Why do rabbits dig in their litter box and leave litter and poop scattered all over the floor?
Rabbits dig to satisfy a variety of physical and emotional needs.
Their litter tray might be the place they dig because they’re trying to tell you something about it, or because it’s the only diggable location available to them.
Happily, there are lots of things you can do to reduce this troublesome habit.
Rabbits That Dig In Their Litter Box
Rabbits are one of our most recently domesticated animals.
Since they are a naturally social species, they tend to be highly interactive and affectionate pets.
And they can be house trained to use a litter box indoors.
Which means that far from the old fashioned image of a lonely bunny cooped up in a small outdoor hutch, lots of modern day rabbits enjoy free range of a rabbit-proofed room indoors, in the heart of their human family.
But what do you do if your rabbit starts digging in their litter box, and evacuating its contents onto the floor?
Not only is this habit unpleasant, and a nuisance to clean up, it can also be completely perplexing.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for litter box digging to start seemingly out of the blue, after years of uneventful use.
Which leaves lots of rabbit owners crying “Why? Why now??”
Let’s find out.
Why Do Rabbits Dig In Their Litter Box?
As it turns out, there are several reasons why rabbits might develop a litter digging habit.
And reforming them back to tidy toilet habits depends upon working out exactly what’s motivating them in the first place.
1. Digging for the love of digging
Rabbits have a very strong instinct to dig.
In the wild they live in complex warrens of tunnels and chambers, dug deep underground. This keeps them cool in summer, warm in winter, and safe out of sight and reach of predators.
If they don’t have anywhere else to perform digging actions, then rabbits might use their litter tray as an outlet for this natural behavior.
2. Digging for fitness
Underneath that sweet fluffy exterior, rabbits are well-muscled athletes.
This makes sense – being able to outrun predators is vital for survival in the wild.
But rabbits can’t maintain tip top muscle tone without exercise.
Digging is a great way of getting exercise, and which comes very naturally to them, especially if their environment leaves them short on alternatives.
3. Nest building
Female rabbits also dig nests to give birth and raise their babies in.
Unspayed pet female rabbits sometimes experience extra-powerful urges to dig which correspond with the cycles of sex hormones in their body.
Rabbits are alert, intelligent, and curious little animals, and they like having toys to play with.
If their habitat is boring, and doesn’t contain things to engage them, then they will resort to finding activity and stimulation wherever they can.
For example by digging over their litter box.
One study of 184 rabbits in Italy found that nearly 30% of them resorted to repetitive behaviors like repeatedly emptying their litter box, as a displacement activity to deal with feelings of boredom.
5. To get attention
Rabbits also love to receive your attention.
If you’ve ever caught your bunny in the act of digging in their litter box and tried to distract them away from it with a treat or toy, then they’re likely to have learned that digging is a good way to get your attention.
They might also start digging their litter to express frustration if your daily routine changes suddenly, and you’re no longer around to give them attention at the times they expect you to be.
6. They don’t like the litter
A common reason why a rabbit who has never dug in their litter before might suddenly start, is if you change the litter to something they don’t approve of.
Just like lots of species (including us humans), rabbits tend to be creatures of habit when it comes to toileting.
If you switch litter brands out of the blue, it can make everything feel all wrong in the litter box.
And another reason they might not like the litter in their box is if it’s become too soiled since you last replaced it.
In both situations, what they’re trying to say to you is “this litter has got to go!”
7. It smells like someone else
Did your new flatmate kindly agree to change your bunny’s litter while you were out of town?
Did your ungrateful rabbit repay your generous flatmate by kicking the whole lot everywhere?
Rabbits are naturally territorial – some passionately so.
So if someone unfamiliar scoops fresh litter into their litter box with their hands, then your rabbit might interpret the traces of their scent as an intrusion on their space.
Digging the offending scent back out is a way of setting the world to rights, and saying, as clearly as they know how “I don’t know you, I don’t know if I can trust you, and you’re not welcome here”.
How To Stop A Rabbit Digging In Their Litter Box
Now we’ve seen all the reasons why a rabbit would dig in their litter, and I’m sure you’ll agree – they’re pretty diverse!
So it’s hardly surprising that there isn’t a one size fits all solution either.
First you need to take some time to understand why your rabbit is digging out their litter box.
And then you can see which of these strategies for stopping it or managing is the right match:
1. Try a different litter
It isn’t always going to be this simple, but if digging in their litter box has coincided with trying a new type of litter, then go back to the old one.
