Wondering how to litter box train your new bunny companion? Are your rabbits' previously pristine litter box habits changing for the worse? Has your rabbit decided your entire house is now his litter box?
First, determine if the reason could be medical, perhaps a bladder infection. A trip to your rabbit's veterinarian may be in order to detect a urinary illness.
What is the age of your rabbit? Do not expect a baby bunny to be litter box trained. That would be like expecting a newborn baby to be toilet trained. Their bladder control increases as they mature. Be patient with very young, unaltered rabbits.
Is your rabbit spayed or neutered? 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 he will be more likely to use the litter box and will be a happier, healthier, calmer rabbit.
Decrease freedom and increase litter boxes. Do not give your rabbit total freedom of the house. When you decrease his freedom and increase litter boxes, you are increasing his chances he will make it to the litter box. Keep two or more litter boxes outside the cage and one inside the cage. As his habits improve, you can decrease a litter box or two. If you have more than one rabbit, you may see less control and more marking. If slip-ups begin, start shorter periods of freedom and more litter boxes.
Keep litter boxes clean. Rabbits are very clean creatures. A smelly, soiled litter box could cause your rabbit to choose another place to do his business, sometimes just outside the box. Depending on the number of rabbits and litter boxes, clean litter boxes at least every other day. Once a week is NOT enough!
Spritz litter pans with white vinegar to clean and deodorize. Let pans soak if there is urine build-up and then rinse clean. Do not use chemicals. If your rabbit marks in an area, blot up the urine and dab on white vinegar or a commercial enzyme deodorizer to neutralize the odor. Do not leave the smell or he may be encouraged to revisit. Hydrogen peroxide also works well for this and will not harm the color in the your carpet or furniture fabrics.
Try a different litter. The House Rabbit Society suggests one of the many organic paper litters available. Sometimes the strong scent of litter will keep bunny out of the box. Avoid pine and cedar shavings and clay cat litters. Also, try a good amount of fresh hay in the box. This will usually entice your rabbit to get into the box. You can also put a few of his droppings in the box.
Be consistent. Get your rabbit into a daily routine and try not to vary it. Rabbits are very habitual and once a routine is established, they usually prefer to stick with it. Routines make learning easier.
Adapt to the stubborn bunny. If your rabbit is continually going in an opposite corner from his box, put his box in the area he has chosen, even if it means rearranging his cage or moving a table in the living room. He has already decided where he wants his box and it is much easier to oblige than to try to work against a determined bunny!
Not sure how to put together a bunny-friendly litter box? Learn what to use, and how to put it all together to ensure your bunny's successful litter training, by visiting our "litter box setup" page.
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Not sure how to set-up a bunny-friendly litter box? Learn the basics, below, and help your bunny on his way to successful litter box training.
Plastic Cat Pan
Basic plastic cat litter pans work best for bunny's litter box. They come in sizes small, medium, large, and giant, and can be found at stores such as Target, Wal-Mart, and Kmart, for a nominal price. We recommend sticking to the medium, large, or giant litter pans for most bunnies, unless your bunny is very tiny. However, you can't go wrong with a larger litter box that your bunny can grow into. Choosing the size of pan to buy, will depend on the size of your bunny.
Medium cat pan, for small bunnies under 4 pounds.
Large cat pan, for medium bunnies under 10 pounds.
Giant cat pan, for large bunnies over 10 pounds, or bonded pairs.
If you have a pair of bunnies sharing the same litter box, you'll want to get one very large box, or give the bunnies multiple boxes to keep them well supplied with hay and fresh litter.
Setting-up the Litter Box
We recommend using CareFresh and fresh hay to prepare your bunny's litter box. CareFresh is a bunny-safe pet bedding that does not contain any pine or cedar products, and is also environmentally friendly. Fresh hay in the box entices bunny to jump in and do his "business."
A clean box with about 1 inch of clean CareFresh covering the bottom.
Next, add a BIG handful of hay. Here, we've spread some grass hay over the CareFresh, then added a nice bunch of oat hay at the "kitchen" end of the box, giving bunny a combination of oat and grass hay to nibble.
About 12 hours later, here's a well-used box. You can see that bunny has created a "bathroom" end and a "kitchen" end (the end with remaining clean hay).
Keep a Fresh Box
Change bunny's box frequently, to ensure a clean, fresh box. This will prevent bunny from heading to cleaner places to eliminate. If your bunny does not soil his box completely within a 24-hour period, simply add another large handful of hay to the "kitchen" end, to replenish his supply. But never go for more than two days before giving bunny a fresh litter box.
Once dirty, dump the entire contents of the box into your "yard waste" container or regular trash, to dispose. (If you're a gardener, bunny's litter box waste makes great compost!) Wash the box, and if urine build-up occurs, pour in some plain white vinegar to soak it clean. Rinse, wipe dry, then add new CareFresh and hay.
CareFresh and freshly boxed hay can be easily purchased throughout San Diego County.
Bunnies Enjoy Their Litter Boxes
Once introduced and used to being given fresh hay in a clean box, your bunny will grow to love it! He will nibble hay nearly 24 hours a day - important for good bunny digestion - and may even burrow under it searching for the most choice bits.
This bunny loves to burrow under her hay!
Two companion bunnies sharing their litter box.
Finally, it's important to remember to use bunny-safe litters in your bunny's box. Clay, or clumping litters for cats can be dangerous to bunnies who may ingest some of their litter while eating hay. Pine, cedar, or other aromatic wood shavings may also be harmful to bunny's health. Sticking with a simple, paper-based, recyclable litter provides bunny with a safe litter and one that's also environmentally friendly.
If, after setting up your bunny's litter box in this manner, you still have some problems with bunny using his box, try some of our litter box training tips. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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If you have a special-needs rabbit; one who has a disability or is older and cannot easily access a typcial litter box, these special low-entry or custom made boxes can be just the thing to help your bunny retain her litter box skills.
A Simple Cut-Down Litter Box
The easiest solution can often be just cutting-down the side of an ordinary, rectangular litter box. Be sure to cover the cut edges with cord cover, a heavy tape, or some thing to prevent bunny from being cut or scraped. This allows rabbits to access the litter box more easily when they are stiff and sore, or have mobility problems.
Low-entry Dog Litter Box
These can be harder to find these days as manufacturers have stopped making them. Caretakers of disabled rabbits are having to get more creative to find replacements for these boxes. If you can get your hands on one, hang onto it! They are scarce, but they work very well. UPDATE: These boxes are now available for sale at the SDHRS Bunny Supply Store at 4807 Mercury Street, Suite A, SD 92111. Hours are Wednesday through Friday noon to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Not in San Diego? Buy them online at: www.puppygohere.com.
Purina Second Nature Dog Litter Box
Purina "Second Nature" large-size dog litter box. This is show with a pelleted litter material in it but you can use anything. These are great for larger rabbits or bonded pairs.
Table Top Potting Containers
These new containers work just like a low-entry litter box and have been helpful those with older rabbits or bunnies who need a lower entry to step into the box instead of hop over a tall side. These are available to purchase on Amazon. Remember to shop through smile.amazon.com and choose San Diego Companion Rabbit Society as your nonprofit organization to benefit from your purchases.
For housing setup and ideas for special needs (disabled) bunnies, visit http://www.specialbunny.org/special-needs-housing/
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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, Wednesdays through Fridays, noon to 5:30 p.m., 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.
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