One reason often given when people surrender their rabbits to a shelter is that their bunny has poor litterbox habits. Who hasn’t wondered why their bunny eliminated right next to its litterbox instead of inside it? It can be a vexing problem for many bunny parents – but it’s not unsolvable. There’s hope even for the messiest bunny!
Here are some common reasons why bunny might not use the litterbox properly and how to remedy the situation:
1. New surroundings – Often when bringing a new bunny home, bunny will mark its new territory with droppings and/or urine, even when a litterbox is available. This instinctive territorial marking will usually cease after the first week or two, especially if you do not clean up immediately. If a new bunny is being brought home to an existing house bunny, expect each bunny’s litterbox habits to regress for a while. Any room(s) shared by unbonded bunnies in turn will also likely be subjected to territorial marking. This should not be confused with poor litterbox habits.
2. Young bunnies – Baby buns under 6 months or so often have poor litterbox habits. It is well-known that spaying and neutering rabbits helps tremendously with establishing good litterbox habits. Be patient with your young bunny, and fix your bunny as soon as it’s old enough (around 4-6 months).
3. Wrong litter – A litterbox filled with the wrong type of litter may bother some bunnies. Most bunnies like wood stove pellets (without chemical propellants) and this is your cheapest litter option besides simple, shredded newspaper. Yesterdays News and Feline Pine can also be tried if bunny dislikes the regular wood stove pellets found at the hardware store in economical 40lb bags. Some rabbits even prefer NO litter at all in their litterbox! Experiment with different kinds, but avoid cedar & pine wood shavings and crystalline cat litters, which may endanger bunny’s health.
4. Wrong size – Some persnickety smaller rabbits don’t like jumping up too high into their litterboxes; try a shallower one. Another trick is to adjust the level of litter inside the litterbox to see if bunny prefers a more or less full one. Some large rabbits may feel cramped in a too small litterbox and require a bigger one. A too tall or too shallow litterbox may also be the reason why bunny is not using his litterbox, so experiment with different plastic box sizes and heights until your bunny is happy. I recommend buying Rubbermaid or Sterilite clear, plastic, shallow under-the-bed bins at Target or Walmart when on sale!
5. Too clean/too dirty – Strange as it may seem, some bunnies don’t like their litterboxes spotless! After cleaning, these buns may eliminate next to the litterbox instead of inside it. For such bunnies, try tossing a few old droppings into the fresh litterbox or place a small scoop of soiled litter on top of the clean litter. Still other bunnies won’t use a litterbox that is too soiled – smelly and dirty! More frequent litterbox changes, with a white vinegar rinse in between to remove stains before adding fresh litter, is the answer for these bunnies.
6. Not enough boxes – A common complaint is that cage-free house bunnies eliminate or mark in every room, especially when there are multiple bunnies or other animals visiting/living in the home. Placing several litterboxes around the home – perhaps even in one corner of each room bunny has access to – may help encourage bunny to eliminate in a litterbox instead of on your floor, carpet, or furniture.
7. Too much space to roam – When litterbox training your rabbit, start with a small, confined space or room containing a litterbox. Let bunny demonstrate s/he can reliably use the litterbox in this smaller space, before gradually expanding his/her roaming space, one room or hallway at a time. If bunny relapses, start the process over again, restricting the roaming space until good litterbox habits are reestablished, before slowly enlarging the roaming area again.
8. Digging – Some rabbits just enjoy digging litter out of their litterbox. This is often seen in female rabbits, who have a strong burrowing/nesting instinct. First, try changing the kind of litter. If this doesn’t work, try placing a second plastic “digging box” filled with either shredded paper, dirt, sand or small pebbles into the rabbit’s habitat. An unused bathtub can also make a good “digging area” for bunny when filled with a small box of sand, dirt or paper – or even snow in the wintertime! Or perhaps consider allowing your bunny some supervised outdoor “digging time” in a safe, secure, walled- or fenced-in area, away from predators.
9. Prefers another spot – Placed litterboxes all around and bunny still prefers to eliminate somewhere else? Move the litterbox to bunny’s preferred spot. It’s much easier to accommodate a determined bunny than to retrain one to use the litterbox in another location you prefer. This is when giving in to bunny makes sense!
10. Unknown reason – If all else fails, I recommend trying this which worked well for one of my own litterbox-averse bunnies: Build a feeding station just beyond the litterbox requiring bunny to stand inside the litterbox while eating, drinking and chewing hay. This can be easily and inexpensively done by using a small, empty shoebox in a corner of the room or cage, onto which the ceramic food & water bowls are placed. Push the litterbox right up against the shoebox and push the other litterbox edge against the wall. Place hay either inside the litterbox or just beyond it in a small box next to the food & water. Bunny will get used to standing in his litterbox while eating and drinking, which is often when elimination occurs. This will rapidly improve bunny’s litterbox habits!
Most rabbits will learn fairly quickly and easily to use a litterbox since they are by nature very clean animals. If yours doesn’t for some reason, these ten tips should soon help bunny to reliably use the litterbox. Remember, always be patient with your bunny while working on litterbox habits, and consider giving positive reinforcements in the form of fruit or veggie treats when bunny is successful. NEVER strike nor shout at bunny when accidents occur outside the litterbox – this is counterproductive and harmful to your rabbit. If your bunny’s litterbox habits should suddenly deteriorate without good reason (such as the presence of a new bunny or animal in the house, etc), please consider a rabbit-savvy vet visit to rule out a possible illness. Now, go clean out bunny’s litterbox!
Written By: The Bunderful Iris – Guest Blogger