Rabbits are intelligent and inquisitive creatures. Many potential rabbit owners don’t realize that their pet rabbits can be successfully trained to toilet in the same spot using a cat litter tray. The key to successful potty training your rabbit is consistency and litter training can be achieved in as little as two weeks.
When you bring your new pet rabbit (or rabbits) home, your first concern will be setting them up with a suitable cage or rabbit hutch (either indoors or outdoors) and finding the most appropriate location for it and then stocking up on all the necessary food (and other rabbit) essentials.
In this article we’ll walk you through the steps you need to follow to teach your rabbit to use litter trays correctly.
Are rabbits easy to litter train?
Rabbits can be litter trained relatively easily and rabbits who are spayed or neutered generally learn faster and are easier to housetrain. Rabbits who are intact are more likely to want to spray urine to mark their territory and may take a little longer to learn how to toilet in the same place. That said, rabbit breeders who want to keep intact rabbits for showing and breeding can still successfully manage to litter train their brood of rabbits.
Items you will need to begin house training your rabbit will include:
- A rectangular litter tray pan designed for cats (without a lid).
- Recycled paper or organic-based pellets as cat litter.
- Timothy hay liberally sprinkled near your litter tray or a hay rack next to the litter box.
You will start by placing a layer of recycled paper pellets (or appropriate organic materials) in the litter tray – at least an inch in depth. Next place a thick layer of Timothy hay (or similar) on top of the litter pellets. The hay entices your rabbit to use the litter box and rabbits love to chew on the hay while they are going to the bathroom.
The key to success is consistency and rewards. Keeping the litter tray in the same place is important as rabbits are creatures of habit and will return to the same spot over and over. This is what makes litter training so achievable.
Let your rabbit’s toileting preferences guide you in the initial placement of the litter box. Placing the litter box in an easily accessible part of their cage or rabbit hutch where your rabbits prefer to toilet is most important.
Where to place the litter tray
If your pet rabbit mostly lives in an indoor or outdoor rabbit hutch you will need to find a suitable place in the rabbit hutch to position the litter tray. A corner position is best. You should have easy access to the litter tray for removal and regular cleaning.
Some rabbit owners (and apartment dwellers) who only have one small rabbit may not even house their rabbits in a rabbit hutch or cage instead letting them free roam around their apartment.
If you don’t keep your rabbit in a hutch or cage, you can place the rabbit litter tray in a bathroom or laundry area and train your rabbit to return to the same spot to use the toilet. Initially you may find some rabbit poops around your house which you should scoop up as soon as possible.
It’s more important to ensure that your rabbit isn’t urinating on carpets or sofas as the urine scent will send them back to the same spot. This is where using rewards such as food treats and affection will teach them to use the litter tray correctly.
How to housetrain your rabbit and what to expect in the first two weeks
Housetraining your rabbit starts the day you bring your new rabbit home and it can be achieved within one to two weeks as long as you follow some simple rules.
- Make sure your litter tray is large enough with sides low enough for them to hop in and out easily.
- Choose safe organic litter products – recycled paper pellets are best with a depth of around one inch in the litter tray. You can also use wheatgrass, oat or alfalfa-based litter pellets. There is a wide range to choose from available from most large pet supplies outlets.
- Cover the litter with some straw and have a hay rack of straw close to the tray.
- Reward your rabbits every time you notice them correctly using the litter tray – with pats, gentle voice commands and food treats.
That distinctive ammonia smell from your rabbit’s urine should send them straight back to the litter box. However, don’t be alarmed if your rabbit still continues to poop outside of the litter box which is a normal territorial behavior. You might find small rabbit poops scattered in the straw outside the litter tray. Use a cat litter scoop and pick them up and pop back into the litter tray as soon as you discover them.
A few stray rabbit poops are not a big deal as these are usually small (and sometimes dry) pellets (depending on the richness of their diet). This territorial practice of pooping outside their tray may continue particularly with intact rabbits. Fun fact: healthy rabbits will produce around 200 to 300 pellets of rabbit poop per day (on average).
Spayed and neutered rabbits are more likely to closely follow your training regimen (but not always). Your biggest concern is ensuring that they are regularly urinating in their litter tray.
After you have chosen the most suitable spot for your litter box (usually in a corner of their cage) keep a close eye to make sure they are returning to that spot. If your rabbit suddenly starts to pee in another part of their rabbit hutch, we recommend you relocate your litter tray to that area or add an additional tray in that spot. It’s perfectly acceptable to use two litter boxes in your rabbit hutch – particularly if you have one or more rabbits.
In the first two weeks allow your litter tray to become slightly urine-soaked to attract your rabbit back to the same spot. After they are accustomed to toileting in the litter tray, keep it relatively clean but remember it does need the urine smell to remind them to go there.
