Rabbits poop a LOT. Seriously, these little fluffers just eat and poop all day long. You might hear that and start to have second thoughts about having a house rabbit. Who would want to clean up poop all day?
Most rabbits will instinctively try to keep their urine and fecal pellets in a single area so they can keep their home clean. By placing the litter box in their chosen corner, you can train them by association. Start litter training in a small area and increase the amount of space your rabbit has as their litter habits improve.
This might seem like a fairy tale for all of you new bunny owners who keep having to deal with your rabbit peeing in the corner of the room. Or maybe your rabbit’s “corner” is the middle of a doorway (oh dear!). It takes a little work to teach a rabbit to use the litter box consistently. But with patience you’ll get there.
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The tools you need before you start
Before you rush in and get started litter training your rabbit, you need to make sure you have all the tools you need (I have a list with easy links to all the products I use). If you don’t want to buy anything, most of these items can actually be DIY’ed pretty easily. For instance, you can use a paper cup for a pooper scooper, or a couple of old plastic storage boxes as the litter boxes.
The paper based litter is probably the hardest part to find an alternative for. I’ve heard of people using shredded paper for their rabbit litter, but it’s not very absorptive so I wouldn’t recommend that. You definitely don’t need to go spend a fortune to get your rabbit’s bathroom set up though. Even if you get a big bag of litter to last a couple months, everything together should cost below a hundred dollars.
What tools you need for the set up:
- 3 to 5 litter boxes. Most litter boxes marketed for rabbits are a bit on the small side. You’ll want to buy one that your rabbit can completely fit and be able to turn around in. Usually getting litter pans made for a cat is a good sized option. If your rabbit will have access to a house with multiple floors, you might want to get even more litter boxes.
- A pooper scooper. Just about any pooper scooper will do. You just want to make sure the holes aren’t too big, so the poops won’t fall through.
- Paper based litter. You want to get a litter that is made from recycled paper. The clay kitty litter that you often see in the stores is not good for rabbits. It may be absorbent, but it can clump up in their stomach and cause blockages. I use a brand called Small Pet Select and I’m very happy with it. It does a good job of keeping the rabbit urine odor to a minimum without using baking soda, which can be a respiratory irritant.
- Old Newspaper. You’ll want to have a small stack of old newspaper or magazines handy to put into the bottom of the litter pans and enclosure.
- Pet-safe cleaning spray. Use a pet-safe disinfectant spray! You don’t want to risk your rabbit licking up the harmful chemicals in most cleaning sprays. If you want, you can DIY a safe spray by combining equal amounts of water and vinegar, and shaking them up in an empty spray bottle.
- Bonus: a trash can with a lid. You don’t strictly need this, but rabbit pee can start to smell after a while. Having a trash can with a lid can help you be a little more environmentally conscious, so you won’t have to use a separate plastic bag every single day when you scoop out the litter box.
Tip: What type of litter to choose?
There are many different types of litter out there, but most of them are marketed towards cats so it can be difficult to know which ones are safe for rabbits. In general, you want to avoid any kind of clumping clay litter. Rabbits will sometimes eat their litter, and it can clump up in their stomachs causing blockages since rabbits cannot vomit. There are many different types of litter out there, but most of them are marketed towards cats so it can be difficult to know which ones are safe for rabbits.
In general, you want to avoid any kind of clumping clay litter. Rabbits will sometimes eat their litter, and it can clump up in their stomachs causing blockages since rabbits cannot vomit. Most of these litter brands also contain deodorant crystals, which can be harmful to a rabbit’s respiratory tract if inhaled or digestive tract if eaten.
Brands of litter that create too much dust particles should also be avoided, along with any litter that has pine or cedar shavings since these have been linked to liver damage in rabbits.
I prefer using paper based litter, but other types of small animal bedding or pelleted cat litters are also safe to use. If your rabbit doesn’t seem to like one type you can switch to using a different litter and see if you get better results. A brand that I use and recommend is Small Pet Select. They have a paper-based litter that doesn’t include any added scents or dusty deodorizers, so their litter is perfectly safe for rabbits. (use code BUNNYLADY at checkout for a 15% discount)
Getting everything set up
Okay! You’ve got all your equipment, now it’s time to get the rabbit enclosure set up. It’s best if you can get everything set up before you bring your rabbit home, but even if you’re reading this after-the-fact, it’s not too late.
