Rabbits always use one corner of their hutch or cage as a toilet and this makes it very easy to litter train them...
Rabbits always use one corner of their hutch or cage as a toilet and this makes it very easy to litter train them. Even if you do not intend to let your rabbit run free in your house, it is still useful to use a litter tray so you can clean this out rather than the whole cage.
Older rabbits or those that are neutered or spayed are easier to train, however, even a baby rabbit can be taught to use a tray. With pairs or groups of rabbits, if one rabbit is trained it will teach the others. Unaltered rabbits can be troublesome as they are much more inclined to mark their territory with urine and for this reason it is highly recommended that all house rabbits are neutered/spayed.
What kind of tray is best?
The tray needs to be big enough to let your rabbit fit in it comfortably with some room to spare. The litter trays sold in petshops for small furries are generally too small; a cat litter tray is ideal and the lidded trays are even better, to prevent the rabbit digging the litter out. For larger rabbits, try finding a plastic underbed storage box or similar - ideally the tray should be at least twice the size of the rabbit.
What litter should I use?
You can use any of the following in your rabbit's litter tray:-
- paper pulp bedding (e.g. Carefresh)
- wood pellets
- non clumping cat litter
- straw or hay
There are two kinds of litter which would be harmful to your rabbit, as follows:-
- clumping cat litter - if swallowed by the rabbit it can cause an internal blockage or diarrhoea
- softwood litters (e.g. pine shavings) - this is readily available in petshops and probably the most common bedding used in hutches, however, studies have shown it to cause liver disease in small animals
We recommend a layer of newspaper covered with a thin layer of paper pulp bedding or wood pellets covered again with a thin layer of hay. Paper pulp bedding / wood pellets is very absorbent so a little goes a long way and controls odour well. You can then add handfuls of hay to the tray every day for your rabbit to eat.
How often should I clean the tray?
Every two or three days is sufficient. Give the tray a wipe round before putting the new litter in and every month or so give it a proper scrub with disinfectant, however, don't do this too often or your rabbit may be put off by the strong smell and stop using the tray. Depending on what kind of litter you use, you can add the dirty litter to your garden compost bin if desired.
How do I train my rabbit?
Contain your rabbit in a small area for a day with the litter tray (the cage or a corner of the room where you want to place the litter tray). Place handfuls of hay in a corner of the tray for your rabbit to eat as this will encourage the rabbit to spend time there. Most rabbits like eating in their tray and some even sleep there.
Keep your rabbit confined until you are sure that it is using the tray, then increase its freedom room by room (keeping a sharp eye out for accidents!) until you are confident that your rabbit is consistently using the tray. If your rabbit pees outside the tray, do not try to punish it, simply clean up the mess with kitchen towel and put this in the tray. A dilution of white vinegar removes urine safely from most surfaces.
An alternative method, useful for house rabbits who are not confined at any time, is to place multiple trays around the room and let your rabbit choose its own preferred location. Many house rabbits have two or more litter trays long-term; they may prefer to pee in one and eat hay in another, or may simply feel more secure having several areas that smell 'rabbity'.
Most rabbits tend to scatter a few droppings (small, round pellets) around their tray to mark their territory – being dry, these can be easily swept up and put in the tray or the bin.
Cleaning up messes
Rabbit urine is strong smelling (especially in unneutered males) so any accidents must be cleaned up straight away before the rabbit starts to associate that place with going to the toilet. Diluted white vinegar is ideal for this as it dissolves the ammonia in rabbit urine.
If your rabbit will not use the tray and chooses its own spot instead, this may be because it is uncomfortable with the tray's location. For example, it may be in a draughty or noisy area where it does not want to spend time. In this case it might be easiest to simply move the tray to the rabbit's preferred location. It may also be because the tray is too small and they do not feel comfortable in it.
Rabbits may sometimes lose their litter training if they are ill or feel insecure or threatened, for example if you introduce a new pet into your household. They may be marking their territory or simply be too nervous to come out of their sleeping area and approach the tray. Confine your rabbit again until it settles down.