When cleaning the tray, make sure you use cleaning products like white vinegar or baking soda rather than stronger commercial cleaning products. White vinegar is a great neutralizing agent for removing urine stains without leaving a powerful, smelly chemical cleaning residue behind which could confuse your rabbit’s scent glands and undermine your toilet training efforts.
Develop an effective rabbit kitty-litter training regimen
One thing to know before getting started is that after you have placed your litter tray in the allocated position, you might find your rabbit likes to sit in the litter tray and munch on hay – for considerable periods of time – with no toileting actions. Don’t be alarmed by this, this is normal rabbit behavior – just accept it and go with it. (Rabbits, like cats, can feel secure sitting in an enclosed box for extended periods of time).
Some rabbit owners recommend keeping rabbits enclosed and contained during the entire toilet training process. Effective toilet training of your rabbits requires good judgment and observation of your rabbit’s habits and behavior. While it may be important to keep your rabbit’s movements to a minimum when focusing on toilet training, they do need time to explore their environment and habitat each day for their general health and wellbeing.
After your rabbit has found the litter tray and figured out what it’s for, you should still let your rabbit leave the cage for some free roaming around your home or your backyard (always supervised). Allowing your rabbits between 20 to 30 minutes a day to hop around is good practice followed by returning them to the hutch and physically placing them in the litter tray is a good starting point.
The best time to put them in the litter tray of course is after they have eaten. Rabbits will be nibbling on straw for most of the day but after giving them rich and delicious rabbit treats, you can put them in the litter tray and observe their behavior. Also use the words “in the tray” to reinforce your instructions.
Things to avoid:
- Never use wood shavings for your litter tray as this can be toxic to your rabbits and cause liver damage if they inhale or ingest the fine particles.
- Don’t use clay-based clumping cat litters which can cause zinc poisoning in rabbits.
- Never scold your rabbit for toileting in the wrong spot – be patient. It takes time for your rabbit to learn to toilet consistently in the same place every day.
- Don’t let the litter box become over-soiled. Rabbits are clean animals and a dirty litter box will deter them from going there. You should be cleaning your litter tray daily or every other day using a rabbit-safe cleaning product such as white vinegar and baking soda.
- A litter tray with sides so low that your rabbit will scatter urine-soaked litter outside of the litter box which will confuse the whole training process. Similarly if the litter tray has sides which are too high, your rabbit won’t use it. The size of your litter tray should reflect the size of your rabbit.
- Don’t put litter in any other section of their cage or hutch (apart from your one to two litter boxes) as this will confuse your rabbits and undermine your training regimen.
Other common litter training mistakes many rabbit owners make include rushing the training process and expecting instant success or giving their rabbit too much time out of their enclosure unsupervised (during the initial training period) where they might pee and poop in random sections of your home.
Be patient and take the time to observe your rabbit’s movements. Return them to the litter box with the firm instructions “in the tray” several times a day and when they toilet in the litter, reward them immediately with food treats and affection. Timing and consistency is key.
Is it too late to litter train my rabbit?
Some rabbit owners hesitate to litter train their rabbits in the mistaken belief that only young rabbits can learn new behaviors. Rabbits who are most likely to resist litter training are intact and unneutered rabbits. This is not a hard and fast rule though. Older rabbits are actually faster to train than baby rabbits because they have a longer attention span.
You should be able to litter train your rabbits from any age. Spayed and neutered rabbits will learn faster and be more likely to not spray urine in their cages. If you are not showing or intending to breed your rabbits, it’s good practice to think about getting your rabbits fixed and this can be done around the age of four months.
Young and baby rabbits, while relatively easy to litter train can appear to forget their training as they mature. This is caused by hormonal changes as the rabbit matures. Your rabbit will achieve sexual maturity (by around four to six months) and this is when you might notice their behavior changing including spraying urine around the rabbit hutch rather than in their tray.
The simplest way to manage this is by using firm (yet gentle) voice commands – if your bunny is not using the tray – say “in the tray” and place them in the tray as you are saying this. You must do this immediately and when they do, reward them with food and praise.
Your tone of voice should be firm and never angry or scolding as this will undermine the training process. Rabbits are gentle animals and easily startled and respond best to kindness, consistency and repetition. When they hear the same phrase “in the tray” repeated enough times along with you picking them up and placing them in the tray – they learn what is expected of them.
After two weeks of consistent litter training, using simple voice commands (“in the tray”) and rewards (food and kindness), you should see real progress. This is particularly likely if you avoid the more common litter training mistakes where you rush the process or fail to properly supervise your rabbit in those crucial first weeks.