To many people it comes as a great surprise to learn that rabbits can become as housetrained as the family cat or dog.
However, this happy situation for both rabbit and owners does not come about without some tried-and-true advice and a great deal of love and patience. Ask anyone who owns a well-trained houserabbit, and they’ll tell you that the rewards are worth every minute of your effort. So how to achieve this glorious goal? The most important thing to remember is that it takes time. You are dealing with an animal that is closer to its wild relative than a cat or dog, so you need to understand a whole range of reasons why things will happen – or won’t, as the case may be. One thing is very clear – it won’t happen overnight.
The natural instinct of a wild rabbit to use one area as its latrine, is still apparent in its domestic counterparts. In addition, rabbits are copraphagic, which means they consume the first production of soft faeces, and re-digest the matter for nutrients and then produce hard, dry pellets.
The prospective houserabbit should preferably be obtained at about eight weeks old. This is not only likely to speed up the learning process, but is important in socialising and conditioning your rabbit to the general household.
Successful house training can also be achieved with rescued adult bunnies which have been neutered. As always, neutering holds the secret to success for most houserabbits – they lose their inclination to spray all over your furniture and tend to go to their litter trays as a matter of course.
The natural action of rabbits eating while depositing faeces should be borne in mind when you are setting up the litter tray and feeding areas of the area you intend to confine and train your bunny. To encourage the rabbit to use its litter tray, you should always place a hay rack or food bowl at the end of the litter tray, and in the early days of training, it is good to offer the rabbit a reward such as a piece of carrot each time it jumps into the tray, as well as when it actually uses the tray as a toilet.
1. Always start with a cage in the room you wish to start your training. The best cages are the open wire variety, but even a hutch is ok. Accept the fact that your bunny will need to be confined to the cage while training – free range of your home will come later. Should you lose patience and rush this vital early learning, you will end up with a rabbit that will not house train and must be permanently caged – the opposite of your aim.
2. Place the litter tray in a corner of the cage and fill it halfway with a non-clumping type of cat litter. The clumping type of cat litter, if ingested by rabbits, can cause serious problems in the gut. The litter tray should be large enough for the rabbit when it is fully grown. Since many rabbits will not use a cramped area for their toilet, and they often like to stretch out and lie in the tray, it’s often a good idea to cover it on top with a layer of hay or straw. Large breeds of bunnies, especially does, will need trays with quite high sides as they tend to piddle straight over the edge. Cat litter trays with detachable rims are good, or even pet beds or the bottom half of a pet carrier would be ideal. If, however, you have an elderly, arthritic bunny, then a tray with lower sides or a lowered entrance would be best.
3. Think about your rabbit’s age and be realistic. Baby rabbits need time to learn. An eight-week-old bunny will not housetrain itself if it’s given the run of the house or room. Most rabbits are at least 12 months old before you can begin to let them have the run of the house unsupervised. Be patient and wait for at least 48 hours until they are regularly using the litter tray in their cage, then begin by letting your bunny out for 10 minutes twice a day, building up gradually. Some rabbits need a tray in every room, while others will race down two flights of stairs to use the litter tray in their cage!
4. Don’t change the litter too often and always put a few of the previous pellets back in the fresh litter, so your bunny knows that’s where it has been before. This is one of the best tricks to aid learning, and should be begun when the first litter tray is introduced. When you set everything up, put some of your bunny’s droppings in the tray to start with. If you have just purchased a new bunny, ask the breeder or previous owner to let you have some of the droppings in a little bag to bring home, so your new bunny knows it should use that spot.
5. Always expect the unexpected. You may be lucky and go through the long housetraining process without any hitches. On the other hand, rabbits, like children, are unpredictable and where one will ‘potty train’ virtually overnight, another will seem to take forever and have accidents everywhere and when you least expect it.
6. If, during the course of your training, things start to go wrong, cage the rabbit again until it is using the tray properly. Put newspapers on the floor of the cage so you can put urine-soaked paper in the litter tray to show your bunny where the loo is supposed to be.
7. Should the process not go according to plan, you will have to start again with the process of re-caging and letting out again at short intervals. You should also beware of health problems which masquerade as training problems. Droppings squashed on the carpet could indicate that the teeth and diet need checking, whereas peeing everywhere could mean problems with urinary stones or infections. If you are experiencing problems, don’t hesitate to contact the practice.
8. Be selective with the type of litter you use, always bearing in mind your rabbit might eat it. There are many varieties on the market now, some ideal – others a definite no-no. Many owners use a base of wood shavings topped with fresh hay or straw. None of these materials will be harmful to your rabbit.
9. Don’t use household bleach or ammonia-based products to clean up accident spots around the house, as the ammonia base encourages the rabbit to reuse these areas!
10. There are some good specially formulated cleaning
products for animal accidents in the home, but before you purchase any
of these, try white wine vinegar, enzymatic cleaners or even baby wipes,
which are perfect for getting bunny-poo off furniture and carpets without
harming the surface.