When I speak with people who are looking to adopt a rabbit, I always advise to keep pet rabbits indoors. But sometimes people are afraid the rabbit will be dirty and make their home smell.
Rabbits are actually very clean animals. They’re not entirely scentless, but their cleanliness is very similar to house cats. It is entirely possible to have a nice smelling home with your pet house rabbit.
Do rabbits smell? In general healthy rabbits don’t smell bad at all. For most rabbits, as long as you regularly clean the litter box and cage, you won’t have to worry about having a smelly house. However, there are a few occasions where a little extra work might be necessary.
Rabbit pee can have a strong smell, and unaltered rabbits (especially males) will sometimes emit a skunk-like smell during mating season.
A sick or disabled rabbit will also need a little extra care to keep them clean and smelling good. But no matter how smelly your rabbit seems right now, there are many steps you can take to keep your rabbit and house from smelling bad.
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The basic rabbit smells you might encounter
Rabbits spend a lot of time cleaning themselves every day. As a result, rabbits don’t have a strong body odor and should never be bathed. Generally a rabbit will only smell if their cage is not being cleaned regularly or if the rabbit is having health problems.
Healthy rabbit poop will be hard, round pellets that look a little like cocoa puffs. These are completely scentless to a human’s nose and don’t contribute to your rabbit’s scent at all.
However, there is a certain subtype of poop called cecotropes. These are small, mushy poops that are usually grouped together. If these are squished, they can have an odor to them. Rabbits should be re-digesting this type of poop though, since they have extra protein and vitamins that did not get digested the first time around. So you shouldn’t be seeing many of these around.
Typically rabbits eat these directly from their butt, so there is not much chance of them smelling up the place. If you do see a lot of cecotropes that your rabbit didn’t eat, that’s an indication that your rabbit needs to have a more balanced diet. Try reducing the amount of pellets you give your rabbit and increasing the amount of hay.
Rabbit pee has a relatively high concentration of ammonia, and can smell pretty bad. Some rabbits are worse than others. Male rabbits will typically have more pungent pee than females. But that’s not always the case. My female rabbit right now has very smelly pee, while the two male buns in the household don’t smell much at all.
The best way to control the smell of rabbit pee is by making sure to scoop out the litter box every day. This will help keep the amount of pee to a minimum. It will also help to ensure your rabbit continues to use the litter box and doesn’t decide to pee in another spot because the box is too messy.
If you find the pee is especially pungent, you can find a litter box for your rabbit that has a cover. Such as litter boxes made for cats. Just make sure your rabbit stills knows how to find the opening to the litter box.
Spay or neuter your rabbit
Unaltered male rabbits will sometimes emit a skunk-like smell to attract a mate. It’s not a pleasant smell, and the only long term solution is to get your rabbit neutered. This will be better for their health in the long run, and extends the life expectancy of your rabbit by 2-3 years.
Both male and female unaltered rabbits will sometimes spray pee as a way of claiming territory. As you can imagine, this can leave you with a pretty smelly house, not to mention a lot of messes to clean up. This is another behavior that can really only be fixed by getting your rabbit altered.
In addition to getting rid of the smell, getting your rabbit altered is good for a number of health and behavior reasons.
How to keep a rabbit’s cage from smelling
Your rabbits cage or enclosure is the most likely place that will smell. Luckily this is usually pretty easy to combat by regularly cleaning your rabbits area and keeping it sanitary.
Litter train your rabbit
Cleaning up after a litter trained rabbit is much easier than the alternative. If your rabbit is litter trained, then the smell and the mess will mostly be located in just the litter box, and you won’t need to clean the entire enclosure as often. Instead, you just need to scoop out the litter box on a daily basis to keep the pee smell from spreading.
If your rabbit isn’t litter box trained and uses the whole cage as a bathroom, the smell a little more difficult to deal with. First, you will need to clean out the whole cage on a daily basis to keep the smell from becoming pungent. And second you want to make sure you rabbit isn’t sitting or resting in the soiled bedding. This could lead to a rabbit getting pee scald or matted fur from the pee. Your rabbit will start to smell like pee because of the unsanitary environment.
You also want to be sure that the cage you’re using isn’t too small. Having a small cage discourages your rabbit from being sanitary since there’s no room for them to separate their clean space from their dirty space. If you need help litter training your rabbit, check out my guide. It will help your rabbit stay healthy, and it will keep the smell from becoming a problem.
Choosing an easy enclosure to clean
Some rabbit cages do not make the cleaning process easy. You have to almost climb into the cage yourself to reach the corners, and you still can’t get everything cleaned properly. I have found that wooden hutches and metal cages tend to be among the most difficult to keep clean.
That’s why my enclosure of choice is actually a rabbit playpen. You can set it up with some accessories for your rabbit, and whenever you need to clean, you can just move the gates aside and use the vacuum cleaner.
Cleaning the cage
If you have a more traditional rabbit hutch, you want to make sure you use cleaning products that are safe for your rabbit (check out my recommendation). Alternatively, you can make a DIY vinegar cleaning solution. Just add an equal amount of vinegar and water and use it to sanitize the cage and clean up any messes.
