A question from Trish M. in Marion, OH:
Q: I am noticing that when I change my rabbits' litterboxes that there is a brownish tinge to it, almost looks like old blood, but I am wondering if this is due to the urine and pebbles mixing or if it could be something else? Does this sound familiar? I put down newspaper and pine chips, but then it has a grate over that so they don't get to the chips or anything. Any suggestions?
A: While it can be very troubling to see little puddles of dark reddish urine in your rabbits' litterbox, this is not necessarily anything worry about. Certain vegetable pigments can turn a rabbit's urine to a bright red, dark brown or even a dark yellow color. However, if the change in urine color is accompanied by a change in litterbox habits, a change in behavior (acting sluggish or depressed), or a change in dietary habits, then a vet visit is definitely warranted. A veterinarian can test for the presence of blood in the urine and check for kidney disease, reproductive cancers, etc.
On a sidenote, you do mention that you use pine chips as the litter. Despite the prevalence and availability of these litters in pet stores, pine chips and other wood shavings have been shown to cause liver damage in rabbits. Switch to a pelleted paper litter, such as Yesterday's News and add a generous layer of timothy hay on top. (Yesterday's News, while being perfectly safe, also has unbeatable absorbency, odor control, and is environmentally friendly as it's made from recycled newspapers). The good news is that any sustained liver damage from the shavings can clear up once the litter is switched. And with using a safe litter, you'll no longer need a grate to cover the ever-so-fun-to-dig-in litterbox.