- If it’s not already, make sure the hutch or enclosure has been cleaned. It’s a lot harder to monitor your rabbits potty habits if the area is already soiled. Rabbits also tend to prefer a cleaner cage and they’ll be more likely to try to keep it clean.
- Set up one of the clean litter boxes in a corner of the enclosure. Pour in some of the paper-based litter. You don’t need to fill the box, a small layer of litter on the bottom works just fine. If you have some available, scoop up a few of your rabbit’s poops and add them to the box. If you’ve already noticed that your rabbit tends to use one specific corner as a bathroom, then make sure to place the litter pan in that spot. I also recommend placing a handful of hay in the litter box. This will help to entice your rabbit.
- Add some newspaper on the ground in the rest of the enclosure. If your rabbit pees outside the box, this will make it easy to move the newspaper into the bottom of the litter pan to help your rabbit associate the scent of his pee with the litter box.
Tip: cleaning up after your rabbit
Whenever your rabbit pees or poops outside the litter box, you want to make sure you thoroughly clean it up. Sweep or vacuum up the excess poops, mop up the pee, 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 the bathroom.
I recommend using a vinegar-based spray since these do the best job at neutralizing the rabbit’s urine smell. You can make your own by combining equal amounts of water and white vinegar in a spray bottle. For tougher urine stains, you can also sprinkle some baking soda, spray with vinegar and leave it to sit for a few minutes before cleaning.
You’ll also want to periodically scoop more poops into the boxes if your rabbit doesn’t get the hang of it right away. Most of the time it won’t take very long at all before you notice your rabbit’s potty habits have greatly improved with just these steps.
How to litter train your rabbit
Now you are officially ready to start litter training your rabbit. 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.
Step 1. Start small
You will need to start small. For the first day or two, keep your rabbit in their enclosure (make sure the habitat is big enough). If you want to allow your rabbit free range of the house and do not have any enclosure for them, you can start by keeping your rabbit in a small room of the house, such as the bathroom.
Keeping the space small helps your rabbit find the litter box when they need to go. Rabbits also prefer to have a clean environment. A smaller area helps encourage general cleanliness because soiling a larger area will mean less clean places to sprawl out in.
- Move the box to the corner the rabbit uses. The first thing you’ll want to do is watch your rabbit. Rabbits are clean animals and will usually pick one corner of their enclosure to consistently use as their bathroom. Once your rabbit has picked a potty place, move the litter box to that corner. You’ll also want to sweep up some of your rabbit’s poops and place them the litter tray.
- Transfer newspaper with pee into the litter box. Remember when I told you to set up newspaper on the floor of the rabbit’s enclosure? Here’s where that comes in handy. If the rabbit pees outside the litter pan, you can very easily take the piece of newspaper and place it into the bottom of the litter tray. This keeps the scent of the pee in the litter box and it makes cleaning up easier. You can continue to put new sheets of newspaper down on the enclosure floor until the rabbit starts to only use the litter box.
- Keep a little poop and urine in the litter box. While you are litter training your rabbit, you don’t want to completely clean out their box. You want to make sure they continue to associate the box with their bathroom, and having the scent of the pee and poop helps out a lot.
- Make sure to clean the enclosure frequently. Rabbits really do prefer to keep their environment clean. So helping your rabbit by cleaning and disinfecting the cage on a daily basis will really help to encourage their clean instincts.
Most of the time, the rabbit will figure out how to use the litter box in their enclosure in a matter of days. It’s okay if they take a little bit longer though, every rabbit will learn at their own speed. Very young rabbits will usually take a little longer to learn, but I actually find older rabbits that are set in their ways to be the most difficult to teach. For these buns, you’ll need to make sure you’re very diligent about cleaning the enclosure. You may even need multiple litter boxes inside the enclosure to help get the point across.
