Let’s start with a few facts! Pet rabbits choose one or a few places which are usually corners to go to the bunny toilet. My bunny is no exception: he always pees in one corner and drops poo there as well.
He’s allowed to roam our dining room free. Does he drop poo all over the floor and pee wherever he wants? No, he doesn’t. And why is that? Well, even before he arrived as a fluffy and loving addition to our family I did my best to learn how to litter train a rabbit.
Guess what? I did it with honors! I can tell you that how to potty train a rabbit is no cognitive psychology and no behavioral science. It involves some patience, discipline and a lot of love for your fuzzball!
However, a lot of pet parents still don’t know how to potty train a rabbit and that may be because of the false premise that potty training only involves putting a litter box where it doesn't interfere with the décor of your home and kindly ask a bunny to go there and do his business.
How to potty train a bunny
First off, one of the most important things that you need to understand is that your rabbit has a different way of living than other pets. He does follow the smell of his own urine and almost always pees on the same spot. But, the training requires that you provide your rabbit a place which they know will not be invaded by others. They are very territorial and skittish, at the same time - what we see as the best rabbit cages we could afford, they see as their home and they feel the need to protect it!
Another contradictive fact is that it’s actually easier to litter train older rabbits than younger rabbits, let alone baby bunnies. How come? Well, a rabbit’s attention span and knack for learning increase as they grow up. This doesn't mean that you should give up on training your baby bun – just expect to spend a little more time on training.
Will neutering your rabbit make a difference?
If that’s your choice, you deserve the truth. Yes, neutering helps and is often a very important factor. We mentioned that rabbits are territorial and when they reach the age of 4-6 months, their hormones will become active and they are bound to start marking their territory. I chose not to spay or neuter my bunny but if you choose differently, your rabbit will be more likely to use his rabbit litter box.
Now, all rabbits will drop pills around their cages not because they are indifferent to your training efforts but in order to mark the cage and the nearby area it as their own. So, this is not a failure to be litter-trained.
From your perspective as the homeowner, it’s good that your rabbit will identify the cage as her property so that when he leaves his cage to hop around your home, he will successfully distinguish the family’s area from his own. He will not drop litter outside his territory.
The exceptional circumstances are when the rabbit is startled, afraid or someone who is too eager to play with him or pat him when the rabbit doesn't feel safe or familiar with the person.
In order to encourage your bunny to use his litter box or a corner of his cage as his toilet, you should make him the rightful owner and master of his own cage. You should never force him in or out of the cage.
My bunny always pees in one corner, drop pills in his cage only and never does his business around our home although he’s free to hop around most of the day. He likes his cage the way he wants it and he sometimes moves the food bowl away from his toilet.
The aim of my training was to teach him that his cage is his home. I never forcibly take him out or put him back in the cage. Instead, I leave the cage door open and wait until he’s out so that I can clean the cage add food and refill the water bottle.
I wait till he’s back in for a snack and then I close the door behind him. If he feels he hasn’t been out enough, he pushes the door while I’m trying to close it. In that case, I leave the door open for a little while longer just so that my bunny feels that I respect his needs.
In return, if it looks like he’s onto chewing something he shouldn’t or if he’s about to drop pills, I raise my tone and always say the same words, either “No!” or “Back in the cage!”
Surprisingly enough, he does listen and obey most of the time.
Housetraining rabbits tips
1. Avoid doing things to his cage that he doesn’t like, especially if he’s inside while you move his bowl, toys or accessories.
2. Allow your bunny full ownership of his cage. If you want to learn how to train a rabbit to litter in the appropriate spots and in litter boxes, you need to establish mutual respect for each other’s home.
3. Don’t reach into the cage to take your bunny out - simply open the door and let him come out if and when he wants.
4. Don’t try to catch him and put him back in the cage – he will feel his cage is his prison rather than his home. Either let him get inside when he wants or gently heard him towards the cage area while keeping the cage door open.
5. If the rabbit has been snuggling with you, you can carry him to the door of the cage and let him go in – again, don’t put him directly into the cage forcibly. Don’t chase your rabbit and try to trap him back into the cage.
6. Don’t reach into the cage to get food dishes or add food. Fix the food bowl near the door of the cage so that you can refill it with minimal disturbance and trespassing into the cage. Alternatively, wait until the rabbit is out to fill them.
7. Never clean the cage while your bunny is inside. Wait for his exercise and playtime and then do the cleaning and change the bedding and clean the litter box if you have one in the cage.
8. If your goal is to let your rabbit have full access to the house without littering all over your home, you need to establish his confidence that his cage is his home where he should litter. Start with a smaller litter training area and then increase it gradually.
9. Too big training area will be overwhelming and your bunny will simply forget where his litter box or toilet is. Once the training area becomes larger, make sure to include more litter boxes. If you start litter training your bunny in a multi-level cage, get a litter box on each level.
10. Don’t hurry the training process. Let your bunny get accustomed to your daily litter training routine and try not to vary it. Rabbits are creatures of habit and once you establish the routine, bunnies will usually stick with it.
11. If your rabbit continually pees in a spot where there is no litter box, you should compromise - put his box where he will use it, even if it means rearranging his cage or moving a piece of furniture in your room. It’s easier for the bunny and you and it serves the purpose of teaching your bunny to do his business in a litter box and not on the floor.
12. Give your bunny undivided attention while you are litter training him. You can’t text your friend, read e-mails or watch TV and expect to stay focused on what your rabbit is doing during training. It’s too late to say a firm “No peeing there!” once your bunny has already done it.
13. Don’t consider your training time as a chore – that’s also a daily companionship time when you can watch your funny and adorable bunny hopping around, doing twists, turns, and flops. Consider it happy time as well as educational and enjoy every minute of it!