Whether your buns live indoors or out, litter training has lots of benefits – both for them and you!
Rabbits are clean creatures who like their home to be cosy, dry and spick-and-span. And, as buns are generally pretty quick at picking things up, training them to use a litter tray is both possible – and practical.
Veterinary surgeon Brian Faulkner says: “Litter training rabbits can be beneficial for both you and your furry friends. When they have a dedicated place for toileting, their home is cleaner and more pleasant to live in. It’s also better for you, as it ultimately makes cleaning more straightforward.”
The benefits of litter training
Along with making it easier to keep your buns’ accommodation clean and hygienic, if you have house rabbits, litter training will help avoid most little accidents.
Rabbit behaviour and welfare expert Amy Pratt, known as The Bunny Lady, advises: “If your rabbit isn’t litter trained, you’ll have to watch them very closely when they are roaming free. Rabbit poop is easy to clean up, but their pee is another story. Rabbit pee can make stains on the walls and carpets that are difficult to remove. Once your rabbit is litter box trained, you won’t have to worry about following the rabbit around to make sure they’re not peeing everywhere. You can relax a little while your bun explores the house.”
Having a rabbit litter box (or boxes) will also help you keep track of their health.
Amy Pratt adds: “A rabbit’s litter box habits can tell you a lot about their health. You’ll be able to see exactly how much they’re pooping. Rabbits have a very sensitive digestive system. The amount, size, and shape of a rabbit’s poop can tell you a lot about the state of their health. Having all the poop in one place that you can easily clean out every day will help you stay on top of your rabbits’ health and catch any signs of sickness early.”
Rabbits choose their own toilet areas
In fact, rabbits will naturally choose a separate toilet area, well away from where they sleep. The RSPCA explains: “In the wild, rabbits naturally create ‘latrine’ areas for urine and droppings, and these are used to communicate with other rabbits and mark territory, so rabbits will often choose a particular corner(s) of their home to use as a toilet. The toilet area(s) should be separate to where rabbits’ sleep.”
And, by watching out for your buns’ preferred toileting spots, you can place a litter tray where they’ll actually use it.
Rae Walters from the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF), which works to improve domestic rabbits’ health and welfare through campaigning, education and the most up-to-date advice, says: “You’ll probably find that your rabbits choose their own area for toileting, usually in a corner, so keep an eye on where they naturally gravitate to and set things up there. If in doubt, put the litter tray as far away as possible from where your rabbits sleep.”
How to train your rabbits to use a litter tray
RWAF recommends: “The quickest way to house-train your rabbits is to start off with a litter tray in a smaller area. Place the tray where they have chosen to ‘go’, or put some of their droppings and urine in the tray so that it smells right and encourages them to go in there. Keep them confined to this area and gradually increase the time and space they are allowed to access only once they are reliably using their tray.”
“Whether your bunnies are living indoors or outdoors, it’s a good idea to start litter training rabbits as soon as possible,” advises Brian Faulkner. “This training has no age limit, although rabbits do find learning easier as they age and develop.”
RWAF’s Rae Walters adds: “If there is a whoopsie, don’t chastise or punish your rabbits, since they may become afraid of you. Instead, clean up the mess with pet-safe cleaners and start again. Patience is important when litter training rabbits.”
Amy Pratt agrees: “Most of the time this whole process will only take a couple of weeks. But sometimes you’ll be dealing with a very stubborn rabbit who will need a little more time and patience while they figure out how to use the litter box correctly.”
TOP TIPS for litter tray success
- Rabbits like to poo and chew, so placing a hay rack with lots of their favourite yummy feeding hay in it above their litter tray will encourage your buns to feel happy using it.
- Get your buns neutered as it’s easier for them to be litter trained. Rae Walters advises: “It is also vital to have your rabbits neutered as soon as they are old enough. Male rabbits can spray like tom cats unless they are neutered, and will leave scent-marking poops scattered around, too.”
- Provide a selection of litter trays. The RSPCA says: “We advise that you provide at least one tray per rabbit (with ideally one more in addition).”
- Make litter trays enticing. “Adding some used litter material and droppings to the trays will help rabbits learn to toilet in these areas,” suggests the RSPCA.
- Choose suitable litter material – RWAF advises against using sawdust or clay-based clumping cat litter. This is because sawdust can irritate rabbits’ skin and lungs and clumping cat litter can cause digestive problems if your buns ingest it.
- Specially designed paper bedding and litter for rabbitsis super-absorbent, safe and an ideal solution. What’s more, soiled bedding from vegetarian animals such as rabbits can be safely home composted. Mix it with drier bulking agents such as newspaper, leaves or cardboard egg cartons to help it break down.
- Keep your buns’ deposits confined to the trays – Amy Pratt suggests: “Whenever your rabbit pees or poops outside the litter box, you want to make sure you thoroughly clean it up and use a pet-safe cleaner to disinfect the area. This will help keep your rabbit’s scent to just the litter boxes, making it more likely for them to associate the box with going to the bathroom.”
What kit do you need for litter training?
To get started with litter training your rabbits, you’ll need some essential items, says RWAF’s Rae Walters:
- A large litter tray that they can easily access, and that is big enough for them to sit in
- Hay to cover the litter tray
- If you keep your rabbits indoors, you’ll also need some panels to confine them to start with; a smaller area will help to keep them going in the right place. Once they are reliably using the litter tray, you can increase the area in which the rabbits roam.
- A large potting tray or a plastic dog bed can be used instead of a tray if you don’t have access to one. Likewise, if they are outdoor rabbits, you could let them choose a corner of their hutch – as long as you clean it out daily to maintain hygiene.
What to do if your buns aren’t using their litter trays
Don’t panic! Rae Walters advises: “Of course, accidents happen – but sometimes rabbits can be stubborn, too.” If you find your rabbits are not using the litter tray, she suggests considering the following:
- Is it unattractive? That is, have you placed hay in and around the tray?
- Is it in the wrong place, such as too close to where they rest and sleep?
- Is the tray an appropriate size?
“If the tray is too high or inaccessible to the rabbits, they won’t be able to use it,” says Rae Walters. “Using a tray with a low front is a good idea, since it will be easier for your rabbits to get in and out of. Remember that any new rabbits introduced to the home will result in a lot of territory marking; this will impact on the appropriate use of the litter tray.”
Good housekeeping is still important
A regular routine will keep your buns’ accommodation clean and hygienic and help protect them against pests and parasites that are attracted to damp, dirty bedding.
- Do a quick spot check every day, throwing away wet or dirty materials, including bedding and uneaten food.
- At a minimum, each week remove and replace all their litter and bedding materials.
- Once a month, give your rabbits’ enclosure a really thorough, deep clean. Take everything out and use a rabbit friendly cleaner to give their housing and enrichment resources a clean. Replace with clean, fresh bedding, feeding hay, and water.
Excel Nap & Nest is great for use as bedding and litter for your small animals. Made from unused offcuts from the teabag production industry, it’s super absorbent, soft on little paws and easy to spot clean.
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