Step 2. Give your rabbit a little more space
After a couple of days, you will want to start letting your rabbit out to explore. Hopefully by now your rabbit will be starting to get the hang of using the litter box, but it’s okay if they’re not perfect yet. You still want to start giving them some time to exercise.
- Add litter boxes. Before you let your rabbit out, set up a couple more litter pans in likely corners of the room. If your rabbit chooses a different place to use the bathroom while they’re out, move a litter box to the new location. Add some pee-stained newspaper and rabbit poop, to help your rabbit associate it with the bathroom. You also want to use the same type of litter in all the boxes.
- Start with smaller spaces. When you first start letting your rabbit out, you don’t want to give them full run of the house. Start by keeping them confined to just one room in the house. As your rabbit’s potty habits improve, you can start letting them into other areas of the house (with more litter boxes).
- Pay close attention to your rabbit. The best way to litter train a rabbit is by catching them in the act. This means that you have to pay very close attention to your rabbit, if not you will definitely miss the act. Right before a rabbit pees, they will lift their tail up. That’s your queue.
- Yell “no” when your rabbit is about to pee. If you see your rabbit’s tail go up while you’re watching them, quickly shout “no” and gently herd them to a nearby litter box. It can be helpful to have a treat waiting in the litter pan so the rabbit doesn’t think this is a punishment.
- Cleaning up accidents. Rabbits are very likely to go back to the same places to use the bathroom, so you don’t want your rabbit’s scent to stick around in places they shouldn’t go. Clean up any accidents right away. Try to soak up some of the pee with a piece of newspaper and put it on the bottom of the box. Then sweep up the poop and completely disinfect the area with your pet-safe cleaner.
- Slowly increase the amount of time your rabbit is allowed to stay out. Start by letting your rabbit out in short bursts at a time. 15-30 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day (to make sure they get enough exercise) is a good place to start. But as they get better at using the litter box, start letting them out for longer periods of time.
Step 3. After your rabbit starts to consistently use the litter boxes
If it seems like your rabbit is starting to consistently use the litter box, it’s time to start taking off the training wheels and see how your rabbit does. The goal is to have one litter box for your rabbit in their enclosure, so you don’t have to have so many scattered around the house anymore.
- Remove extra litter boxes. One at a time, remove the extra litter pans you have scattered around the house. Take away the box that is closest to the enclosure the first day. Then the next closest and so on, until you have only one box left in the rabbit’s enclosure.
- Make sure your rabbit goes back to their enclosure to use the bathroom. You probably don’t have to keep a very close eye on your rabbit anymore, but pay enough attention to notice if they’re going back to their litter box periodically. If they’re not, it may be a sign that they’ve found another area in the house to use the bathroom.
- Look for any accidents. Check around the house, especially around where the litter boxes used to be. Make sure your rabbit isn’t having any accidents while you’re taking away the training boxes. If they do, you can put the litter box back and try again in another couple of days.
- Congratulations! Your rabbit is litter box trained. Once you successfully remove all the boxes and your rabbit is going back to their enclosure to use the bathroom, you’ve done it.
It’s great when you follow the steps and everything turns out perfectly. Your rabbit learns fast and has minimal accidents. Sometimes, however, rabbits will be stubborn and require a little more work to learn good potty manners. Here are a couple tips to try to manage your rabbit’s troublesome potty habits.
Spay or neuter your rabbit
The number one recommendation I can give you to help with bad potty behavior is to get your rabbit spayed or neutered. Like many other animals, rabbits will use their scent to mark their territory by spreading their poop and spraying urine. This is especially a problem with male rabbits that haven’t been neutered, but female rabbits will spray also.
Once you get your rabbit fixed they produce less of the hormones that cause the territorial behavior, and will feel less need to mark their territory. You may find that once your rabbit recovers from surgery, his potty behavior has automatically improved, but it also might take a few weeks as the hormone levels decline.
Even a litter trained rabbit will spread poops to mark their territory when they explore an area. After they’ve marked the territory the first time, rabbits won’t do this as much. In all likelihood, you will still see some poops popping up every once in a while if your rabbit is venturing into a new area. But it should be significantly curbed, and most of the time the spraying behavior stops completely.