If it’s been a problem since the start of litter training, try changing to a different litter.
Buy the smallest pack size from each new range you try, so you don’t have lots to get through if it doesn’t work.
2. Clean the litter box out more often
If your bunny digs in his litter box sporadically, then look for a pattern in how long it had been since you last cleaned it out.
Or to put it another way – exactly how disgusting is the problem?
If digging in their litter box causes a lot of pee and poo to end up on your floor, then it sounds like the litter was overdue for a change anyway.
Try setting a reminder on your phone to clean out the litter box more frequently.
3. Create a designated digging spot
A safe and appropriate place to dig offers so many advantages for a rabbit.
It’s fun, it provides an outlet for their natural instincts, and it stops them getting bored.
You can create a place to dig by cutting a doorway into a high sided cardboard box, and filling it with scrunched up newspaper or old towels cut into strips.
For extra appeal, try putting a corrugated cardboard cat scratching box at the very bottom – so satisfying to dig into!
4. Provide more toys
If your rabbit is resorting to digging due to lack of anything else to do, then the solution is simple.
Provide more toys!
Rabbits benefit from a variety of toys for sniffing, chewing, scratching, rolling about, climbing on, hiding under, and tunnelling through.
For maximum value, keep most of their toys in a basket out of reach, and pick out a couple of different ones each day.
This will keep their novelty value high.
Don’t panic about this sounding expensive though. We’ve got lots of rabbit toys for every budget right here, and even ideas for DIY rabbit toys here.
5. Give them company
We’ve already touched on how much rabbit’s mental and emotional well being depends upon having contact and interaction with you.
Pledging to spend more time playing and engaging with your rabbit is a great way of reducing unwanted behaviors like digging in the litter box.
And the benefits don’t just extend to them. Did you know that time spent stroking and cuddling rabbits reduces feelings of anxiety in people too?
Make sure everyone who is going to help with emptying and replenishing your rabbit’s litter box spends time bonding with them and feeding them treats too.
This will help to prevent litter box digging as a way of asserting their territory.
6. If you can solve the problem – manage it
It can be hard to change the habits of a lifetime.
And so a rabbit with a long history of digging in their litter box might never give up altogether.
But you can keep the mess (relatively) confined by:
- Swapping the litter box for one with high sides.
- Putting the box inside a larger tray.
- Or constructing a cubicle around the litter box, with a wipe-clean mat underneath that can easily be lifted up and tipped over the trash can.
Why Do Rabbits Dig In Their Litter Box – Summary
There are several physical, mental, and environmental factors which might cause a rabbit to start digging in their litter box.
But happily, for every reason they dig, there is a solution which should help alleviate the problem!
Is your bunny a litter box digger?
Let us know in the comments box down below!
Normando & Gelli. Behavioral complaints and owners’ satisfaction in rabbits, mustelids, and rodents kept as pets. Journal of Veterinary Behavior. 2011.
Clauss & Hatt. Evidence-Based Rabbit Housing and Nutrition. Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice. 2017.
Benedek et al. Exploring the Genetic Background of the Differences in Nest-Building Behavior in European Rabbit. Animals. 2020.
Molnar et al. Examining the Effects of Rabbit-Assisted Interventions in the Classroom Environment. Animals. 2019.
