Rabbits litter-train easily if you understand bunny logic. The greatest key to success is to spay or neuter your bunny (see below). This reduces the hormone surges that drive territory marking. Rabbits are neat by nature and will chose only 1-2 spots to urinate in. They also prefer to eat and defecate in the same location; indeed, it’s natural for bunnies to consume some of their hard pellets and all of their soft cecal pellets. You can use this natural behavior to encourage good litter habits: place hay inside of or hang it above bunny’s litterpan.
A variety of materials can absorb urine; some are safer than others. Good choices include compressed wood pellets (woodstove fuel or Feline Pine), hardwood shavings (i.e. aspen, birch), and recycled paper products. Do not use oat hulls or citrus peels if bunny likes to eat the litter, as these are calorie-rich. Never use cedar or pine shavings, because they give off natural toxins that can alter bunny’s drug metabolism in the event of a medical emergency. Some bunnies are picky about their litter; you may need to experiment to discover her preferences. Most rabbits do not like the texture of cat litter, and it is dangerous if ingested. Never use clumping cat litter in the rabbit’s litterpan.
When rabbits break litter training, search for a reason. Common ones include: urinary tract infection, new/disliked litter, infrequent changing of litter pan, family stress, injury or disease causing incontinence, or boredom. Rabbits with true incontinence are treated with medication; rabbits who have lost bladder control are easily diapered; contact your vet or www.rabbit.org for further information.
Toilet-Training to a New Home
To train bunny to her new litterpan, keep her inside the new cage for the first week and restrict outside cage time to 10-20 min at a time. Hay in and above the litterpan reinforces good habits. Gradually add space to her territory, one room at a time. Anticipate bunny, and if she backs up and lifts her tail, transfer her back to the cage litterpan immediately. It does no good to scold afterward, as bunny cannot link the behavior to punishment. For the first several days, bunny will naturally scatter poops everywhere to mark her new territory; if this doesn’t stop in a neutered rabbit, then territory restriction and retraining may be necessary. It doesn’t hurt to change litter daily. Many rabbits will complain if the box isn’t changed every 2-3 days.
Bunnies make up to 200-300 hard poops daily! A few are bound to escape. A small vacuum (Dust-Buster, Dirt Devil) makes cleaning these a cinch. To clean urine accidents, wipe immediately with water. Remove dried urine with vinegar; rabbit urine is rich in calcium salts and the vinegar readily dissolves this.
Bunnies produce a second, soft “poop” called a cecal pellet (also called “cecotrophs”) that looks like a tiny cluster of shiny grapes. You will seldom see these as bunnies reingest them immediately unless there is a diet problem (see Diet). True diarrhea, a vet emergency, is very soft or runny and lacks the cluster appearance. Cecal pellets are rich in vitamins and amino acids; rabbits who cannot reach them (e.g. paralysis) should be fed them. Cecal pellets are usually produced twice daily, usually 4 hours or so after mealtime. Some rabbits will overproduce cecal pellets when fed a protein- or sugar-rich food; in these instances, reducing/removing pellets or treats, or feeding only clean straw for several days often resolves the problem.