Many rabbit owners allow their buns to run freely in the house, just the way a cat or a dog would. Others who do not know much about rabbits may think it is cute but may ask… "But don't they go…you know, all over the place”? They may also question, perhaps, the hygiene standards of the rabbit owner's home.
Without training and facilities, rabbits certainly would urinate and defecate all over a human house, and it certainly would be gross. But many rabbits use a litter box, just as cats do, and they use it quite fastidiously. The fact is, rabbits, like many other creatures, like to pee and poop in the same place all the time, so teaching them to use a litter box is relatively easy.
Before you start litter-box training, you need to understand two things about rabbit elimination habits.
First of all, rabbits pee and poop… 1) for relieving themselves and 2) to mark their territory. You can reduce that marking behavior dramatically by spaying or neutering your pet, which will reduce the hormones that make rabbits possessive of their space.
Second, litter-box training is a process. Once in a while, a genius rabbit figures out the litter-box concept as soon as you introduce it to her, but most rabbits need a little time and some heartfelt encouragement to get with the program. Litter-box training is most effective if you do it in a series of steps. It's easiest to start in a small space, like a cage or a puppy pen. Within a day, you'll notice that your rabbit uses one area to pee and, probably, to poop. (If it's a new cage, your rabbit may poop all over it to mark it.) Simply put a litter box filled with litter in the already established "bathroom" corner. When your rabbit hops in and lifts his tail (a sign that he's relieving himself), tell him what a smart rabbit he is and give him a small treat.
Rabbits are creatures of habit and most will learn to use a litter box within a few days. But rabbits also need to exercise outside their cages, so it's good to teach them to return to the cage when they need to go. To do this, simply expand your rabbit's training area. You can put a puppy pen around the cage, for instance. Or you can let him run around the room where his cage is, as long as he can get back in his cage to use the litter box when he needs to. Again, praise him every time he uses the box and give him a treat. If he lifts his tail outside the cage, clap your hands, say "No! Go in the box!" and herd him back toward the cage.
Most rabbits will learn to return to the litter box (from a small running space) within a week. If you'd like to have a free-running rabbit in your home, continue to gradually expand his running area: from one room to two rooms to three rooms and so on. You may find that he chooses new bathroom spots-in a far corner of his room, for instance- or behind the couch in the living room. This is to be expected. Just stick a litter box where he goes. Eventually your rabbit will wean himself from all but one or two primary boxes.
One important note: Hitting or yelling at rabbits who pee or poop outside their boxes doesn't work; it scares them, and they don't understand what they've done wrong. Instead, work with your rabbit's natural instincts… which is to use one spot for a bathroom and motivate him with positive reinforcement. Just like any pet, praise reinforces good behavior!
Such as those marketed for cats, are not good for rabbits, as the litter can clump in a rabbit's stomach if ingested.
Pine or Cedar Shavings
These are not good for rabbits, because the fumes from wet shavings can cause liver damage.
These are excellent choices for rabbits, such as one made from alfalfa, oat, citrus, or paper.
Hay or Straw
These are fine to use but neither absorbs urine very well and the smell can get pretty nasty.
Rabbits are easy to litter-box train, but even the best-trained bunnies sometimes make mistakes. Some common concerns are:
Peeing outside the box - If the rabbit is leaving urine puddles or dribbles near his box or around his cage or room, he may have a bladder infection, which requires prompt veterinary attention. Or, if he's hanging his butt off the side of the box when he's in it, you may need to get him a bigger box or a rubber mat to protect the floor.
Eating poop - It's perfectly normal for rabbits to duck their heads between their legs and come up chewing on droppings. The soft pellets (they look like clusters of grapes) that a rabbit eats directly from his anus are called "cecal pellets" and are rich in vitamins and minerals.
Using his box as his bed - Lots of rabbits like to flop out in the litter box and nap. This makes perfect sense: The box has nice sides and soft bedding. Don't worry about your rabbit mixing up bed and bath facilities. As long as the litter isn't wet, it won't hurt him to lie there.
Using my bed as his box - Unfortunately, some rabbits also decide that human sleeping places make good peeing places. Again, this makes sense: The bed is soft, just like a litter box, and he knows you sleep there. You can banish him from the bedroom entirely. Or you can try monitoring your rabbit closely in the bedroom, being sure to take him off the bed as soon as he gets on it, and saying "No, no bunny" each time he does it. Adrenaline junkies can also try waiting for him to lift his tail on the bed and then whisking him off to his box while saying, "In the box! In the box!" You do run some risk of getting your blankets or clothing soaked with that approach, however.
Keep in mind that rabbits, just like dogs need consistency and positive reinforcement when it comes to their training.