Traditionally, rabbits have
been kept in a hutch in the garden.
Nowadays more and more people keep their rabbits indoors; with a little
training rabbits can become a delightful addition to your household and offer as
much companionship as more traditional house pets. House rabbits also fit very well into
the lifestyle of a working person.
House rabbits can display more natural behaviour patterns than hutch-kept
rabbits and because they get plenty of exercise, rarely develop skeletal
problems seen in some caged rabbits.
However, house rabbits are
not suitable pets for everyone.
Just like cats and dogs they can be demanding and destructive, especially
as youngsters. Even after training
and “bunny-proofing”, some wear and tear on the household furnishings as well as
a bit of mess such as pet hair is inevitable. (Further information about keeping house
rabbits can be obtained from the dedicated JSPCA Animals’ Shelter ‘House rabbit’
What type of rabbit would be
suitable as a house rabbit?
Any rabbit can be a house
rabbit. Rabbits over one years of
age are usually quicker to train as house rabbits and it’s easier to assess the
personality of an adult rabbit, but house rabbits can be pure or cross bred,
male or female, youngsters or adults.
Adult rabbits over one year old are easier to litter train and are
generally less destructive, especially if they have been neutered.
The JSPCA Animals’ Shelter is
often flooded with domestic pet rabbits awaiting new homes. Why not adopt a rescue rabbit? At the JSPCA, all of the rabbits
available for re-homing have been micro-chipped, vaccinated and neutered.
Wild rabbits are clean
animals that go to the toilet in large areas away from their burrows. They are also highly territorial
animals, using faeces and urine as sexual and territorial markers. Marking behaviour is reduced, but not
totally removed in the neutered, housetrained pet rabbit, who may occasionally
eliminate in ‘inappropriate’ places if his routine is disturbed or his territory
violated in some way.
Rabbits tend to urinate in
just one of a few places and can be litter trained at any age. It is generally easier to litter train
rabbits if they have been neutered and many problems associated with house
training rabbits are easily solved by having the rabbit neutered.
General pointers for house
o Cover the floor of the cage with
newspaper. Put the litter tray in
one corner of the rabbit’s cage or living area and place at least another one in
his exercise area.
o Fill the tray with
newspaper covered with hay or straw or the organic paperbased litter. Do not use softwood or clumping cat
litters as they can harm your rabbit.
o To encourage your rabbit to use the tray, you could try putting a treat in one corner – rabbits like to chew on something whilst they are going to the toilet. Also, remove any stray droppings and place them in the litter tray. Rabbits recognise their toilet area by smell, until they get into the habit of using a particular area. Therefore, until your rabbit is reliably using his litter tray, adding stray droppings into the litter tray can help encourage its use.
o Don’t place the litter tray
too close to the bed in your rabbit’s cage.
o Initially, it may be
necessary to confine your rabbit to his cage on the first day, until he starts
to use the tray reliably.
o Avoid going into the cage
when the rabbit is in it – this will help to prevent territorial marking.
o Remember, baby rabbits,
like puppies, are easily distracted and take time to learn.
Baby rabbits (8 - 14 weeks of
age) generally will not have good control over bladder and bowel functions,
although some babies (especially bucks) do remarkably well. They will usually urinate in their
litter tray when confined in their cage, but will forget to go back to the tray
if given too much freedom too soon; a cage is essential to use as a home base
for house rabbits. Therefore, baby
rabbits need frequent, brief, supervised playtimes outside of their cage. Those that do learn to use their trays
at a young age often forget about it when they reach sexual maturity.
“Teenage” rabbits (approx 14
weeks of age onwards) reaching sexual maturity are usually very difficult to
housetrain until they have been neutered and hence their hormones have settled
Mature rabbits (over 8 months
and neutered), particularly those living as single house rabbits, should be
easily litter trained to use their litter tray for all urination and virtually
all defaecation. Rabbits kept with
other rabbits tend to leave a few more droppings scattered about, but should
urinate in their litter tray.
Rules for successfully
house-training your rabbit:
• If you want a house rabbit
to enjoy living free range (when supervised) as soon as possible, adopt an
adult. Baby rabbits will often
require supervision until at least 7 or 8 months of age.
• Neutering is absolutely
essential. It will be difficult to
housetrain an un-neutered rabbit of either sex. Neutering has health benefits, as well
as behavioural benefits.
• If your rabbit is making a
lot of mistakes outside his tray regularly, remember some rabbits do take longer
to train than others.
The type of litter that you
use in your rabbit’s litter tray should be something that will absorb urine and
odour, be easy to handle and dispose of, and that isn’t hazardous to your
rabbit. Do not use softwood or
clumping cat litters as they can harm your rabbit. Simply, a layer of newspaper covered
with hay or straw can be used.
Rabbits like to chew whilst they are going to the toilet and the presence
of hay in the litter tray offers the opportunity for the rabbit to do so. However, litter trays lined with
newspaper will need to be changed daily.
Common house training
o If an adult house rabbit that is usually
well house trained starts to urinate frequently around the house, this could
indicate a urinary problem and the rabbit should be taken to your local
veterinary surgery for a health check. Urinary tact infections, urinary stones
(calculi) or ‘sludge’ can cause urinary problems in rabbits. Neurological or kidney damage caused by
the parasite Encephalitozoan cuniculi can also cause urinary
o Housetraining behaviour may
lapse in a male neutered adult rabbit if a female rabbit is introduced to the
family. The male rabbit may urinate
and defaecate around the house.
This is normal rabbit territorial behaviour and is often seen when new
rabbits enter the home. Eventually
the rabbit will stop territorial marking when he bonds to the new arrival.
o Urine spraying – this
behaviour in rabbits is almost entirely dependant on hormones and often ceases
after the rabbit is neutered.
Castrating or spaying an older adult rabbit will also help to stop the
spraying behaviour, as well as reducing the strong odour of the urine.