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Rabbits/Litter pan training/use of bedding/digging?

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Bunny Hutch Base
Bunny Hutch Base  

Finished Bunny Hutch
Finished Bunny Hutch  
Last week, after years of being begged by our children for a pet, we decided upon 2 brother dwarf lionheads.  We provided them with a large outdoor 2 story hutch that has a nesting area, next to a large open enclosed area that has a ramp down to a fully open floored bottom.  We were told that the bunnies were 6 weeks old.  I have several questions that I can't seem to get answers for, so I'm hoping you can help.  We are trying to get them to use a litter pan (it's only been 6 days). They predominantly use the nesting area to do their business.  We have placed a large litterpan in the lower level on the grass that we would like them to train to use.  Every morning, we scoop the poop into the litter box.  We were told to do this & leave it there for about 2 weeks & the bunnies would realize by the smell that they should do their business there.  However, I'm wondering if we should follow their lead & put 2 small litter pans in the nesting area?  Also, we have a cage that we used to transport them & we had filled a small litterpan in it with bedding during the transport.  We found that they liked to lay in it... and poop in it.  Is that normal behavior or were they possibly looking for a small enclosed area to feel more secure.  After the transport was over and they were left in the cage, they seemed to really like sitting in the litter pan filled with bedding.  I haven't put as much bedding where they sleep, because I thought it would make them want to poop there, but I want them to be comfortable & with the small amount of bedding I've been using, they're NOT pooping in the bedding, just in the nesting area, where I don't put any bedding. It seems that they want the opposite of what I want & I don't know if what I want is what's best for them. And one last question (for now), I heard one of the bunnies trying to dig on the solid floor of the upper level.  Won't they try to dig in the grass if they want to dig?  That's the reason we put the slates down... so they couldn't escape, but my husband thinks they need dirt.  Any advice?

Answer
Dear Laura,

Sometimes it's best to just relent and realize "bunny knows best" when it comes to litterbox placement.  Rather than fight to try and train them to a spot where they are not comfortable "doing their business", just put litterboxes where they go naturally.  They've chosen the nesting area as their toilet, so who's to argue, as long as the rest of the hutch stays nice and tidy.

Bunnies love to snooze in a soft, protected bed such as the litterpan.  We fill our litter boxes with about 1" of pelleted sawdust litter and cover that with a layer of soft hay to make it foot-comfortable.  They tend to sit in the box and munch hay as they use the box for its intended purpose (toilet).  Pile the hay at one end so they can face out while munching and use the corner of the box for the toilet.

And yes, bunnies LOVE to dig in dirt.  Since you have grass over the slate, don't be surprised if they dig down to the stones and do some rearranging and engineering.  Female bunnies are more adept at that than males, in most cases.  But males love to dig, too.  It's good, healthy, natural exercise for them.  Just keep an eye out to be sure they don't tunnel out and make themselves vulnerable to predators.

Finally, please know that even a nice, sturdy hutch such as yours is NOT safe from predators.  A determined raccoon can get into the hutch or grab the bunny through the small holes (it doesn't take much!) and you could have a tragedy.  It would be wise to double wire the entire hutch for safety, but that's not perfect, either.  The best situation is to have the hutch as outdoor playtime during the day (preferably when someone is around to monitor the situation) and bring the bunnies inside at night.  As you can see, they easily train to a litterbox, and they are much better indoor companions (akin to a dog or cat) than outdoors, where they can easily be forgotten and lose their initial charm.

For the best information on how to train your bunnies to be house rabbits, please visit:

http://www.rabbit.org

Hope this helps.

Dana

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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

Expertise

I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

RULE #1:
THE INTERNET IS NOT THE PLACE TO SEEK HELP IN AN EMERGENCY.

...it is an EMERGENCY.

Find a rabbit vet at www.rabbit.org/vet for immediate help, and don't risk your bunny's life by spending time asking questions online! If you can't get in touch with your vet, read these Emergency Sick Bunny Instructions.

If you have found a wild baby rabbit, please read these EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR WILD BABY RABBITS and then use this link to FIND A LOCAL WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR who can give you the right advice.


RULE #2:
Help me help you! Please make your subject line informative if you have an urgent question. then LET ME KNOW IN THE SUBJECT LINE so I can give your question highest priority over non-urgent questions. If you don't do this, then I can't guarantee timely assistance!

For all the best, most accurate rabbit health, care and behavior information, visit The House Rabbit Society.

Experience

I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Organizations
Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

Publications
Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Education/Credentials
Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology
(http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare)

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