Why did my rabbit stop using the litter box?

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Litter training a rabbit is actually pretty simple (depending on the rabbit) in comparison to e.g. house training a dog. A lot of people are unaware that it’s even possible to litter train a rabbit, never mind that it’s actually pretty simple.

Please note that the level to which you can train a bunny varies from rabbit to rabbit. For example, my big blue bunny never did so much as one poop outside of her litter tray EVER. That is NOT the case with my other buns, who very rarely peed outside of the litter tray but pooped as and when was convenient.

At least bunny poop’s dry!

Rabbits may stop using their litter box because:

  • Their surroundings have changed
  • They don’t feel safe
  • They’re hormonal
  • They’re territorial
  • They have mobility issues such as arthritis
  • They have health problems like a UTI
  • You’re not changing their litter box as frequently as they’d like

Rabbits may stop using their litter box if their surroundings have changed

Rabbits are sensitive souls that don’t like change, and if you move house or change their set up, you may be back to square one regarding litter training. In fact, I’d recommend starting from scratch rather than spot correcting, because it’ll probably be faster in the long run.

This isn’t just the case with rabbits – a lot of unsettled animals have accidents, so don’t worry unduly. Once your rabbit calms down again they’ll probably be back to using the tray, but by starting from scratch you prevent any bad habits forming in the interrim.

Rabbits may stop using their litter box if they don’t feel safe

If you’ve ever been woken up at 4am by frantic thumping, or had your afternoon nap disturbed by scared bunny zooms, you’ll understand just how little it takes to frighten a bunny. A dog barking, a kid going by on roller blades, next door using the blender… rabbits have big ears, and can hear a lot more than you.

Dimming the lights can really help bunnies – just be sure it’s not so dark that they can’t see. Always make sure they have a safe space to retreat to where you don’t go, and try to not to grab them from there if at all possible.

Bunnies do find comfort in one another so if your litter training efforts are being thwarted by a frightened rabbit, consider getting them a friend.

Telling a bunny off won’t help. They don’t understand. Clean up any accidents (spraying diluted biological washing liquid onto the stain is great for removing the smell and stopping reoccurrence) and retrain them.

Rabbits may stop using their litter box if they’re hormonal

Rabbits of either sex mark their territory by spraying urine. If they’re still intact there’s not a lot you can do to stop this.

Spaying and neutering rabbits goes a long way to stopping them spraying, as well having a host of other health benefits – it’s one of the most important steps you can take to improve your rabbit’s health.

It can take a few months for hormones to subside, so don’t panic if your bunny continues spraying after they’ve been neutered.

Rabbits may stop using their litter box if they’re feeling territorial

When you’re bonding bunnies, or get another pet you may find that your rabbit starts playing it fast and loose with the litter box. Again, the only thing you can do is retrain them, but don’t expect much progress until your rabbit has settled down.

If your rabbit is feeling territorial thats completely natural, since rabbits are territorial in the wild – males so they maintain breeding rights and females so they can protect their young.

Again, neutering your rabbit and ensuring that they have a safe space to retreat to can really help a territorial bun.

Rabbits may stop using their litter box if they’re having mobility issue

House rabbits live much longer than outside rabbits (domestic and wild), and when your bunny approaches old age, it’s likely that they’ll be less spritely than they once were.

My Dutch bunny made it to 11 and he didn’t really get any issues like this, but my German lop had mild arthritis towards the end. This meant that she could no longer jump in and out of her litter box like she once could.

By the way you can ask your vet to prescribe Meloxicam (it has a few brand names so it may have a different name in your area) to make your rabbit more comfortable if they’re having trouble moving. It can cause kidney failure and shorten your rabbit’s life but their comfort is more important than the length of their life.

Anyway, I changed from a regular litter box to one with a dropped front that she could step into rather than hop. I got mine from Amazon (it’s just a potting tray) but garden centres sell them too.

Rabbits may stop using their litter box if they’re having health issues

If your rabbit randomly stops using the litter box and is peeing elsewhere or not peeing at all, you must take them to the vet as soon as you can. Rabbits are very good at hiding illness so you need to keep an eye out for external clues. Urinary tract infects, kidney issues, and bladder stones could all be reasons your rabbit isn’t peeing.

By the way, rabbit pee is weird, so don’t panic is you see crazy pee. Consult a reputable rabbit website (I’m afraid I don’t have access to pictures of weird-ass rabbit pee but this one looks like a resource) to diagnose pee. Go to a vet if you have any doubts.

And remember that red pee is more normal in rabbits that you’d think.

Rabbits may stop using their litter box if it’s not changed frequently enough

How often you change your rabbit’s litter depends on a few factors:

How many litter trays you have

I have two bunnies and two massive litter trays, so I totally replace the litter and clean the tray once a week. Well, my boyfriend does. We just spot clean the rest of the week

How trained your bunny is

If your bunny is new to litter training, it might be an idea to leave at least a bit of soiled litter in the tray at all times, just to ensure the bunny knows exactly where to go. Even when you change the litter, keep a bit of the old litter back and put it in the clean tray to reinforce the idea.

How big your rabbit is

Isobel (the one that never ever ever had one single accident) was a BIG rabbit (so big that she was always the centre of attention at the vets) and she peed A LOT. We changed her tray every couple of days a) because it would have overflowed and b) because she clearly valued being clean.

That sounds ridiculous to some people, but I want my rabbits to be happy. She had a sad backstory and was extremely scared and aggressive – but my god her litter training was on point. And if keeping her space clean would mean that she was happier then it was a no brainer.

I obviously have no actual idea how this affected her but I like to think that it helped her calm down (which she did, a lot). She liked to have her hay in the litter box and would only use one box, so we got a huge shallow plastic box.

She had enough room to lay down and chill (a lot of rabbits choose to sleep in their litter box) but wasn’t lying in her own…leavings.

A lot of people advocate against letting rabbits sleep in their litter box, but if that’s what your bunny wants to do, it’s pretty pointless trying to stop them. Instead, get a bigger litter box and clean it out more frequently.

Fun fact: Big Blue Isobel (I’ve had two Isobels, which is confusing, I know) is the only rabbit we’ve been able to give cosy blankets and beds to because she would never pee on them. Obviously she wasn’t interested. The only cosy things she liked were throw pillows, which she’d destroy.

The others have all loved blankets and snuggly beds, but peed on them indiscriminately. Personality has a LOT to do with litter training.

How to retrain your rabbit to use their litter box

The most important thin you can do is limit your rabbit’s space. If they’re free roam, get them an X pen. If they jump out, cover it with a sheet and peg it.

If they’re in a large pen (which they should be) make it smaller. Not so small that they can’t run about, but you know, smaller. It’s all about sending a message.

If they pee somewhere, clean it up (biological washing powder removes the smell, but rinse the area well after) and put a litter box there. You may need multiple litter boxes before they get the idea.

How long does it take to retrain a rabbit to use a litter tray? It varies a lot, but rabbits are pretty quick learners in this respect. Be aware that there may be some area of your home that your rabbit is desperate to pee in – it’s better to lean in to that rather than attempt to curb it, so either make it inaccessible or put a litter box there.

It’s unlikely that your rabbit will get every poop in the box. Big Blue Isobel was the exception that proved the rule, so it can happen, but it’s pretty unusual.

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