Rabbits actually have a great deal in common with cats. They can be social, friendly and affectionate creatures who genuinely enjoy spending time with their people. These virtues mean that rabbits make great indoor pets.
Rabbits are also similar to cats in a rather dismaying way — they’ll spray and mark territory all over your house.
The good news? Rabbits can be house-trained, and once they are, you can let them roam freely. But how do you house-train a rabbit?
Disarm the Spray
First, let’s address the dominance and territorial factors at play in spraying. Both females and males mark their territory in this way. But, as with cats and dogs, spaying and neutering helps tremendously with this behavior.
There are other benefits to it as well. “Spaying or neutering your rabbit improves litter box habits, lessens chewing behavior, decreases territorial aggression and gives your rabbit a happier, longer life,” says the House Rabbit Society.
Ideally, spaying or neutering should be done when your rabbit is between 3.5 to 6 months old, and the procedure should be performed by a veterinarian who has experience with rabbits.
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Before embarking on house-training, be sure to “bunny proof” your home. This includes:
- Securing and hiding electrical cords
- Taking steps to guard furniture and walls (for example, by using clear plastic covers on sofas)
- Removing dangling cords from blinds or curtains
- Moving house plants out of reach
To satisfy your rabbit’s chewing habits, put out some rabbit-friendly chew toys. You can buy them or use things like cardboard boxes filled with shredded paper, dried-out pine cones and cardboard rollers from paper towels.
Use a Litter Box
You can house-train your rabbit using a plain old litter box, just like you would for a cat. In The Rabbit-Raising Problem Solver, author Karen Patry has outlined some simple and effective steps for this training:
- Put either 1 large box or 2 smaller boxes inside the rabbit cage.
- Fill the box(es) with specially chosen litter. Don’t use traditional cat litters as some have potentially toxic crystals. You can use litter made from alfalfa, hay, oat or paper. It may help to line the bottom of the box with newspaper to absorb urine.
- Line the bottom of the rest of the cage with newspaper. When your bunny defecates or urinates on the paper, move it to the litter box to send the message that “this is where it goes.”
- Repeat the third step once or twice a day, and make any adjustments necessary based on your bunny’s behavior. For example, if he consistently urinates in 1 spot, move the litter box to that spot.
- When you go a few days with no soiled newspaper outside the litter boxes, your rabbit should be house-trained.
Once your rabbit has mastered the art of using the litter box inside his cage, you can repeat steps 1-4 in a small area outside the cage. As he comes to understand the concept of the litter box, you can gradually increase the area in which he is allowed to roam.
Watch this tutorial on making your own tray to keep your rabbit mess-free when he uses the litter box:
Keep an Eye Out for the Occasional Mess
Although spaying and neutering helps tremendously, when there is more than 1 rabbit sharing the same space, they will often continue to mark territory. In some cases, once all the rabbits are house-trained, they will use the litter box with no issues. In other cases, you may have to be vigilant — and expect a mess every once in a while.
If your rabbit suddenly starts to regress, simply start all over again back in the cage.
Monitor Your Rabbit’s Elimination Habits
Some illnesses may affect a rabbit’s consistent use of the toilet you’ve provided. Common signs of illness include:
- Loss of appetite
- Labored or heavy breathing
- Runny nose
Don’t hesitate to seek veterinary care for your rabbit if you notice any symptoms.
Bunnies are smart, funny and fun pets to have. It’s all the better when you can let them roam about the house and keep you company with little worry about elimination messes. Happy training!