Rabbits as Pets, Litter Box Training


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Rabbits usually take well to litter training, although some flexibility may be required by the owner. Rabbits naturally pick one or more toilet areas, and owners can take advantage of this in litter training.  Many rabbit owners will tell you it is similar to litter training a cat. 

The Litter
First a suitable litter is needed. Your rabbit will probably like to lay in the litter box and may even nibble on the litter, so something absorbent and safe is necessary. Rabbit urine has a strong odor, so something that absorbs odor is ideal. Do not use clay or clumping litters, or cedar or pine wood shavings inside the cage. Organic or wood based pellets and litters are a good choice such as Cozy n' Fresh, Tractor Supply Brand Equine Pelletized Bedding, or Eco-Straw Pellets.  We used to use Cozy n' Fresh pelleted litter for our own house rabbits because they can eat it and safely digest it while it successfully reduces odor.  Some owners simply use rabbit food pellets as litter. These are economical and safe, but are not a good choice if your rabbit continually eats extra pellets from the litter box and/or is overweight.  Also, some food pellets will stick to the rabbits feet when the rabbit urinates on them which can cause sore hocks (bacterial infection on the bottom of the feet from moisture).

Cozy'n Fresh litter:
www.tractorsupply.com                                    Equine Pelletized Bedding: www.tractorsupply.com

Our Rabbitry uses equine pellets for litter under the wire mesh so they cannot eat the pelletsIt is used for horse stalls. If you have ever been inside a horse barn you will notice that it does not smell like urine. Use of the equine pellets was a learning experience for us. I thought I had to use a 1 inch layer of equine pellets (like cedar shavings) but equine pellets expands when water (urine) touches it. Only put a layer 1 pellet deep across your litter pan or less. You may find that you only require pellets on one side or one corner of the litter pan as rabbits prefer to use the same location every time.  Equine pellets will save you a lot of cost long term and eliminate odor.

The Box
For litter pans, cat litter boxes work pretty well, although smaller pans such as cake pans may work for smaller rabbits. If your rabbit tends to back right up to the edge and deposit outside the box, some creativity may be required. A covered cat box is a good option, or a dishpan that has higher sides can work as well (an lower entry can be cut into one side). The larger size of corner litter boxes might work well for smaller rabbits too, as these usually have fairly high backs. If our rabbit tends to tip the pan or kick the litter out, try a heavier litter.

Steps to Litter Training
To start, confinement and supervision is the key. If a rabbit is allowed to urinate and defecate wherever it likes from the beginning, it will be much harder to train. At first, keep your rabbit primarily in his (or her cage), which should be fairly small at first, with a litter pan. Place a litter box in the cage, and note where you rabbit eliminates. He (she) may start using the box, or may be pick another corner of the cage as a toilet. If this is the case, then move the litter box to the area your rabbit seems to prefer. Flexibility on litter box placement may be necessary both in and out of the cage.

Once your rabbit is using the litter pan in the cage, allow the rabbit out of the cage in a limited area. Provide a litter box within this area, and perhaps make it enticing by placing a a treat or favorite toy in the box. Watch your rabbit for signs he is about to urinate or defecate (they usually back up and lift their tail slightly), and try to herd him to the box immediately (if your rabbit is very calm about being picked up it should be okay to place him right in the box). If your rabbit uses the box, give the rabbit a treat (food, toy, petting, or praise) right away. If you notice your rabbit tends to head to one area to do its business, consider putting the box there.

Accidents will happen, and punishment has no place in training a rabbit. Your rabbit will absolutely not be able to make a connection with physical punishment and eliminating outside the litter box. If you catch your rabbit in the act calmly and gently take him or her to the litter box immediately. But, if your don't physically catch your rabbit urinating or defecating, it is too late for your rabbit to make the connection. Just clean up and watch your rabbit a little more closely next time (clean the spot diluted vinegar, or a commercial pet stain/odor remover). The key is to get your rabbit to the box before he goes, so a trip to the litter box every 10 minutes during playtime can be helpful.

Over time, your rabbit will probably develop a preference for using the box, and amount of freedom you give your rabbit can be increased. You may need to provide more boxes as you allow your rabbit access to more space (rabbits may not go far in search of a box so have them handy). Again, if your rabbit repeatedly chooses one place in he room to eliminate, consider putting or moving a litter box there. Try to work with what your rabbit naturally wants to do, but if the location they "choose" is inconvenient, you can try putting a litter box there for a while and then gradually move it to a better spot. Sometimes, placing a bowl of food where you don't want them to go works too.

The process sounds daunting, but usually goes pretty smoothly as long as the owner works with the rabbit's natural tendencies and provides undivided attention to the rabbit during it's free time in the beginning. Establishing a routine with your rabbit will also help. Sometimes a previously trained rabbit will get a little careless, and this usually means backtracking and restricting freedom until your rabbit is trained again.

Reference Source: Lianne McLeod, DVM, http://exoticpets.about.com/cs/rabbits/a/rabbitslt.htm)