Litter training a rabbit is entirely possible because rabbits prefer to use the bathroom in one or two select areas. Similar to other animals, they prefer not to defecate in the area they sleep or play. Taking the proper steps can make the training process easier for you and help your rabbit learn where they should go.
Litter Train Your Rabbit
Litter training can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Keeping your rabbit's routine as consistent as possible will aid in the litter training process. Gather the necessary supplies and begin training. Start with one litterbox in the enclosure and a minimum of two in the room where your rabbit is allowed to roam. If they urinate or defecate in a particular corner, place the litterbox where they are already using the bathroom. Continue moving the litterbox to the area your pet prefers.
For the process to be effective, you may need to observe your rabbit regularly once the process begins. Some rabbits will naturally begin relieving themselves in the area you placed the litterbox because it's placed in the area they have already chosen. Other rabbits may be fearful of the litterbox or simply choose a different area to use the bathroom.
Use Positive Reinforcement Techniques
There isn't as much research regarding positive reinforcement techniques in rabbits as there is for other pets, such as dogs, but it's natural to associate a certain action with a reward. Operant conditioning works with most animals. Offering your rabbit some sort of treat immediately after they use their litter box will help them relate using the litterbox with something positive. You can offer a small piece of apple, carrot, or another vegetable. Try to stay away from yogurt drops due to their high levels of sugar.
Start training inside your rabbit's primary enclosure or hutch. This is where positive reinforcement techniques come in. Begin by carefully observing your rabbit and wait for them to relieve themselves. If you watch your rabbit use the bathroom in the litterbox, offer them a treat. Try to reward them right away when you observe the desired behavior. Each time you see them use the litterbox, give them a treat immediately to build that positive association.
If they use the bathroom outside of their litterbox, scoop up their feces and place it inside the litterbox. It's critical not to scold your rabbit. They will not understand why they are being scolded and this will make them fearful of you and damage all the progress you have made in your relationship.
Expand Training to Multiple Litterboxes
Once your rabbit has learned how to use the bathroom inside their enclosure, it's now the time they can roam around the room with two litterboxes. This time should be supervised and restricted to short periods at first. Observing them for 10 minutes or so is sufficient, but be sure to keep the door to their enclosure open in case they choose to use the bathroom in there.
If your rabbit has not gone to the bathroom within those 10 minutes, place them in the litterbox and see if they do. Don't forget to provide a reward if they use the litterbox at this time.
Once your rabbit has mastered this routine in the 10-minute timeframe, gradually increase the time outside of the training area, but still monitor them. You don't have to observe as closely now that they have a grasp of what you're looking for, but you should stil monitor them so their accidents can be cleaned up quickly, if necessary.
Litter Training Checklist
To summarize, take the following steps to litter train your rabbit:
- Locate the area your rabbit naturally defecates in. This is generally one or two spots. Place the litterbox in their preferred area.
- Spend as much time as possible observing your rabbit when you first place the litter box.
- When you notice your rabbit using the litterbox, provide them with a treat of their preference right away.
- The treat will allow the rabbit to associate defecating in their chosen area with a reward. This process is known as positive reinforcement.
- Once your rabbit begins using the litterbox regularly, you can alternate between offering treats and praise (such as petting).
- With positive reinforcement, your rabbit will learn the litterbox is the chosen area and, after some time, they will no longer need treats or praise to use it.
Helpful Litter Training Supplies
If you don't yet have your rabbit but you have decided to litter-train when you bring them home, it's recommended you grab the litter training supplies at the same time you grab the others. If you already have your pet rabbit and have only recently discovered they can be litter trained, don't worry. You can begin litter training your rabbit regardless of their age. In fact, adult rabbits can sometimes be easier to litter train than baby rabbits due to their increased attention span.
It's also important to note that a rabbit that has been spayed or neutered is easier to train than one that hasn't. When rabbits become of age, generally around 4 to 6 months, they begin marking their territory, making it more difficult to litter train them. Although it's still possible, it may be a longer, more difficult process.
Choosing a Litter Box
Your choice of litter box depends on the size of your rabbit, along with your rabbit's preferences. Basic plastic litterboxes work the best and can be purchased at nearly any pet store. The main concern regarding the size of your rabbit is that you want the litter pan to be large enough for their entire body to fit in. Don't worry about the litter box being too big. A litterbox that your rabbit can grow with is sufficient.
According to the San Diego House Rabbit Society, a medium to large cat litter box usually works well for small to medium-size rabbits. A plastic 70-quart storage container can simply be transformed into a litter box for overly large rabbits. Simply cut a doorway on one side, low and wide enough for the rabbit to easily enter the box. An 8-inch-wide entrance with a 3-inch-high bottom is acceptable for the majority of rabbits, but you should adjust these measures accordingly.
There are different types of litter on the market, but recycled paper bedding is safe for rabbits and recommended by many rabbit organizations, including the San Diego House Rabbit Society and Ohio House Rabbit Rescue. If you don't like recycled paper as bedding, there are other options.
Don't use clumping litter like you would use for your cat, because it could cause a blockage if your rabbit eats any of it. CareFresh also offers rabbit-safe litter you can place in the litterbox. It's a natural paper litter, but is known as comfort litter due to its fluffy texture and offers double the absorbency of regular newspaper bedding.
Line the litter box with newspaper, cover the entire bottom with about 2 inches of the litter of your choice, and then place a pile of hay at the far end of the box's entrance. This may seem unusual, but rabbits actually prefer to defecate while they're eating, so placing the hay rack in the same area of the litterbox is recommended.
You'll need a litter scoop to remove droppings in between litter changes. When your rabbit is beginning their training, keep some of the feces in the litterbox so they know where to go. You may also want to use a specialized cleaner to remove any smells if they have an accident outside of their litterbox while they're roaming. Nature's Miracle offers an enzymatic cleaner to remove scents that perhaps you can't smell, but other animals can.
Set Your Rabbit Up for Success
While litter training a rabbit requires some effort, you may be amazed at how fast your pet picks it up. Additionally, training allows the two of you to spend more time together and enjoy each other's company. Maintain a consistent training schedule and reinforce your pet's triumphs, and house soiling will quickly become a distant memory.