Can bunnies be trained to use a litter box? Yes, rabbits can learn to do their “business” in a box — but with some different twists. After all, rabbits are not cats. So, let’s look at some strategies and tips for getting bunnies to use the litter pan.
Potty training a bunny tips
First, younger rabbits are usually harder to train than older rabbits. Youngsters have a shorter attention span and want to explore and quickly hop on to the next adventure. Training can begin early, but don’t expect quick results.
Second, spaying or neutering makes a difference in how quickly a bunny will learn to use the litter box. Un-neutered males have other important matters (such as mating) on their minds and un-spayed females going through a false pregnancy, or a real one, will also be preoccupied. Plus, marking territory is important to both sexes when they are not spayed or neutered. This undesirable trait is only one reason to spay or neuter your rabbits at the appropriate age. (For other reasons, see “Rabbit Neutering or Spaying.”)
Another key to success: Take the time to observe your rabbit’s behavior, so you know what indicates that the bunny is about to go potty. Some rabbits back up into a corner to urinate; others want to potty as soon as they are let out of their cage. Look for the tail to go up and the ears to relax. You’ll want to catch the rabbit before she urinates and steer her into the litter box.
Types of rabbit litter
You will want your rabbit to be excited about spending time in the litter box, so make it a welcoming place. Fill the bottom of the box with rabbit-safe litter, such as wood pellets, aspen shavings, or thick layers of newspaper. Don’t use clay, cedar or clumping cat litters because these are bad for bunnies’ health. Pile fresh hay on top and, to really entice your bunny, add a few papaya treats, a piece of apple, a favorite herb or a toy.
When your bunny is in the box, give her lots of praise. Don’t ever punish your bunny for “accidents”; punishment doesn’t work and it will just cause stress for the rabbit.
Steps for litter training rabbits
What’s the actual process for teaching the bunny to use the box? First, she’ll need her own piece of real estate — a space that the rabbit distinguishes as hers and separate from the space she shares with you. If the rabbit does not have a cage, section off a space in a room or run.
Next, prepare a couple of litter boxes and put them out in the rabbit’s space. In the beginning of training, it helps to place a few of the rabbit’s droppings and the scent of her urine into the litter boxes to let her know that this is the place to go. Place one box inside the rabbit’s cage, one just outside and another in a corner, or wherever you see your rabbit doing her business. Move the boxes as needed, according to where your rabbit chooses to urinate.
As the bunny gets better at using the litter box, you can start eliminating boxes. When your rabbit is consistently successful, you can expand her living space, but go slow, adding a little space at a time. Don’t expect perfection: Rabbits will occasionally leave some droppings outside the litter box. “Hop and drop” just happens and a few droppings are easy to clean up.
Cleaning a litter pan or box
Cleanliness is important for keeping your bunny interested in using the box, so clean the litter boxes every two or three days, or as needed. A good cleaning solution is half white vinegar and half water. Top the boxes daily with fresh hay.
To respect the rabbit’s space, don’t reach into the cage or space to pull the rabbit out; instead, coax her out. Also, don’t clean the space or cage when the rabbit is inside. Keep food dishes close to the door to minimize intrusion. If you are carrying the bunny back to her area, let her hop into the door of the cage or sectioned-off area rather than placing her inside.
Finally, if your rabbit’s litter box habits change, there may be something medically wrong with her. Have the bunny checked by your veterinarian, just to make sure. Of course, a change in litter box habits can also result from the rabbit being frightened, new rabbits in the area, or a change in caregivers or the bunny’s environment.
With a bit of luck, you should soon be experiencing the joys of a rabbit trained to use the litter box!