Animal Tales: Can rabbits be housebroken and live indoors?

Baby bunnies at the former Hannegan Farm and Home south of Lynden in March 2013. With a little preparation and training, people can make their homes welcoming for rabbits as house pets.
Baby bunnies at the former Hannegan Farm and Home south of Lynden in March 2013. With a little preparation and training, people can make their homes welcoming for rabbits as house pets. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Question: Can rabbits be housebroken and trained to live indoors?

Answer: Absolutely! Rabbits are social, sweet, inquisitive animals that make great house companions and can be easily trained to use a litter box. In fact, housing your rabbit companion inside instead of outside in an “old school” bunny hutch or enclosure will protect your rabbit from predators and keep it from unnecessary discomfort or suffering from living in outdoor weather environments including excessive heat and cold.

The first thing you’ll need to do when bringing your rabbit indoors is to make sure it is spayed or neutered. Unaltered rabbits, especially in the company of other rabbits, will most likely exhibit behavior issues that include “marking territory.”

Once your rabbit has been altered, it’s time to bunny proof your house. Rabbits chew — on everything! This includes items that can be extremely dangerous to them, like electrical cords and cables.

Visit the House Rabbit Society website, rabbit.org, for a list of supplies and tips on how to “bunny proof” your house, protect cables and cords and make sure your house is properly set up prior to bringing your bunny inside.

Ideally, you will want to allow your rabbit the ability to roam freely when you are home. However, when introducing your rabbit to a new environment, litter box training one, or when you are not home, you will want to house your rabbit in a safe, secure enclosure that is a minimum of four to six times the rabbit’s size. The more space the better. Your rabbit companion will need room to comfortably move around, lie down and stretch out.

The enclosure should include heavy, non-tip bowls (crocks are great!) for food and water, flooring (NOT enclosures with wire bottoms) with safe bedding, toys, snacks like hay and dark leafy greens, and a litter box specifically designed for rabbits (available at local pet supply stores).

The litter box should be filled with a hay- or paper-based litter product, as bunnies sometimes nibble on their litter. Some people add small amounts of hay to their rabbit’s litter box as well. DO NOT use clumping cat litter products, as the litter can clump in your rabbit’s digestive tract and stomach and cause serious injury. DO NOT use wood shavings or litter like pine or cedar as they also can cause health issues.

Place the litter box in a corner of your rabbit’s enclosure. It might be useful to place several litter boxes throughout your household while your rabbit acclimates to its new environment. Don’t be discouraged if your rabbit leaves “droppings” outside but nearby the litter box. The rabbit could be marking its territory and getting used to the surroundings.

Clean your rabbit’s litter box every day — no exceptions. Bunnies are clean and fastidious animals and they will not want to use dirty litter boxes.

Provide your rabbit with as much socialization and time outside his or her enclosure as possible. The more mental and physical stimulation your bunny can have, the better. There are several inexpensive items and toys that you can provide that will give your rabbit things to do and will help prevent boredom. These include: cardboard boxes with ramps and windows; untreated wicker baskets or boxes full of shredded paper, straw or other organic materials; paper towel or toilet paper rolls stuffed with hay; and rabbit-specific chew toys.

With proper planning and a commitment to your rabbit’s well-being and care, you will be sharing your household with your bunny companion in no time.

Animal Tales is a regular column written by Laura Clark, executive director of the Whatcom Humane Society. The society provides care and services to homeless, unwanted, orphaned and abused domestic and native wild animals in need. Have a question to ask? Email questions for this column to director@whatcomhumane.org. For information on the society, go to whatcomhumane.org.