“You can litter box train rabbits???” This is the response we hear from people who are not familiar with house rabbits. You can litter box train them quite easily. The most important thing to know before expecting to litter box train your bunnies is that they need to be spayed and neutered beforehand. You can work on training pre-surgery, but hormonal bunnies are typically impossible to litter train. Another thing to keep in mind is that younger bunnies can also be more of a challenge – just like puppies or kittens. Older bunnies are usually easier to litter train.
Setting up your litter box
The first mistake that new bunny parents make is purchasing a litter box that is too small. There are litter boxes marketed specifically for rabbits, but these usually don’t work. A plain old cat litter box that is big enough for your bunnies to lie down and snuggle in is perfect. For larger breeds, we need to get creative. Cement mixing pans available at home improvement stores work great. Pans of larger commercial pet store cages are far too small to house our bunnies but can make great litter boxes! Plastic storage containers are another option.
Once you have your litter box, fill it with a layer of bunny-safe litter. These include: recycled paper litters (pellets or crumbles), pine pellets (like Equine Pine or Feline Pine), and other options like Oxbow Eco-Straw. Do not use clumping/clay cat litter, corn cob litter, Swheat Scoop litter, or pine/cedar shavings. All of these are dangerous to bunnies. Clumping/clay, corn cob, and wheat-based litters can cause blockages if ingested. Pine and cedar shavings release phenols that are harmful to delicate bunny lungs (pine pellets are kiln-dried and are safe).
Lastly, place a layer of hay on top of the litter. Yes, the bunnies will use it as a toilet AND eat it. This is fine. The hay encourages them to use the litter box. Rabbits will also relax in their litter box – this is also normal. It’s up to the humans to keep their box clean!
Once your bunnies have been spayed and neutered (and it’s been a few weeks), you can start litter training in earnest. Start them in a more confined area. Once they learn to use the litter box in that area, slowly increase the space they have access to. If they start to go outside the box again, decrease their space until they consistently use the box. Place stray fecal pellets into the box, and clean urine accidents with vinegar or enzyme-based cleaners. If they insist on going in a certain spot, congratulations, you need a litter box there. We need to work around our bunnies. Placing a litter box in their spot is much easier than fighting with them! Most spayed/neutered bunnies will usually train themselves. Rabbits are very clean animals and want to keep their waste in a certain spot. You must have patience with your bunnies. There will inevitably be accidents – this is part of pet ownership.
Pre-spay/neuter: Bunnies (especially youngsters) who have not been altered yet will almost never have good litter box habits. However, you can start working on litter training to get them used to the box.
Elderly/ill bunnies: Litter box training is not only an easy way for us to keep our bunnies’ habitats clean, but it can also alert us to health issues. If your litter-box trained bunny suddenly loses her litter box habits, this is a red flag that a health issue could be going on. Urinary tract infections, kidney issues, and arthritis (due to difficulty getting in and out of the box) can all affect litter box habits. If your bunny stops using the box consistently, it’s time to make an appointment at your rabbit-savvy vet.
Bunnies with arthritis, hind-end paralysis, and other health issues need special attention. If they can still get around, you can try a special low-sided litter box. For bunnies who cannot get in and out of a litter box at all: they will need your help to stay clean. Synthetic sheepskin blankets are great for wicking moisture away from delicate bunny skin. Some bunnies will need “butt baths” to stay clean. Rabbits should never be given full baths. Ask your vet or RMHRR on how to safely give your bunny a “butt bath” if needed. You will need to pay close attention to your bunny’s skin as health issues like urine scald can happen to bunnies who are not mobile and cannot clean themselves. Our elderly and ill bunnies are extra work, but they deserve to live in dignity in a clean environment.