For many people considering adopting a rabbit, they’ve never heard of rabbits living indoors and using litter pans. Their only experience with litterpans is from cats, so they are often at a loss as to what a rabbit needs for its litterbox, and what cat products can and can’t be used. I’d like to offer this post to helping folks understand the various options available and how to make a good informed selection.
There are two parts to a litterbox: the box, and the litter.
The most commonly sold type of rabbit litter box is a triangle-shaped box with a high corner. They are sold in the small pet section of stores, and typically come in two sizes – an 8″ diagonal, or a 13″ diagonal.
Both versions of this pan are too small, even for dwarf rabbits. The high back looks attractive because rabbits do tend to back up and squirt urine behind them – but in these small pans, it’s just as common for the rabbit to face the corner, and hang their butts over the back and pee or poop on the floor next to the litter box! Rating: UNACCEPTABLE
Another version of this pan also has a high back, but is a square, about 13″x13″. These pans are a little better than the corner pan, but still too small for large bunnies, and the very low front may mean that even small rabbits end up peeing over the side onto the floor. Rating: POOR TO FAIR
In general, I find it better to choose a cat litter box instead of one marketed for rabbits. A rabbit’s litter box needs to be large enough that he can get totally inside it and turn around comfortably. I also recommend high sides so that even a big bunny can pee without going over the edge. The only thing you might want to avoid is a covered box – most rabbits will treat a covered litter box like a den, and use it for napping and not as a toilet.
This cat litter pan is an excellent choice for bunnies: it’s available everywhere, is large enough for most rabbits at 14″ by 10″, and is 3.5″ tall which is tall enough for all but the largest or most directionally challenged bunnies. It’s also only about $3, which is about a third of the cost of a pan marketed for rabbits. Rating: EXCELLENT
Some rabbits will still have trouble with any commercially available box, and you’ll need to get creative.
My favorite litter box – one I use for almost all my rabbits – is a 10 gallon Rubbermaid brand “Roughneck Storage Box”. It’s 23.9″ by 15.9″, and nearly 8.5″ deep – perfect even for my 10 lb New Zealand white. At $5 each, they are quite affordable even for households which need multiple pans. The bottoms aren’t perfectly smooth, so they are a little harder to clean – I recommend scraping them out with a small dust pan, then wiping them clean with paper towels and white vinegar every time, so that crud doesn’t build up in the indentations and corners. For smaller rabbits, such as Flax here, I cut a “door” in the side using a sharp box cutter. The bunnies have 4 deep corners to pee against, and the door is still 4″ deep so it still contains most of the mess from even the most industrious diggers. One thing to note – some bunnies just can’t resist nibbling those crisp edges, so I cover them with split lengths of 1/2″ or 3/4″ PVC pipe or plastic tubing. Rating: EXCELLENT
Special needs or elderly rabbits may have trouble getting into litter boxes with tall sizes, yet may still need the deep walls to contain accidents. I recently found some very nice litter pans marketed for dogs. They have one side with a very low door (about 2″ high) but the inside is spacious and deep. They come in a variety of sizes. The only disadvantage is that they are very expensive – about $20 for the large 24″x30″ size that I use for my large elderly lop. Rating: VERY GOOD
Whichever litter pan you select, keep in mind that rabbits prefer to have a choice, so offering multiple boxes is always a good idea. If your cage is not large enough for two litter boxes, your cage is too small! Putting hay inside the litter box, or in a rack above it, is also a good way to encourage good litter box habits.
For the most part, cat litter products cannot be used for rabbits. Rabbits almost always eat a portion of their litter, so clay-based, mineral-based, or “natural clumping” cat litters can all cause blockages and death.
There are one or two products sold for cats which are acceptable for rabbits. I’ll mention these below. Usually, one version of the product is packaged for cats, and another for rabbits. However, keep in mind that the cat version will almost always be cheaper than a version packaged specifically for rabbits, but the product inside is identical.
Over the years I have tried almost every litter product there is. I’ve used shredded paper, Carefresh, Yesterday’s News (YN), Cell-Sorb, Feline Pine, pine stove pellets, aspen shavings, and kiln-dried pine. My ratings are as follows:
Aspen and pine shavings are pretty cheap ($11 for a month’s worth), but they are TERRIBLE as rabbit litter. They don’t really absorb much urine, they don’t cover the odor at all, they easily get kicked out of the box, and they are very dusty. When I’ve used wood shavings, I had to clean the boxes twice a day and everything in the room had a thick layer of dust by the weekend. Rating: POOR
Shredded paper is free, but it has no absorbency and no odor control, and it gets everywhere. Using this is about the same as using pure hay, which some people also do. I only use this when I’m in dire need of a litterbox change and the stores are closed, but I’ve never found it acceptable for more than overnight emergency use. Rating: POOR
Carefresh is a product made of compressed paper, shaped into flakes and very soft. has almost zero dust, and great absorbency/odor control. However, as it’s so soft, it can stick in the fur of longer-haired rabbits, and it’s very light and fluffy so it can easily get kicked around and out of the box. It’s also the most expensive product ($17 for 4-5 box changes). Rating: EXCELLENT
Yesterday’s News and Cell-Sorb are equivalent products. Both are made of compressed paper, but formed into cylindrical pellets. Cell-Sorb pellets look like crushed YN pellets, like the YN factory rejects. They both have great absorbency and odor control (but slightly less odor control than Carefresh, I feel). Since the pellets are heavier than the Carefresh flakes, they tend to stay in the litterbox better than Carefresh which makes them less messy. They are slightly more dusty than Carefresh, but still miles better than wood shavings. Cell-Sorb is way cheaper if you can get the biggest bags, but both are still fairly expensive (around $20 for 50lbs). Rating: EXCELLENT
Feline Pine (or pine wood-stove pellets) are compressed pine sawdust pellets. They are made with a process that eliminates the dangerous phenols of pine. They are exactly the same thing, but the former is $15 for a 20lb bag, and the later is $5 for a 40lb bag. Absorbency is great, possibly even better than for YN/Cell-Sorb, because the wood pellets break into sawdust which sorta clumps together when wet. Odor control is slightly less than for the paper-based products, but the slight pine smell (if you find that pleasant) seems to mask any urine odor. Both are more dusty than YN/Cell-Sorb but still less dusty than wood shavings. Rating: VERY GOOD TO EXCELLENT
Due to the costs of having so many buns, I use the stove pellets right now ( Marthwood brand in WI) and am pretty happy with them, but if cost was no object, I would use YN/Cell-Sorb exclusively to cut down on dust.