You should not to use any powders, like baking soda, to try to deodorize the cage. This could lead to respiratory or digestive health problems, so it’s best not to take any chances.
Health problems can make your rabbit to smell
Healthy rabbits shouldn’t have too much of a smell, especially if you’ve learned to deal with their pee and have had them fixed. However, sometimes rabbits will smell when they are having some more serious health issues.
Diarrhea or mushy poops
Diarrhea in rabbits can be very smelly. And it also should not be happening. If you notice your rabbit has mushy or runny poop, this is a sign that your rabbit has a serious health problem. Get your rabbit to the vet as soon as you can to give your rabbit the best chance of recovery. Once their poops are healthy again, they won’t smell anymore.
Elderly, disabled and obese rabbits
Most rabbits are able to keep themselves clean without any problem. Elderly, disabled and obese rabbits can have a lot of trouble with this though.
Elderly rabbits can get arthritis or other conditions that make it difficult or painful to move in the ways they need to to clean themselves. Likewise, disabled rabbits might not be able to balance or move in ways that allow them to clean themselves properly. Disabled Rabbits has a great resource for helping to keep your rabbit clean if they can’t do it themselves.
Obese rabbits can also have a lot of trouble reaching areas to clean themselves, especially around their butt. Obesity is actually a very dangerous condition for rabbits because they have such a sensitive digestive system. So it’s important to encourage your rabbit to exercise and get them on a healthy diet to bring them down to an ideal weight. In the meantime, use the tips from Disabled Rabbits to help keep your obese bunny clean.
Poopy butt is when a rabbit is not able to clean their butt properly. A ball of poop begins to form and stick to the fur around the rabbits behind. This condition can be very smelly, and it’s uncomfortable for your rabbit too.
The best thing you can do to help your rabbit is to spot clean the poop off of their butt on a regular basis and give them butt baths when necessary. You want to prevent the build up of poop, since this can attract flies or other parasites.
Rabbits have scent glands located next to their anus. These secrete a tar-like substance that has a skunk-like smell to it. If your rabbit can’t clean themselves properly then these will get clogged, causing your rabbit to smell. In these cases you’ll have to clean out the scent glands manually.
Other ways of reducing rabbit smell in your home
Okay, so you took all this advice and you still want to freshen up the smell in your house a little bit. While I would avoid using generic scent plugs, since these can contain chemicals that are harmful to small animals, there are still some options for you.
Using an air purifier
Air purifiers can be great for keeping all odors in your house to a minimum. Even a small plug-in purifier will help get any lingering rabbit smell out of the room. But you want to be careful about the kind of air purifier you get.
Avoid any air purifier that is an ionizer. In the past, these were known to be harmful to pet birds and small animals. They have since been regulated by the FDA, but it’s still best to steer clear of this type of air purifier.
Instead opt for an air purifier with a HEPA filter. Instead of oxidizing the air like an ionizer, these use a high quality filter to purify the air. They do a better job at filtering out that rabbit smell without putting your pet in danger.
Some essential oils are harmful to your rabbit, so always check to see if it’s okay before using a new scent. Essential oils can be irritating to a rabbit’s respiratory system, so even if you do use them, it’s best to put them in places that are farthest away from your rabbit’s enclosure and make sure to dilute the oils before using them.
Safe scents to use:
Scents you should NOT use:
- Tea tree oil
Can rabbits be litter trained?
It is a little more difficult to litter train a rabbit than a cat, but with a little patience it is entirely possible. It is much easier to litter train a rabbit who has been spayed or neutered, since this will limit the amount of territorial spraying of the rabbit.
What kind of indoor rabbit enclosure should you get?
My enclosure of choice is a rabbit playpen, since it’s easiest to clean. But there are many types of cages for housing your rabbit including wooden hutches and large metal cages. Here is more information on how to choose the right enclosure for your rabbit.
- “Baths & Cleaning.” Disabledrabbits.com, www.disabledrabbits.com/baths–cleaning.html.
- “How To Clean a Rabbit’s Scent Glands.” Oxbow Animal Health, Jan. 31, 2019, www.oxbowanimalhealth.com/blog/how-to-clean-a-rabbits-scent-glands.
- Howcast. “How to Get Rid of Your Rabbit’s Odor | Pet Rabbits.” Youtube, Commentary by Mary Cotter and Amy Sedaris, Dec. 3, 2013, youtu.be/dwf7qUEPC5Q.
- Marx, Maggie. “Are Air Purifiers Safe for Pets?” RabbitAir, www.rabbitair.com/blogs/air-purifier/47383941-are-air-purifiers-safe-for-pets.
- “Overweight and Underweight Rabbits.” House Rabbit Society, Jan. 30, 2013, rabbit.org/overweight-and-underweight-rabbits.
- “Spaying and Neutering.” House Rabbit Society, rabbit.org/faq-spaying-and-neutering.
- “Tip of the Month: Rabbit Urine Odor Control.” House Rabbit Society, rabbit.org/care/tips99.html.