Rabbits are a popular pet in the UK – the PDSA Paws Report estimated there are around 900 000 pet rabbits! Despite them being so popular their needs are sometimes not well met, and issues with diet and husbandry are seen. Something we are seeing more often now is indoor rabbits. Rabbits can live, in the correct conditions, both indoors and outdoors.
For those wanting to have indoor rabbits there are a couple of considerations. Once you have decided that an indoor bunny is for you then another important question to ask; can rabbits even be house trained?
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Some considerations to start
Firstly, before you decide that having a house bunny is the right choice for you, here are a few considerations.
Even if indoors, it is still advised that you vaccinate for myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease. This is because they can spread via infectious particles that could be carried on you. And by biting insects that could enter the house without you realising.
Neutering is also necessary – why? Firstly because of companionship. Even if you think your indoor bunny will get lots of attention from you and your family, your love and devotion still isn’t the same as a bunny interacting with another of its own kind. They use very special and subtle body language, mutually groom and help keep each other happy and calm.
Back to neutering; the best combination for a bonded pair is typically a neutered female and neutered male. Two males obviously can’t breed – but they will almost certainly fight. Two females, especially when hormonal, can also be extremely grumpy towards both each other and you. They are also prone to uterine cancer (Uterine Adenocarcinoma). As many as 80% over the age of 3 years old can experience this malignant cancer. So they need to be neutered. Neutered rabbits are easier to litter train if you have indoor bunnies; entire males can actually spray which you do not want them to do in your house as it’s very messy and smelly!
Diet is also important for indoor bunnies; we need plenty of good quality hay as they will not have access to grazing and will require lots of foraging opportunities to keep them entertained.
Space is also a MUST; rabbits are best kept in accommodation where they have permanent access to a large amount of space. The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund suggest a minimum of a single enclosed area of at least 3m x 2m by 1m high. This can include the sleeping areas, and have a footprint (accessible area of the ground or floor) of 3m x 2m as a minimum. Some hutches and cages sold at pet stores do not reach anywhere near these and space is really a must for rabbits’ health and welfare. So do you have room for your indoor bunny to allow them to play out permanently?
Yes I do want an indoor rabbit – can they be house trained?
Once you have decided that a house bunny (or if at all possible, bunnies!) is the right thing for you then we can start to think about house training. And yes you can litter train a bunny! This makes cleaning much easier as they can be very messy spreading their hay and poop around their enclosure.
Toileting is a big one to start with. This is because if they are indoors you want to be able to keep their area very clean and easy to sort daily. Rabbits can suffer from myiasis or fly strike. This is usually if they get a soiled rear and flies lay eggs on them which hatch into maggots; which is a life-threatening condition. To avoid this, we need to check our rabbits’ bottoms regularly to ensure they aren’t soiled. We must also regularly change our animal’s litter to avoid attracting flies to their accommodation. This is where litter training can help because we can clean their toileting areas quickly and regularly.
How do I start?
Rabbits are generally quite easy to litter train. Occasionally things can happen, and accidents may occur, or they may not understand straight away.Iit will take a bit of work to get it spot on.
One way to litter-train your rabbits is to start off with a litter tray and keep the bunny in a slightly smaller area. Rabbits typically like to poo and eat/chew at the same time so putting a litter tray next to their feeding station can help. The tray is best placed where they have already chosen to toilet. Alternatively, you could try putting some of their droppings and urine in the tray and encourage them to go in there. Keep them confined to this area and gradually increase the time and space they are allowed to access once they are reliably using their tray. Make sure you use a non-clumping bedding or litter, and don’t use anything that could be toxic to them. Do not use anything clay based, or made from pine which they could chew and ingest, as this can make them poorly.
Bunnies may never be entirely house trained in terms of keeping them from chewing dangerous objects and therefore it’s always worth ‘rabbit proofing’ their enclosure to ensure they can’t nibble through anything dangerous. This includes electrical wires, certain toxic house plants and chewing of other items – don’t leave anything in reach that you don’t want destroyed or that would be dangerous or toxic if chewed. Provide them with plenty of safe branches and forage to avoid this.
At the end of the day…
Overall, rabbits can be house trained and can make WONDERFUL pets when all their welfare needs are met. Remember though that rabbits are certainly not easy pets to own and take a huge amount of time and financial commitment. Once you have decided that you are ready, an indoor pair of bonded bunnies can make a really lovely addition to your house and with a little guidance can definitely be house trained!