Rabbit Litter Box Training

Understanding Rabbits ~ Rabbit Training ~ Litter Box Training

litter box training

Yes, rabbits can be litter boxed trained. In fact rabbits are very clean animals and like being hygienic.

Litter box training for rabbits is a fairly new ideal. As more and more rabbits are becoming indoor house pets, we have the need, and a crucial need at that, to curb their pooping and weeing!

For a more detailed look at all aspects of bunny health, diet, environment, companionship & longevity check out the revolutionary iRabbit READY System by Kerry Greener of Just Rabbits Limited

"My Rabbit Just Won't Be Litter Box Trained!"
If your rabbits are pooping and peeing everywhere it's not a failure to be litter-trained on your rabbit's part, but more of an indication of a little more training needed on your part ;-)

As litter box training is quite detailed, here's a breakdown of your rabbit training procedures:

  • Understanding Nature - In order to properly litter-box train your rabbits, you first need to understand their nature and how illness, territory and behaviour can effect progress.
  • Litter Box Training Overview - Learn about your rabbit's reactions to stress, breaking bad habits and the importance of the time involvement.
  • Litter Box Training Dos & Don'ts - Quick tips on how to get your rabbits to believe they are secure, safe and comfortable - the correct state to be in for litter box training.
  • Litter Box Training Steps - Follow these simple steps to successful litter box training.
  • Common Questions - There's always some common questions that pop up when rabbit owners litter train their rabbits, hopefully most of them are answered here.

Understanding Nature

Not Naughty, But Nature
There are three main 'natural' reasons why a bunny might defecate or urinate around their living areas, or near their litter box, rather than in it.

  1. Illness & Disease - Urinary tract infections will always effect your rabbit's ability to control bladder movements.

    Sludge in the bladder, bladder stones and kidney disease
    should all be treated by a qualified vet, but usually the correct use of the litter-box returns once any infection has been successfully treated.

  2. Territorial - A rabbit is a very territorial creature and just like dogs and cats, the need to mark their own areas with their smell, is pretty over-whelming. It's natural, especially if a new bunny is introduced, even a new item of furniture etc, placed near them can trigger a territorial deposit.

    The social hierarchy system within a rabbit herd is quite complex. A dominant rabbit can display some remarkable behaviour when it comes to showing leadership, but territory marking is usually the first action of any confrontation.

  3. Behavioural - Rabbits are very easily stressed, it comes from them being a prey species, even a change in routine can upset them. The level of distress is almost autistic in nature. Some things that rabbit owners have observed in rabbit training that effect their progress in litter-box training are:

         * Being fed later or earlier
         * Reduction in exercise duration
         * A change of food stuffs
         * Visitors in the house or strangers in the garden
         * Emotional happening in the household
         * Sudden unusual noise e.g. fireworks or car backfiring

    (It was completely unintentional to spell out BRAVES like that :-)

    So, rabbit training of any kind is best performed when your rabbit is enjoying 'normal' behaviour and they feel secure, comfortable and happy.

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Litter Box Rabbit Training Overview

Signature Reaction
If any of the main disturbances (mentioned above) occur while they are actually in their litter-box, they will associate the feeling of insecurity with their litter box and will set about reassuring themselves by instilling a sense of 'self'. (Yes, rabbits are self-aware). They do this by underlining their own 'signature', by leaving droppings and urinating all around it. They make the space around them their own again.

Bad Rabbit Habit
If the ongoing stress (similar to any of the situations above), is removed, the problem of poop outside the litter-box will still remain. The important factor here is, not what happened the first time, but any habit that is allowed to develop from the initial reaction. Your rabbit will continue to pee and poop outside the litter box because they did it before.

It's important to catch these bad habits as soon as they happen. If you don't take action, even with a rabbit that may have had good habits in the past, it will give this new bad habit time to take hold. Usually by the third day or so this habit is fairly entrenched and correction of the original cause will not solve the problem.

