up the same style box outside of the cage or use a covered litter box if your rabbit likes to dig in his box. The cover will help keep the litter in the box, but be sure to clean the box daily, because you can't readily see how soiled the box may have become, and the odor may be intensified in the enclosed area.
Large bus-boy tubs: Available at Smart & Final or other restaurant supply stores, these large gray trays are hard plastic, easy to clean, and are a roomy size for larger buns or more than one rabbit.
New on the market are the high-corner litter boxes: Cage manufacturers designed these because they help make a small cage litter box friendly. These litter boxes usually work well for baby bunnies or small breeds. Note: If your cage is not able to accommodate a litter box, you might consider springing for a larger cage for Thumper, if he spends several hours a day caged (we recommend 36" wide x24" deep, by 20-24"high).
Custom rabbit litter boxes: Some people modify their boxes by adding metal urine guards to the back end of the box. This keeps Thumper from spraying urine into the cage or onto your floors or walls. KW Cages in Santee can customize your litter box or cage with urine guards. KW Cages also carries their specially designed, metal litter boxes with a raised wire floor grid and three sides of urine guards. These litter boxes are especially good for Angora rabbits, as their fur tends to trap everything including hay and litter. This design raises the rabbit off the litter and helps keep him cleaner. These boxes are also good for rabbits who dig a lot, as they cannot reach the litter below. Some rabbits have an aversion to the wire flooring in this litter box, so be prepared to try another design should your rabbit not use this style of box.
Purina now offers a large dog litter box: These roomy, heavy plastic trays are great for rabbits, too. They also have one low-entry side.
Square hi-back litter box with one low side: Good for rabbits with arthritis or other conditions which make hopping into a box difficult. You can also use a utility knife to cut down one side of a regular cat litter box and cover the rough edges with split clear plastic tubing like you might use to bunny-proof wires. Another option for invalid rabbits is just a layer of artificial lambs wool or sheepskin to wick away the urine. It is important to keep these special needs rabbits clean and dry.
In the bottom of the box: litter comparisons
There are many more litter options now than there were just a few years ago. Each litter has a different absorption rate, weight, scent, and tracking capabilities. Because rabbits tend to nibble on everything and can easily inhale the dust, it is important to choose a non-toxic product. Over the years, we have come to know that there may be health risks associated with prolonged use of pine and cedar shavings - and neither is very absorbent as a litter - so we encourage you to try one of the many new litters designed for use with rabbits. We are happy to report that manufacturers are now providing us with many new, innovative products.
Courtesy of BunnyBytes - thank you Kathy and Steve! - we were able to test several litter products on foster rabbits. Here is what we discovered.
Aspen Supreme pellet litter: This pellet litter had a "woodsy" smell but it was not strong or offensive. The pellets are compostable and can be flushed in small quantities. Although heavy, we found this pellet litter to be very good at odor control and very absorbent, as well. The pellets are dark in color, so it took a little getting-used-to, but this litter fared very well. Kathy from BunnyBytes reminds us that because these pellets are also good at keeping odor down, so we need to remember to adhere to a regular cleaning schedule to keep bunny's box fresh and clean.
Aspen Wood particles: This shaved-wood product looks similar to pine shavings, but it is made from Aspen wood. Although relatively absorbent, the wood particles stuck to most bunny butts so, in turn, the litter tracked all over the house. Not a great option - there's enough hay to clean up as it is! This litter is also recommended bedding for rats and guinea pigs.
EcoFRESH: Made by Absorption Corporation, makers of CareFRESH, this litter looks and feels like clay, but it isn't. This litter is made from recycled paper. It is absorbent and virtually dust-free. One nice feature of this litter is that some rabbit droppings can be sifted out as you might do with cat litter.
CareFRESH: Still one of the best paper-product litters available. Made from paper pulp and dust-free, this litter is non-toxic, very absorbent and flushable in small quantities. Along with hay and rabbit droppings, it makes great compost.
Clay cat litter: Although inexpensive, clay litter can be dusty and may encourage digging in the litter box. There are also more absorbent litters on the market. Also, if bunny should ingest this litter, it could be fatal.
DO NOT USE clumping cat litters with rabbits. This litter clumps when exposed to moisture, and it can't tell the difference between external and internal moisture. Rabbits tend to nibble on everything, and should they ingest clumping litter, they risk a potentially deadly intestinal blockage.
Corn cob: Relatively absorbent, but very light and tends to get tracked and kicked out of the litter box easily.
Cat Country: Made primarily from plant fibers, this pelleted litter is absorbent as well as compostable.
Yesterday's News: This pelleted litter, made from recycled newspaper, is absorbent and can be flushed in small quantities.
Feline Pine: Kiln-dried pine shavings, with no aromatic hydrocarbons. Liquid waste is absorbed by these pellets, which swell and become wet sawdust.
Shredded paper: Layers of newspaper and shredded paper topped with hay can be used in the litter box, but we've found it may tempt rabbits to ingest large amounts of paper. Rabbits also love to get a grip on the paper and make a big mess. Economical and a good way to get second use out of the news, shredded paper may or may not work well, depending on your rabbit's habits.
Selecting the right litter box and litter for your rabbit will depend on the products you can find, as well as your rabbit's activity level and special needs. Sometimes testing the different products is helpful, and we hope we've given you some "litter for thought!"
Have you found a great new litter product or litter box training tip? Let us know so we can share!
Contacts for products:
San Diego HRS: 4807 Mercury Street, Suite A, Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. 858-565-2869
KW Cages: 619-596-4000 or www.kwcages.com
Some pet supply stores also carry the products mentioned in this article; CareFRESH is readily available in San Diego through PetSmart, Pet People, and the San Diego HRS Bunny Store.