Contributed by Irith Bloom, faculty at Victoria Stilwell Academy and certified animal trainer with multiple certifications, including CPDT-KSA, CDBC, VSPDT, KPA CTP, and CBATI.
Cleaning Up After Your Pet Bunny Has Never Been Easier
Did you know that pet rabbits can be trained? In this article, we’ll discuss a fundamental that is a great place to start—litter training rabbits. Yes, you can potty train your pet bunny!
Steps for Litter Training Rabbits
- Get the Right Litter Box. The first step in learning how to litter train a rabbit is creating the right potty environment. Basically, what you need is a box for your pet rabbit to use as a toilet. You can use a specially designed rabbit litter pan, or try a cat litter box if you want your rabbit to have a little more space.The key is to find a box that is big enough to fit your rabbit with room to spare, and which also has space for some hay. The sides should be low enough for the rabbit to hop in and out easily. A box with a high back can help catch scattered litter (as in the rabbit litter box above). But remember that pet rabbits are still prey animals, so they can be nervous about pottying in areas where they can’t see around them. That means a box with high sides and only one way in and out may not be a good choice.
- Provide Litter Box Options. When litter training rabbits, you may need to try more than one type of litter box before you find the right one. In the end, your pet bunny gets to decide what he likes. Once you find the right fit, get several litter boxes of that type. You will need more than one litter box so your rabbit has at least one option in every room (and more than one box per room can be a good idea too). Also, having backup boxes means you can put a fresh box down while you are cleaning a dirty one.
- Place the Box in a Convenient Location. Now that you have your litter box, you need to decide where to put it. Begin by thinking about where your pet rabbit already tends to potty. If you’re very lucky, potty training your pet bunny will be as simple as putting the litter boxes in the right place.If there isn’t an obvious spot already, choose somewhere that is easy for your rabbit to get to, but not right in the middle of the action. Most pet bunnies prefer a place where they won’t be disturbed while pottying, but the litter box also has to be in a convenient location. This can be a bit of a balancing act. Be creative, and make sure to leave the box in place for at least a few days before deciding if you’ve picked the right spot.
- Choose the Right Litter. Now that the box is down and available to your pet rabbit, it’s time to fill it with the right litter. You’ll also want to put a large mat or piece of bunny-safe paper under the litter box to help catch any scattered litter. Start with about an inch of rabbit-safe litter. Choose litter carefully! Paper-based litter or untreated aspen chips can be a good choice. Avoid clay-based and clumping cat litters, which can create serious health problems if eaten. On top of that inch of litter, add some of your rabbit’s pellets of poop and some urine-soaked paper, if you have it. This will help point your rabbit to the right potty spot. Finally, scatter some fresh timothy hay over the litter. Make sure the hay is fresh. Mold or spoiled hay can harm, or even kill, your bunny! Don’t be surprised to find your rabbit munching on the hay in the litter box—it’s normal for bunnies to eat a snack while pottying.
- If All Else Fails, Get a Cage. If your pet rabbit doesn’t magically start using the box thanks to lucky placement, get a cage that is about four to six times the length of your pet bunny, and place the litter box (and your bunny) in there while your bunny is learning the new routine. Put your rabbit’s food, water and hideout at one end of the cage and the litter box at the other. The restricted space will help your bunny learn to potty in the right place. Another option is to place the litter box in a small bathroom or utility room and confine your pet rabbit to that area during the training period.
- Treat Your Rabbit for a Job Well Done. Now that everything is set up, confine your rabbit to the right area, and reinforce him for using the litter box. Anytime you see him use the litter box, offer him a small treat, to reward him for going in the right place. If you see your pet rabbit going in the wrong place, do not scold or get upset! Rabbits are prey animals. Getting angry won’t teach your bunny anything useful; it will only teach your rabbit that you are scary and should be avoided. If you want your rabbit to be comfortable around you, make sure you remain calm and kind, even if your pet bunny has an accident. Once he’s using it consistently—usually within a day or two—you can start to give him short periods of 10 minutes or so outside the confinement area. Watch to see if he goes back to the box to potty (or holds it for those 10 minutes). Supervise closely! If you see your pet bunny starting to potty, gently pick him up and put him in the litter box—and then feed him a treat for going in the right place.
- Clean the Box Regularly. Make sure to scoop out dirty litter at least once daily with a potty scoop. You can leave a few rabbit pellets in place for a day or two to help your rabbit remember that the box is a potty area. At least once a week, empty the tray and clean it with a disinfectant. Wait for the box to dry before refilling it and putting it out for your rabbit again.
Most rabbits will quickly learn to use a litter box. After they’ve learned to use one litter box, you can repeat the steps above to teach them to use other litter boxes around your home. And once your pet bunny is litter box trained, you can start to do fun rabbit training without having to worry about inappropriate pottying. In future articles, we’ll discuss how to teach your pet bunny a variety of fun tricks and useful behaviors.