Litter Box Training

by Nancy J. LaRoche
Copyright 2000 – All Rights Reserved
(May be copied for free distribution)

Rabbits are easy to litter train, providing you understand their toilet psychology. However, because hormones play a major role in their marking behavior, it is necessary for them to be spayed or neutered before attempting this training. Be sure to use only a veterinarian who has a long record of successful spays and neuters. Click here for a list of rabbit savvy veterinarians local to the Las Vegas area.

Litter Training With Respect To Urine
All our domestic rabbits are descended from the European wild rabbit. The variety of breeds is the result of selective breeding – none of them lived in their present form in the wild. To understand their toilet habits, we need to look at the behavior of the European wild rabbit.

These rabbits live in warrens and have the rabbit equivalent to a latrine out away from the warren. Every rabbit goes there to urinate. This keeps the warren clean and keeps predators from following the odor directly to the warren. So the European wild rabbit and all of it’s descendants (our domestic rabbits) have a strong instinct to use a single place to urinate.

If you keep your rabbits in a large comfortable crate/condo, they will choose a corner in which to urinate. Chances are good if you put a litter box with paper litter an inch or two deep covered with hay in a back corner of their crate, the rabbits will use that corner. (See below for types of litter that are safe.) The hay encourages them to sit in the litter box and if the litter gets wet, the hay helps keep them dry. They will eat the hay while it is fresh, but once it is soiled, they will concentrate on the unsoiled hay in their hay box.

Keep the rabbits in the crate/condo most of the time for two or three days. If you let them out during this time, don’t let them approach a corner, and don’t let them stay out long. In the condo, give them toys and a shelf that they can jump up on, to keep them happy. With rare exceptions, the urine training is complete at this point. After that, if you let your rabbits out of the crate/condo but not too far away from it, they will return to the litter box when they need to urinate.

If the rabbits are eventually given the run of a large part of the house, it may be necessary to put a second litter box in a corner of your choosing. Put some used litter in it to help them realize the purpose of this additional litter box.

If other animals live in the home, the rabbits may urinate on the floor of their condo once or twice, declaring “loudly” the condo belongs to them and won’t be shared. This usually doesn’t continue for more than a day or two, especially if the rabbits see that the other animals are respecting their space.

Litter Training With Respect To “Pills”
From the point of view of the rabbit, droppings or “pills” are not so much a waste material as a tool to mark territory. Pills are roughly equivalent to property markers, whereas urine is more like a shotgun, threatening dire consequences if ignored.

The trick to litter-training with respect to pills is to let the rabbits’ crate/condo be their personal, private property. Never reach into the crate when your rabbits are there. Never catch your rabbits and put them in the crate/condo or reach in and take them out. In general, never violate the crate space when the rabbits are in it. As long as rabbits feel that they own territory that isn’t shared, they will mark it with their pills. Pills on the floor of a cage are not a problem, because they are dry and odorless.

The second step in litter training with respect to pills is to block off a relatively small area around your rabbits’ crate, get in that space with your rabbits (i.e., share that space with them) and watch them carefully. If one of them drops a pill, herd the rabbit into the crate and toss the pill in, too. S/he can come back out right away, but each time one drops a pill, herd the rabbit into the crate and toss the pill in. Rabbits quickly learn not to drop pills in the shared space outside the crate/condo. Then you can gradually increase the space to which the rabbits have access, continuing the process described. If you are consistent and don’t hurry this process, you will soon have well-trained rabbits.

Litter Boxes
Ideally, litter boxes should have high sides, because rabbits back into the corner and may urinate over the edge. You will know if the sides are high enough if the urine doesn’t go over the edge. Rubber Maid plastic dish pans work well for many rabbits. There are also metal litter boxes designed with high sides and grates specifically for rabbits.

Rabbits may really “chow down” on materials that would not seem to be very appealing, including their litter. Therefore it is essential their litter material be a safe one.

Safe Litter
• Paper litters, such as FibreCycle and CareFresh, seem to be the safest. Paper isn’t toxic and will pass through the rabbit’s digestive tracts if ingested.
• Hardwood stove pellets are also safe, however NEVER use the pine stove pellets!

Unsafe Litters
• Alfalfa-based litters will be eagerly devoured and are likely to cause obesity, so are to be avoided.
• Corncob litter will occasionally cause serious blockages of the G.I tract – DO NOT USE under penalty of death – the rabbit’s.
• Clay and clumping litters will cause severe blockages leading to death, if ingested.
• Pine and cedar shavings are not to be used because they give off chemicals which cause changes in the liver when inhaled. If the rabbit becomes ill, antibiotics will then be ineffective because of these changes. Discontinuing use of the shavings will return the liver to normal within a few weeks.

Dealing With A Not Very Common Problem
For some reason, some rabbits simply won’t stop urinating all over the floor of their crate. If this is the case with your rabbit, fill the crate with litter boxes so the rabbit has no choice but to use one. At first, s/he may use all of them but eventually s/he will probably stop using one of them – most often the one containing the food and water dishes. Remove a litter box after it has not been used for two weeks. It may take months, but usually a rabbit will stop using another litter box. When that box has been unused for two weeks, that one may also be removed. Eventually, most rabbits will finally accept and use only one litter box.

