rabbit sitting in litter box
Place clean, fresh hay in the litter box daily. Many rabbits enjoy lounging in the litter box and it becomes a sanctuary for them. iStock.com/bunnylovinggrl

Rabbits are complicated little souls. They tend to go to the bathroom in the same area, which makes them good candidates for using a litter box. But just because they can understand the concept of using a litter box, this doesn’t always mean that they will. If your bunny is peeing and pooping outside the litter box, don’t get upset. Get curious! Litter box habits can give you insight into your furry friend’s thoughts, feelings, and health.

Begin At The Beginning

First things first. If you just added a bunny to your family, don’t expect great litter box habits right away. You don’t know what training your new pal has had, and transitioning to a new home is stressful. Even litter box all-stars can experience accidents after a move. Give your bunny a couple of weeks to settle in. Provide several litter boxes of different sizes with low entrances in the areas where your pal roams. Seed them with a bit of his or her feces; not enough to make the litter box dirty, just enough to give your rabbit the idea that this is the place to go. Clean all litter boxes daily.

Rule Out Medical Issues

If your rabbit is new to your home, you likely already took your buddy to a rabbit-savvy veterinarian for an initial checkup. Rabbits should be spayed/neutered for the best litter box success, otherwise instinct will drive them to marking behavior. If your pal still frequently misses the litter box after a couple of weeks or if the litter box habits seem more like accidents than the result of ignorance, it’s time for another veterinary visit.

A visit to the vet is also needed if your longtime bunny friend suddenly begins missing the litter box. Your rabbit can’t tell you if he or she isn’t feeling well and probably wouldn’t do so even if it were possible. This is because rabbits are prey animals who instinctively hide signs of illness. That’s why litter box habits are so important. Sudden changes in use of the litter box or output might be early signs of illness.

Observe Your Rabbit

Once your veterinarian clears your rabbit of any health issues that might be causing litter box problems, put on your detective hat and observe your rabbit. Through observation and experimentation, you should be able to solve the mystery of why your rabbit is missing the litter box. Note that most rabbits have occasional litter box accidents and stray fecal pellets are part of life with rabbits. A problem might exist if your rabbit is regularly, once a day or more, peeing outside the litter box.

Observe your rabbit to answer the following questions.
1. Do misses happen all the time, or only in certain situations?
2. Have you changed anything in your rabbit’s environment recently (moved furniture, switched litter boxes, switched litter, added someone to the household, etc.)?
3. Do you have enough litter boxes?
4. Could the type of litter box, type of litter or location of the litter box be an issue?

Environment And Litter Box Accidents

If loud noises, certain people, other pets or other specific stimuli seem to be the cause of your rabbit’s litter box accidents, do what you can to minimize exposure to these things. If no specific stimuli seem to cause the problem and your veterinarian says your rabbit is healthy, it might be time to revisit litter box training.

Rabbits can’t tell us how they’re feeling, but they often show us. Refusing to use the litter box or going near it instead of in it could be your bunny’s way of sending you a message. Think about any changes that have occurred in your bunny’s life since the problem began. This might be something obvious like switching to a different type of litter box or adding a rabbit or other pet to the family, or it might be something very subtle, such as changing laundry soap or getting a new television. A change in laundry soap will change how things smell around your home and a change in television will change the sounds in your home. Rabbits pick up on these things.

Many times changes don’t matter, but sometimes they do. Experiment by changing back things that you can to test your rabbit’s reaction. If things can’t be changed back or you want changes to remain, talk to your rabbit about what’s happened and why a change was needed. No, your furry friend won’t understand all of your words, but your tone and attention can convey a lot. Give your pal more time to adjust. Bring your rabbit near the location of a change and offer a special treat. Do this on and off for a few weeks to create positive feelings toward the change.

Experiment With Litter, Litter Box, And Location

One of the simplest solutions to litter box accidents is to increase the number of litter boxes. A rabbit who has free-roam of one or several rooms might not be able to make it back in time if there’s only one box and it’s more than a hop or two away when Nature calls. If more than one rabbit is using the litter boxes, perhaps a dirty box isn’t acceptable to the rabbit suffering the accidents.

The location of the litter box, type of box, and type of litter are also factors that might meet with rabbit disapproval. If your rabbit consistently has accidents in a certain spot, put a litter box there if it’s a safe location. If accidents are happening all over a room or the house, think about whether the locations have something in common. Are they partially hidden? Put a litter box in a similar location.

What about the litter box itself? If it’s new to your rabbit, perhaps your pal doesn’t like the size, shape, or entry. Try a different type. Maybe your rabbit prefers puppy pads or newspapers. Try these same solutions even if your rabbit previously used a litter box successfully for a while. Perhaps something has changed in your rabbit’s mind to make the box undesirable. Aging rabbits might no longer wish to hop into a high-sided box.

Paper, recycled paper, kiln-dried pine, and other types of litter are safe for rabbits. If your rabbit just joined your family, he or she might not recognize the type of litter you offer as being litter. And any rabbit might object to any type of litter “just because.” It’s not common, but it’s something to explore if your rabbit is having a problem. Try switching to a different litter or even using puppy pads, incontinence pads, or newspapers.

Your Buddy For Life

Despite all your efforts, it’s possible that your rabbit might continue to have litter box accidents. This is no reason to give up on your pal. Accidents could stop as mysteriously as they began. Meanwhile, many products can help minimize the effects of accidents.

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