In this week’s Pet Talk, Maneka gives tips on training rabbit and deodorising the rabbit cage and keeping the home smell rabbit-free.
By Maneka Gandhi
How do I litter train my rabbit?
You can litter-train your bunny, but, spaying or neutering must come first. It is almost impossible to litter train an unspayed or unneutered rabbit. If you let the rabbit free in the house immediately, be prepared to have him consider your house as one very large litter box. Once this habit is established, it is very hard to change. By nature, rabbits choose one, or a few places (usually corners) to deposit their urine and most of their pellet-like faeces. Urine-training involves little more than putting a litter-box where the rabbit chooses to go. Pill training requires only that you give them a place they know will not be invaded by others.
Provide a small cat litter box (or a few) with low sides and no top. You can also use a shallow storage tub. Cut a doorway in one of the sides if it’s too tall. Don’t bother with the corner litter boxes advertised for bunnies, as they are too small. For litter, use recycled paper such as old newspapers. This will neutralise any unpleasant urine odours. Do not use clay-based or clumping litter as this is harmful to rabbits’ respiratory systems. Avoid wood shavings as well. Stay away from litters made from softwoods, like pine, or cedar shavings, or chips, as these products are thought to cause liver damage in rabbits who use them.
Put a thin layer of litter at the bottom of the litter box – just enough to absorb wetness. There’s no need to fill it too high since rabbits don’t bury their droppings like cats. Plus, when you clean the litter box, you dump the entire contents out each time. So, you will unnecessarily go through a lot of litter if you deeply fill the box each time.
Rabbits like to eat hay and poop at the same time. So, to promote good litter box habits, place hay either directly in the box over the litter or place it in a hay box next to the litter box. If you use a hay box, position it so the rabbit must hop into the litter box to reach the hay. It’s easiest to develop good litter box habits in rabbits by limiting their space at first. Use a puppy pen to confine your rabbit to one area, even if you intend to give him/ her free reign of your home eventually. This allows your rabbit to get acclimated to the area in the beginning. Once he consistently uses the litter box, you can gradually expand the area. If your rabbit starts “forgetting” to use the litter box, then limit the space again until good habits resume. Clean litter boxes often, to encourage your rabbit to use them. Use vinegar to rinse boxes out — for tough stains, let pans soak.
If accidents occur outside the box, mop up urine with a paper towel and pick up stray poop and place both in the litter box. This helps get the message across that the litter box is the place that they should do their business. Keep in mind that rabbits are generally not 100% perfect with their litter box. Sometimes they leave a few droppings next to the box, or they urinate over the edge of their box. This is normal, so placing a plastic mat under their litter box, or putting the litter box on a tile floor, makes it easier to clean up.
If you can see they’re about to go outside their litter box, try to pick them up and put them in the litter box, or corral them in. If your bunny is insistent on going in one corner of the room, sometimes it’s easier to give in to their stubbornness, and place a litter box in that corner. Sometimes when rabbits consistently choose another place to go, they are trying to tell you that that’s where they want to go. If your rabbit is pooping/ spraying pee everywhere, this is probably due to your rabbit marking his territory.
How do I keep my rabbit cage from smelling?
Rabbits don’t give off odours of their own; most of the odours associated with keeping a rabbit come from the cage. Deodorising the cage and keeping the home smelling rabbit-free isn’t difficult, and a few extra steps in the setup of the cage and training of the rabbit will make this considerably easier. A clean cage will mean a happy, healthy rabbit and will make the home free of any unwanted odours.
Rabbits are very clean animals that like to live in clean conditions. It is natural for them to poop and urinate in a corner, so they do very well with a litter box in the right type of set up. Change the litter box every day, or every other day. It is a good idea to keep white vinegar in a spray bottle, so when you empty the litter box you can spray it with vinegar to get it nice and clean. Place the litter box in the area the rabbit has selected for its bathroom corner. Droppings and urine are the main source of smell in the cage, and being able to remove the litter pan to clean regularly is easier than cleaning the whole cage. Change the litter in the box frequently. Rabbits are known for eating some of the litter and bedding in their cages, so use something organic such as hay or alfalfa as litter. This will not harm the rabbit, should it eat some, and will also absorb odours and smell fresh.
Replace soiled bedding as needed. Litter boxes should be emptied every few days and wiped clean with soap and water. Do not use harsh cleaning chemicals, as the odours left behind can cause health problems for the rabbit.
Give the cage a thorough cleaning at least once a month. Empty out all bedding, toys and dishes. Scrub the bottom of the cage with a mild bleach solution, using no more than a capful for a gallon of water. After scrubbing with this solution, wash the cage with soap and water to remove any bleach that has been left behind. Let the cage dry completely before putting everything back inside.
Another tip is to make sure the rabbit has gone through spaying or neutering, this will stop many unwanted behaviours and eliminate a lot of odours by decreasing the hormone activity of the rabbit. Feed a regular diet; changing the rabbit’s food can also result in some unwanted smells and the mess of diarrhoea.