Summer and Winter Dangers

by Nancy J. LaRoche
Copyright 2002 – All Rights Reserved
(May be copied for free distribution)


Summer presents some unique dangers to our rabbits. Prevention is best, but should your rabbit be the victim of any of these dangers, contact a veterinarian familiar with rabbits immediately

Heat Stress
Danger: Heat is a major threat to rabbits. Direct sun at any temperature and temperatures over 80 degrees are dangerous. Panting, wet nose, and weakness indicate heat stress.

Prevention: Freeze water-filled, gallon plastic bottles and leave them with your rabbits during the daytime. Provide a large ceramic tile or flag stone to help absorb heat from the rabbits when they lie on it. Ensure an adequate supply of drinking water. Never leave a rabbit exposed to direct sunlight indoors or out! Draw drapes indoors and be certain that outdoor shade won’t move off as the sun’s direction changes.

First Aid: Move rabbit to a cool area. Wipe ears with cold water or alcohol. Place plastic bags filled with ice on either side of the rabbit. Don’t leave your rabbit to rest! Get veterinary care quickly.

Fly Strike
Danger: Flies (any fly, the larval stage of which is a maggot) lay eggs on the droppings in litter boxes or on any wound on a rabbit, including a surgical incision. Maggots hatch, dig through the rabbit’s skin, and proceed to eat the flesh. They also produce a neuro-toxin that paralyzes the rabbit.

Prevention: Keep your rabbits indoors in a fly-free environment. Keep your rabbits clean, especially in the genital area. Keep their litter box clean. Don’t let your rabbits dig in compost piles or any place where maggots might be. Check your rabbit all over, especially in the genital area, every morning and evening for signs of maggots moving under the skin.

First Aid: Get your rabbit to a good rabbit-veterinarian fast. 24-hour IV antibiotics and fluids are essential, and even that may not save your rabbit.

Danger: The cuterebra fly, common in Colorado, has an unusual life cycle, but the larvae end up under the skin of the rabbit (in some cases, in a nostril, or even in the brain). There, it creates a small breathing hole that becomes crusted with the waste from the larva. It absorbs nourishment, without destroying its host, and eventually leaves through the breathing hole.

There are two dangers from the cuterebra:
1. infections can occur in the pocket created by the cuterebra larva
2. If the larva’s body is damaged, the rabbit may go into anaphylactic shock

Prevention: Keep your rabbit indoors. Check them for lumps any where on the body, but don’t mess with a lump if you find one.

First Aid: Take your rabbit to a good rabbit veterinarian to have lumps diagnosed and dealt with.

Ingestion of Fur
Danger: Rabbits groom as cats do, thereby ingesting hair, especially when they are molting.* Unlike cats, rabbits are physically incapable of vomiting, so if the hair fails to pass, and begins collecting as a hairball, it can create a mass in the stomach making it impossible for the rabbit to eat. Veterinarians usually recommend surgery at this point, although we have had good success with a non-surgical treatment.

Prevention: Keep your rabbit well groomed and give them a papaya tablet once or twice a day,** increasing this to as much as three or four tablets twice a day.

First Aid: If your rabbit’s droppings appear to be getting smaller, give him or her several papaya tablets several times a day, and gently massage the stomach (which is high in the abdomen, partly under the “V” of the rib-cage.


Winter presents far fewer problems for rabbits than summer does. Rabbits handle cold better than heat, although either can be deadly. For house-rabbits, there are only two winter-time concerns.

Danger: Drafts can weaken a rabbit’s immune system, and cause them to succumb to illnesses.

Prevention: Keep your rabbits out of drafts

First Aid: Warm your rabbit up and move him or her out of the draft. Watch carefully for symptoms of any illness during the next few days.

Going in and outdoors
Danger: Rabbits do not tolerate sudden changes in temperatures.

Prevention: Do not take them outside from a warm house if there is more than 20° F difference between the indoor and outdoor temperature. An even greater danger is moving a rabbit from a cold environment into a warm one. Again, do not do this if there is more than 20° F. difference between the outside and inside temperatures.

* In the wild, rabbits molt in the spring and fall. The length of day is one factor that sets up when the rabbit will molt. In the middle of the winter, when it is coldest, the days begin getting longer. This causes the rabbit to shed the winter coat and grow the winter coat about three months later. Likewise, in the middle of the summer, days begin getting shorter, causing the rabbit to shed the summer coat and grow the winter coat about three months later. However, when we bring rabbits into our homes, and they are exposed to light until, perhaps 10 PM each evening, light ceases to be a factor in when they will shed. It is not unusual for house rabbits to begin a heavy shed in December or January.

** Papaya tablets have enzymes from papaya and pineapple, providing an easier way to give these than the fresh fruit. Rabbits usually like them, although to introduce them, you may need to crumble them over their pellets for a few days. Papaya tablets can be found at health food stores, but Oxbow makes one especially for rabbits that is much less expensive

Vincent and Maila


This bonded pair, Vincent; a male, and Maila; a female, are up for adoption. As with all our bonded couples, Vincent and Maila need to be adopted out together since we do not separate our bonded bunnies.



This beautiful female bun appears to be a young Californian. She is currently up for adoption and waiting for a wonderful forever home.