Solution to Polution
Confinement, praise, rewards, vigilant observation and supervision during free-run time are all steps to correcting free-range pooping. But there’s a catch in doing this too. It generally requires a change in routine, which is a common cause for the behaviour in the first place.

However, sometimes just by adding a new and different box to your rabbit's area can break the cycle. It’s often easier to get rabbits to go in a new box than to go in the old one they have been eliminating next to. The novelty of the new box will make it attractive to your bunnies, especially with treats placed inside it. When your rabbit hops in to investigate and eat the treats, they may poop while they are in there and hey-presto, you've got a 'good' habit on your hands which needs lots of rewarding.

Take Time to Train
It’s important to understand that rabbit training of any kind can take a lot of time and litter-box training is no different. A rabbit who’s been perfectly litter box-trained for years and has peed next to their litter box for several days in a row may need weeks of intensive rabbit training to correct this 'bad' behaviour.

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Litter Box Rabbit Training Dos & Don'ts

rabbit castle

A Rabbits House is Their Castle
It is very important for your rabbit to identify their own house, shed or cage etc as their personal property, so that when they leave this area and go into other rooms and places around your house, they will distinguish your family’s areas from their own and will avoid marking it with rabbit deposits.

The trick to getting a rabbit to keep their poop in their litter box is to give him ownership of his house. Respect the house as theirs and they will respect you and your areas.

To encourage this sense of security remember the following:

  • Do not force your rabbits in or out of it of their house.
    Do coax them out with rewards.
  • Do not do things to their house that they don't like, such as put things on top of it, disturb the bedding etc.
    Do keep their house the way they know it.
  • Do not do things to your rabbit that they don't like such as grooming them while they are in their house.
    Do anything like this away from their house in a neutral area.
  • Do not reach into their house to take them out.
    Do open the door and let them come out if and when they want to.
  • Do not catch your rabbits and put them back in their house straight away as they will regard it as a prison and not their home.
    Do let them go in on their own at bed time etc.
  • Do not reach into their house to get food dishes etc
    Do leave them near the door so they can be filled with the minimum amount of encroachment on their space, or wait until your rabbits are completely out of the way.
  • Do not clean their house while they are still in it.
    Do wait until they are out. They may come over to check up on what you are doing, and probably have a good go at moving things around that you've placed outside, but as long as they are not in their house, they won't see your cleaning as an invasion of territory.

Litter box training brings up all sorts of issues as far as rabbits are concerned and while you are in the training process the steps above will really help.

Roomed or Roaming
The same techniques can be used if your rabbits live in their own room in the house or they live outside in a house and run.

Just make sure their territory is marked out. A fence or barrier will do the trick outdoors and indoors you can mark their territory with a rug or tape on the floor.

So, when litter box training, just make sure whatever you use, you don't trespass over that area when your buns are in residence and you should find the whole process much easier.

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Litter Box Training Steps

OK, so now you know the basic reasons why a bunny may pee and poop in certain areas at certain times, and you also understand the importance of respect when it comes to territory. So how do you start litter box rabbit training? Follow these simple steps to success:

  1. Start with a litter box in the cage and one or more boxes in the rabbit’s running space. If they urinate in a corner of the cage and not in the box, move the box to that corner until they get it right.

    (Note - if you're bunny goes to sleep or starts using the box as a bed, don’t be concerned, this is normal).
  2. After they first use the litter box, praise them and give them their favourite treats. Once they uses the box in their room a couple of times, you’re well on your way, as a habit will be forming already.
  3. Once they start using the litter box in their cage, open the door and allow them into their running space. Watch them go in and out on their own. If they head to a corner where there is no litter box, or they do the familiar 'tail-lift' in readiness to pee or poop, just shout 'NO' in a single, sharp burst of sound. This will shock them in to stopping and if you do it enough, i.e. each time they begin to go to the toilet, they will associate the sound with a shock and learn to do something different.
  4. Gently persuade them back into their cage and towards the litter-box they normally use. Be careful you don’t react like this step is a punishment, so a handful of hay or a treat in the litter box will make it a more inviting place.
  5. As they get better trained in their first room, you can increase their space, but don't rush this process. And if you are introducing them to more rooms make sure there is a litter box in each. As they become more confident they will need fewer boxes, so you can start to remove some of the earlier placed 'training' boxes.

