Friday, June 14, 2013

Rabbit Housing Series: The Litterbox

The third and final installment in the housing series focuses on the most important feature in the rabbit pen: the litterbox.

Many rabbits spend a lot of time in their litterboxes, and use it not solely for elimination and hay consumption, but also view it as a comfortable place to take a nap, groom, or just hang out. 

Accordingly, the box itself  needs to be spacious enough to allow the rabbit to move around comfortably. For a medium-sized single rabbit, a cat litterbox, such as this one from Target, works perfectly. For a larger breed, or for a bonded pair or trio, invest instead in a large plastic container. They are large, cheap, and easy to clean. With multiple rabbits, I recommend having multiple litterboxes to increase chance of good habits. Multiple litterboxes are a good idea also if the rabbit-proofed area is large or encompasses several rooms. 

This plastic container is spacious enough for two.

Litterboxes should be cleaned frequently, about every three days, especially to avoid the buildup of ammonia that can cause respiratory issues when it becomes too concentrated.
White vinegar is a safe and effective cleaner.  
Setting up the Litterbox
I recommend lining the box with newspaper before adding a few inches of rabbit-safe litter. Carefresh and Yesterday’s News are great options for odor absorption and wood stove pellets are a great economical option. Some people like aspen shavings, but be sure to avoid pine or cedar chips as those have been linked to health issues. Additionally, avoid any clumping or dusty cat litters. 

Place a large amount of quality grass hay on one side of the litterbox and make sure the hay is replenished frequently. There should always be a generous portion of hay in the box, as it is integral for a rabbit's well-being. Rabbits tend to eat the hay from one side of the box and use the other side of the box for elimination purposes.

Common Litterbox Problems
Tipping over the box
If your rabbit is repeatedly tipping over his or her litterbox, switch to a larger and more substantial litterbox. You can also try switching to a heavier type of litter (wood stove pellets, for instance, are heavier than Carefresh, etc). For the really persistent rabbits, you can secure the box to the side of the cage/pen with some heavy duty zip ties. This problem, like most others, usually stems from boredom, so addressing the root of the problem is also integral.   

Digging in box
Nothing is more infuriating than coming home to an empty litterbox with the contents spread all around the floor next to it. A homemade or purchased grate can stop this problem easily.

Not using box
A rabbit who suddenly refuses to use a litterbox could be suffering from a medical issue, such as a urinary tract infection or stones, or even a neurologic or orthopedic problem preventing physical entry into the box. A young rabbit messing up previously perfect litterbox habits usually results from an increase in hormones as he or she enters puberty. All these warrant a visit to the veterinarian.

Lack of proper litterbox habits could be behavioral as well. Is the litterbox too dirty to be appealing? Does the rabbit prefer another type of litter? Is the box large enough to be accommodating? Some rabbits may need to be re-trained to use the litterbox.

Urinating next to box
Your rabbit is using the litterbox and yet you find urine next to or under the box. This is an indication  she may be urinating over the edge of the box. Watch closely the next time she urinates and you’ll notice her raising her hind end ever so slightly prior to urination. If the edges of the box are too low, your rabbit could accidently be missing the box. Try a box with a higher edge, one that is larger, or even a covered cat litterbox.

Are there any other problems I haven’t covered? Leave them in the comments section and I will address them as I can!


Mouse said...

It's endearing how each rabbit has their own set of habits when it comes to their litterpan.

My bun uses her box just fine, but when eating her hay she prefers to sit just outside of it where she frequently poos and pees just in front of the pan. I've done everything from rearranging to putting a panel of her pen just in front of the pan to block the area, but she then she just switches to peeing at the side of the pan. After a year long battle of wills, I conceded defeat and now put rubber sheets under the pan, a folded towel on top of it, and then one of her washable rugs over top of THAT. I change her "sheets" every 2-3 days. I do it for her because I love her and she loves to eat her hay that way. Oh well, as long as we understand each other, right? :)

The Rabbit Advocate said...

We humans can be as clever as we want, but sometimes (oftentimes...) the bunny wins out!

bee said...

My 2 bunnies keep on kicking the litter out of the tray as well as moving and sometimes even tipping the litter tray what can I do??

Becca said...

I built this website to help people with their hutch selection and accessories. We talk about splash guards(which we use in our setup) and that stopped our bunny spilling litter onto the ground too.

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Anonymous said...

Hiya! My bun-bun is relatively litter-trained (not perfect, but at least she keeps a good heap and all puddles in the litter box), but she's spent a strangely lengthy amount of time just sitting motionlessly in the litter-box this morning. This is new as she usually resides in or next to a cardboard box on a rug. More intel, while in the box, she didn't eat; apart from occasionally ducking to eat her cecotropes. If she was simply doing her business, I'm concerned about why it took her so long. Maybe she was just meditating in her litterbox for a change? I'm concerned it's something else, like constipation... I did indeed once, not too long ago, find four poops attached to a string of digested bunny hair, which would have made regular defecation more difficult. I don't know... any insight from well-seasoned bunny keepers would be much appreciated! : ) Thanks!

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