Why Do Rabbits Dig In Their Litter Box And Make A Big Mess? ›
Some rabbits will enjoy digging into their litter box, making a big stinky mess all around it. Most rabbits behave this way due to boredom. If they are being kept in a cage that's too small or don't have enough enrichment activities they resort to digging at the only thing that's left to them.Why is my rabbit trying to dig the floor? ›
Indoor rabbits that dig repeatedly at carpet, flooring, or curtains are demonstrating that they are stressed and frustrated. This is frequently caused by inadequate enrichment, lack of companionship, or ill-health.Why does my rabbit keep pooping outside her litter box? ›
It is very common for rabbits to poop in small amounts in their housing enclosure outside of the litter box for territorial reasons. Also, sometimes poop may be kicked out when the rabbit jumps from their litter box.Why is my rabbit digging a big hole? ›
Rabbits dig holes to create dens and warrens. These are safe spaces that can offer security from predators, a cool temperature, somewhere to sleep, and somewhere to give birth. Lots of rabbits also just enjoy digging! It can be quite a stimulating behavior for many bunnies, even our domestic pets.Why is my rabbit so destructive? ›
Health problems, boredom, or a lack of enrichment commonly lead to destructive behaviors. This is most likely to happen if you have a lone rabbit, no toys, no wood to chew on, and no place to dig. Negative behaviors can be controlled by offering enough stimulation, play, and chewing materials.Why does my rabbit roll in his litter tray? ›
During the day, rabbits like to sleep in their burrow, in depressions of grass or in their cages. Sometimes you may see your rabbit sleeping in her litter box. This is perfectly normal, and you can make it more comfortable by using a good, soft paper-type litter such as Carefresh.How do you entertain a rabbit? ›
Unwanted Cardboard boxes and newspaper always make fun toys. Cut rabbit sized holes in two sides of a large cardboard box, then at the bottom fill with scrunched up newspaper, hay or anything rummage-worthy. Your rabbit can burrow through, searching for perhaps a few treats amongst it all. A rabbit-style lucky dip!Should I let my rabbit dig a burrow? ›
All the rabbit's instincts are to dig and hide, so if there is any way you can allow for this, I recommend that you do. They like to dig in a sheltered, secluded spot, so if you set up a pallet up on a cinder block right in the middle of your colony, you will probably find the rabbits will choose to burrow in there.How do you play with a rabbit? ›
How to Play with Your Rabbit! - YouTubeCan bunnies control their poop? ›
How frequently do rabbits poop? There is a funny myth out there that rabbits can't control their dropping at all. The idea is that a rabbit will walk around continually leaving dropping in a trail behind them. This myth probably came about because rabbits do leave droppings scattered around.
Why does my bunny dig on me and bite? ›
A rabbit may dig at your lap or feet because it wants to play. Also, depending on if it also nips or bites you, it may be trying to establish dominance. Cute as digging may appear, it can be damaging to your clothes and skin. As such, you may wish to train your rabbit to stop digging on people.Do rabbits get bored in their cage? ›
If rabbits live in small hutches with nothing to do and no space to move, they get bored. Boredom can cause some serious health problems: Bored rabbits will fill their time by eating. If they eat too much and don't move around they'll put on weight.What scent do rabbits hate? ›
Rabbits have a strong sense of smell, which they use to find accessible food sources. You can take advantage of this trait by using scents they dislike, such as garlic, vinegar, chili powder, predator urine, sulfur, blood meal, chives, lavender, geraniums, and wax begonias.What does it mean when your rabbit runs around really fast? ›
If your rabbit has ever run around the room as fast as they can as though something is chasing them then you've witnessed the bunny 500. This behavior is a happy one and your bunny is zooming around out of pure excitement. Perhaps they are playing with you or a furry friend or are expecting a favorite treat.Do rabbits sleep where they poop? ›
Apart from eating these droppings, rabbits are extremely clean animals and like to have their own 'bunny bathrooms' - dedicated areas in their hutch for sleeping, eating and toileting.Do rabbits flop when stressed? ›
Rabbits will usually tense up if they are stressed or worried. They might go into a crouched position, or flatten themselves against the ground – like they're trying not to be seen, but are also ready to run if they need to.Is it OK to give my bunny a stuffed animal? ›
Giving stuffed animals to play with is a good treat for rabbits. At least, they are able to play with cute stuff despite being alone. Stuffed teddy bears can also be bought online in case you don't have time to go to pet stores or department stores.What makes rabbit happy? ›
Bunnies are natural grazers and happy rabbits graze all day long. Just like some of us, rabbits can combat boredom by eating. Providing ample premium quality food is a great way to prevent boredom and up that happiness level. Make sure your bunnies always have unlimited, fresh, clean hay for grazing fun.What household items can rabbits play with? ›
Objects to play with or throw - such as untreated straw, wicker, sea-grass mats and baskets, balls and plastic flower pots. Solid plastic baby toys such as 'key rings', rattles, stacking cups and some robust cat and parrot toys can make good rabbit toys.What do you use for rabbit litter? ›
We recommend using CareFresh (a rabbit-safe pet bedding that does not contain any pine or cedar products) and fresh hay to prepare your bunny's litter box. Spread one inch of clean CareFresh covering the bottom of the pan, then add a big handful of hay. Remember to use rabbit-safe litters in your bunny's box.
How do you set up a litter box for a rabbit? ›
HOW TO CLEAN AND SET UP A RABBIT LITTER BOX! - YouTube