Use a smaller space to train them
If your rabbit just can’t seem to figure out how this potty training thing works, you’ll want to start training them in a smaller space. Start off by litter training your rabbit in their enclosure. Even if you want to let your rabbit have free range of the house eventually, you’ll need to start small.
Keeping the space small enough helps your rabbit find the litter box when he needs to go. It also helps encourage general cleanliness because soiling the whole habitat will mean no clean places to sprawl out in. Make sure to clean the enclosure frequently at this stage to encourage the clean instincts of your rabbit.
Once your rabbit gets better in a small area, try increasing the space a little with a rabbit playpen instead of an entire room. This will help your rabbit form good habits while the litter box is still close enough for them to get to. It also makes it easier for you to monitor your rabbit, clean up after them and put any extra litter boxes where they are needed.
Eventually, as your rabbit gets better at using the litter box, you’ll be able to increase the area your rabbit can roam in again. Just make sure to keep an eye on them and add any litter pans when necessary.
Rabbit playpens are actually very versatile, and I recommend using them for a rabbit’s enclosure also. They can be used in awkwardly shaped spaces and are very easy to clean. This is the pen that I recommend. You can get more than one and link them up to create a larger exercise space too.
Put hay in the litter box
This may sound strange, but rabbits often like to eat while using the toilet. Putting hay in the litter pan, or moving the hay trough close enough so your rabbit can reach it from the litter box, can encourage good potty behavior. Make sure to replace the hay in the litter box every day to make sure your rabbit doesn’t pee on too much of it. It’s good to make sure your rabbit always has fresh hay anyway because it encourages good eating behavior!
Clean the enclosure daily
Until your rabbit has good potty manners, you’ll want to clean the enclosure daily. Leave a little pee and poop in the litter box, but make sure everywhere else is as clean as possible. Continuing to keep the enclosure clean will reinforce the idea that the only bathroom for the rabbit is in the litter box.
Eventually, your rabbit will have better manners and you won’t have to clean the enclosure as often. It will also be much easier to keep clean, since you won’t have to worry about any pee stains.
Peeing off the side of the litter box
Some rabbits are good at using the litter box, but when they pee their butt hangs over the side of the box and they pee on the floor. The good news is, in this case your rabbit is litter trained, they just don’t realize the pee is going over the edge.
There are a couple solutions you can try:
- Get a larger litter box with higher sides
- Get a litter box with higher sides
- Place a dog pee mat underneath the litter box to act as a urine guard
Age of the rabbit
Younger rabbits can be difficult to litter train because their attention span is a little shorter than their adult counterparts. They’re more likely to just forget that they need to use the litter box and have an accident. You might want to consider getting a couple more litter boxes to have around, so that the young rabbit always has a bathroom nearby. Otherwise just have patience and keep trying.
Older rabbits that haven’t been litter trained are the most challenging, in my experience. These rabbits often came to the shelter from owners who neglected them and never cleaned their enclosure. So the rabbits just got used to using the bathroom anywhere, since no place was ever clean.
The best thing you can do for older rabbits in this situation is to clean out their enclosure very frequently (multiple times a day, if possible), while only leaving some urine and poop in their litter box. This will teach them that if they only use one place to go to the bathroom, the rest of their enclosure will be comfortably clean.
Put the litter box under something
Some rabbits get really nervous doing their business out in the open. They much prefer to have a litter box that is underneath something. You might find that in the bedroom or living room, their chosen bathroom spots are under the bed or under a chair.
To solve this, you want to give your rabbit a bathroom that they’ll feel safe using. You can cover part of their cage with a towel to give them some cover in the litter box. Alternatively, you could put the litter box into a large cardboard box so the rabbit can have some cover.
What if the rabbit suddenly starts peeing outside the litter box?
If your rabbit has been litter trained for a while, but all of a sudden starts peeing outside the litter box again, there are three likely sources of their behavior:
- The litter box hasn’t been cleaned in a while and your rabbit is protesting by find another place to use the bathroom.
- An elderly or obese rabbit may have trouble hopping over the edge of a litter box and resort to peeing next to it.
