Our resident rabbit and guinea pig expert Leigh Munro shares some advice

How can I litter train my rabbit? 

The easiest way to litter train a rabbit is to put their tray where they do their urine the most. They like to feel safe, so make sure it’s against the wall and in a corner. Rabbits normally have a few places where they go to the toilet, so start with the tray there, and then slowly move it where you want it to be. Desexed rabbits are also easier to train to use a litter tray, as they are less likely to do stray territorial poos around the place. Desexing also helps with urine odour, we don’t know why but a desexed rabbit seems to be almost odour free, which is great when inside the home. It's also a good idea to have a thick layer of newspaper on the bottom with oaten hay on the top as rabbits like to have a "poo and chew' station where they enjoy eating hay and going to the toilet at the same time. Cleaning out the tray daily allows us to observe if the rabbits are pooing too, as it’s important that they are. If your rabbit goes somewhere other than the tray don't get angry at it, as this will do more harm than good - clean the area with warm water and a splash of white vinegar, place a towel on top and place the tray on that area. You might need more than one tray at the beginning to cover other areas of the room. Rabbits are sensitive creatures and like to test their surroundings out with their teeth so for the health of your rabbit do not use cat litter in their tray as they may try to eat it and do not use harsh chemicals to clean up after them. Rabbits are very clean animals and will eventually choose to go to the toilet in one area. Try to remember that Rabbits see their litter trays as comfort zones and if you follow these easy tips your pet will be weeing where you want in no time.

How to help shy and anxious rabbits or guinea pigs… 

Both rabbits and guinea pigs are timid by nature, as they are ground-dwelling animals that think we are big and scary and trying to eat them. It’s up to you to alter your behaviour so that they understand that you are a friend. It’s important to let them settle in their new home, be quiet as possible and move slowly so as not to scare them. Sitting on the ground at their level and talking softly helps them to get to know you in a non-threatening way. Don't expect your pet to approach you right away, remain quiet and patient, even if it takes an hour or more. They are naturally curious animals, and eventually, they will come over to sniff you. Resist the temptation to reach out and pat them, instead, let them sniff you, hop on you and get to know your smell. This will help them realise that you are not a threat. Repeat this everyday until they become more familiar with you and eventually you will be able to give them gentle pats. One of the most common misconceptions people have about rabbits and guinea pigs are that they like to be held and cuddled; probably because they look like plush toys. Not picking them up will make them feel secure and safe in a new environment. Try to restrict picking them up to necessary moments like vet visits, health checks etc. Treats (not too many) help them associate you with good experiences too. Patience, time, and common sense will do the job. The gentler you are, the slower you enter their space, the faster they may become more accustomed to you.

One of the most important things is that they have a compatible friend of the same species, as it helps them relax and feel safe. They are a social species and need a friend; this is why we’d rather not rehome them to be a single animal. If your pet is looking for a new buddy we do bunny and piggy dates so they can choose their own friend. 

handy hints

  • Hey, did you know that not only horses eat hay! Rabbits and guinea pigs need hay too! Fresh oaten hay helps wear down teeth and keeps their gut healthy. 

  • Fresh water and vegetables are also important, especially for guinea pigs, as they can’t produce their own vitamin C they require one cup a day. Your bun or pig will love you all the more when you treat them to the occasional (once or twice a week) piece of fruit and/or Oxbow or Burgess pellets.

  • Guinea pigs are herd animals and rabbits are social butterflies, so they need friends. Having compatible friends gives them confidence and prevents loneliness. If your pet needs a friend, we do play dates at the Shelter!

  • Rabbits and guinea pigs are known as “prey species” so the best way to interact with them is at their level. They find it scary to be picked up and cuddled, you’ll notice their nose twitching and increased heartbeat, and so playing on the floor with them is best. 

  • Rabbits like to sleep all day and are most active in the evening, when they are happy they like to “binky”, which is when they jump and twist and run around madly.

  • Guinea pigs are very vocal! They make lots of different noises when expressing themselves like squealing, chirping, rumbling, or purring. When they are happy they do "popcorns", which are crazy leaps in the air. 

  • Guinea pigs should ideally be housed indoor and love to hide in PVC pipes and to burrow in hay. The more space you give them the better, because they like to exercise. 

  • Rabbits can be outdoor or indoor pets and litter box trained! Just remember, they need lots of space to exercise. Make sure you have flywire on hutches to prevent mosquito bites. 

  • Guinea pigs like to eat their own poop, yes you read right! They do this to maximise the nutrition they receive from their food, so don’t be alarmed. 

  • You should brush your bunny! When they are moulting they need frequent brushing, just make sure to be gentle and take your time. 

  • Providing enrichment is paramount for buns and pigs and regular health checks are ideal; every six months you should take them to an exotic vet. 

  • We can give advice about behavioural traits and issues and can provide information on their care including diet, housing, health issues to look out for, enrichment ideas, and much more. All you have to do is ask.

Fun fact: Guinea pigs are not pigs and do not come from Guinea and rabbits are not to be confused with Rabbis and nor do they come in bits!

At the Shelter we can give advice about further behavioural issues and bonding problems. We can also provide information on their care including diet, housing, what to look out for so you know when to take rabbits/guinea pigs to a vet, enrichment ideas, and much more so why not come in and see us.

Megan SeccullComment