    (Note - Get your rabbits into a daily routine with everything, including mealtimes, exercise time and playtime, and try not to vary it. Rabbits are very habitual and once a routine is established, they usually prefer to stick with it.)

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Common Litter Box Training Questions

How much space should I give my rabbits when litter box training?

  • Indoor Bunnies - With indoor rabbits, even if your goal is to let your rabbit have full run of the house, you must start small. Start with a cage and a small running space, and when your rabbit is sufficiently well trained in that space, gradually give them more room. Just do it gradually or they will be overwhelmed with too much freedom before they're ready, and will forget where their box is and will in turn, lose their good habits.
  • Outdoor Bunnies - With outdoor rabbits, even if it is your intention for them to have full run of the garden, the principal is the same. Start them in a small area first and they will find a space, away from their sleeping area, that they will designate for peeing and pooping. All rabbits will poop around their territory to mark it as their own, but very few rabbits, given enough space, will defecate and urinate in their sleeping areas. Then just give them slightly more space gradually and keep and eye on their toilet habits until you have them going in the same place all the time.

    If your rabbits are still pooping everywhere you may wish to look at their space allocations. Here's some good guidelines to follow... (including exercise and run space).

How many litter boxes will I need?
This is dependent on your rabbit, and on how many rooms you intend to let your rabbit use. You'll need one in their cage, one to two in their run or exercise space and one in each room, at least until they are fully litter-box trained. When their toilet habits are perfected you can decrease the number of litter-boxes you have around. You'll know which ones to remove - the ones that have hardly been used.

How can I stop litter kicking?
Kicking litter out of the litter box is quite common but easily solved with a covered litter-box (one with a hood) or you can try experimenting with different litters.

How do I stop my rabbit urinating over the edge of their litter-box?
Rabbits often back up so far in their litter box that the urine goes over the edge. Again, a covered litter box can solve this problem. Other methods would be to get a dish-pan or other type of tub with much higher sides or to get 'urine guard' to place around the back of the cage, to keep the litter from spraying outside.

What to do if your rabbit insists on using another spot? Compromise. If your rabbit continually urinates in a spot where there is no litter box, put their box where they will use it, even if it means rearranging their cage or moving an item of furniture. It is much easier to oblige than to try to work against a determined rabbit!

What are the most common rabbit training mistakes when litter box training?
Letting the rabbit out of the cage and not watching them with undivided attention; You can’t watch TV or read the paper or  talk on the phone and expect to keep your mind on what your rabbit is doing. If they urinate without being seen and sent towards the litter box, they will be that much slower in their learning.

Can I litter box train my rabbits any quicker?
Rabbit training takes time. In my opinion, that's the beauty of owning rabbits. It gives us time to reflect on the now, the present moment and enjoy it. Rabbits require that we take time out to sit and watch and do nothing else. Besides getting a well-trained bunny for your efforts, you also get a short period of time each day to watch one of the most charming little creatures on earth explore, skip for joy generally entertain you. If you don't actually enjoy this interaction time, a bunny might not be right for you :-(

What should I do if my rabbit starts dribbling pee all over her cage instead of using the litter box?
Dribbles usually indicate a bladder infection. Get your bunny to a rabbit-veterinarian where they will probably advise a course of antibiotics. If the dribbling stops, you know that that was the problem. (Watch out for antibiotics given by veterinarians not familiar with rabbits as companion animals) If the 'dribbles' are more than dribbles, or if the antibiotic doesn’t stop the problem, consider any factors that may be making your bunny feel insecure (new pet, house guests etc.), any of which can cause a bunny to mark their cage more often .

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