- Your rabbit may have a urinary tract infection or bladder sludge. These are serious medical conditions, so if your rabbit continues to pee outside the litter box, make an appointment with your rabbit’s vet.
How to stop a rabbit from digging in the litter box?
Rabbits are natural burrowers so some rabbits will do a lot of digging in their litter box, kicking out the contents of the box in the process. This can be a pain to clean up, so what can we do about the behavior?
First, you can get your rabbit one of those cat litter boxes with a cover. Make sure you show your rabbit that it’s still a litter box though, because it can be a little confusing for the bunny to all of a sudden have a covered litter box.
You can also give your rabbit some other fun toys to play with. Sometimes your rabbit is digging in the litter box because they are bored. Giving them some new toys or making a DIY digging box can be a helpful way to reduce their litter box digging habits.
How to stop my rabbit from peeing on the bed or couch?
It is surprisingly common for rabbits, even those who have been fixed, to pee on a bed or the couch. I believe that rabbits do this because these areas are covered in your scent. So when the rabbit hops up on the bed, their territorial instincts kick in and they have to pee to claim the bed as their own.
I have not found a good way to prevent this behavior, so if your rabbit is one who likes to pee on the bed, you should consider completely banning them from the area. Otherwise you’ll be cleaning up pee stained sheets very frequently.
Why does my rabbit still leave a couple poops in areas they explore?
Even if your rabbit has bee litter trained, they may leave some poops scattered around the areas they explore. This is not bad litter box habits, this is a territorial instinct. It will never completely disappear, but it will likely diminish in rabbits that have been spayed or neutered. Luckily, rabbit poop is very easy to sweep up and doesn’t have any scent that humans can notice.
If you haven’t already brought a rabbit home, there is an easy way around the litter training steps. Adopt a rabbit! Many rabbits in shelters around the world already have very good litter box habits. So if you’re worried you won’t have the time to train your rabbit properly, you can ask the staff or volunteers at your shelter which rabbits have good potty habits. They’ll help you find the best rabbit for your life situation.
The benefits of litter training your rabbit
Litter box training your rabbit has some benefits beyond just the peace of mind. So if you’re still on the fence about this, thinking litter box training is more trouble than it’s worth, consider the following.
You won’t have to keep as close a watch on your rabbit
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 has a high concentration of ammonia. If you don’t notice when your rabbit pees and clean it up right away, the pee can do some serious damage. Rabbit pee can strip the varnish off of hardwood floors, or 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.
It’s easier to keep track of their health
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. The amount, size, and shape of a rabbit’s poop can tell you a lot about the state of their health.
Rabbit’s have a very sensitive digestive system and keeping track of their poop is essential for keeping track 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.
A change in pee habits can also be an indicator of health problems in rabbits. If they’ve been litter box trained and then suddenly stop using the litter box, this is an indicator that the rabbit is suffering from a urinary or bladder infection. It’s an important symptom you wouldn’t have if you never litter trained your rabbit.
Cleaning their enclosure is much easier
Rabbit enclosures that have been crusted with pee stains and are covered in poop are pretty difficult to clean. Even if you clean their enclosure every day, it could take you hours to get the cleaning finished. And if you don’t clean it frequently, the poor rabbit will be stuck living in filth. They’ll have a high chance of getting urine scald on their feet and bottom.
Litter box training makes this cleaning process so much easier. Plus, you won’t have to clean the whole enclosure out quite as often. Now you’ll just have to clean out the litter box every day. The much more tedious cage cleaning will only need to happen every week or so, and for the most part, you’ll be able to easily sweep up or vacuum the hay and fur that inevitably collect in the rabbit’s enclosure. Much easier than scrubbing pee stains.
The house won’t smell like pee
Because rabbit pee has a high concentration of ammonia, it also tends to have a strong odor. If the rabbit ends up peeing all over the house, especially if it’s not cleaned up right away, then you might end up with a house that smells like rabbit pee.
But if the rabbit is litter box trained, then all of the smelly pee will get buried in one place. And if you clean out the litter box every day, you can keep the smell from building up.
- “Litter Training FAQ.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/care/litter-training-faq/.
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