A Rabbit Tail (Tale?)

The Story of Hillary, Kensington, and Pee

by Elizabeth Richer Campo

Here begins my sad tale of woe: about a month ago, Hillary (my second rabbit) decided that the litter pan was but an option – one that she chose not to use. Both of my rabbits had had very nice litter box habits, a few “pills” here and there but nothing a small dust broom couldn’t handle. It was the smell that clued me in first, then the too damp bunny mat confirmed my suspicions – Hillary had stopped using her pan.

You may ask how I knew it was Hillary and not Kensington (bunny number one). Was I just blaming her because she was new? No – as embarrassing as it is to admit, I can tell their poops apart. Kensington is a little bit bigger and so are his droppings, and he is also strangely fussy about where he relieves himself. I think he is trying to create a monument to his greatness.

You need to know about my rabbits to understand how I was able to use their strengths and weaknesses to successfully retrain them both. Did you know that when one rabbit develops a bad habit the other will soon follow? Anyway, Kensington is mini lop that my husband and I picked up at the ASPCA. He was a year and a half old when we got him and he ruled the roost for a year until I felt we weren’t home enough and he needed a friend. I contacted Zooh Corner and they introduced us to the very shy Hillary.

Hillary had led a very sad life, resulting in the Zooh’s decision to amputate her rear left leg. She gets around surprisingly well and is otherwise very healthy. Alex at the Zooh bonded Kensington to Hillary but it didn’t really take until we moved to a new apartment. Before you think we are way beyond rabbit freaks, we didn’t move to bond them – it was a happy result of an unplanned move. Everything seemed to be bliss until the peeing started.

My first reaction was to just clean up the mistakes and hope it didn’t happen again, but after a few days it was getting irritating and a little stinky. The rabbit area either smelled of pee or vinegar. So, I contacted Alex to ask for her sage bunny advice. Her first recommendation was to take Hillary to the Vet to make sure she did not have a bladder infection. I honestly didn’t think she was sick, but better safe than sorry.

I described the problem to the Vet who agreed that she was healthy, so the problem must be psychological. Hillary was suffering from stress related to territory. Here were her symptoms: relieving herself next to the litter pan no matter where it was placed, matted fur around her vent, otherwise bright eyed and bushy tailed. She is a skittish rabbit but continued to be curious and beg for treats. She is the only rabbit I know who will eat treats on the way to the Vet.

It was a big relief that she was healthy; the matting was a result of her only having the one back leg and shedding season. Now she gets mini baths and trims to keep that under control. The next hurdle was to figure out how to deal with the territorial stress thing. I did not want to put up cages because they seemed to prefer being free range and together; in fact Kensington would not stop thumping while the Vet was examining Hillary; he wanted his girl back.

I decided to try different bunny zone configurations until I found one that worked. Then it would be triscuits (that’s champagne for bunnies) all around. The first thing I did was to get rid of the old mat I had under the litter pan and dishes and soak the whole area in vinegar to get rid of the ammonia smell. I put down a rubber-backed doormat that would be easy to clean but still comfortable for the rabbits. This did not work!

I then added a pan that Kensington could use but Hillary couldn’t and placed their hay in between the two pans for them to munch while they did their business. This worked for two days until Kensington decided it would be fun to start tossing his pan over and they both started peeing on the hay.

Next I put a cover over Hillary’s pan so she could feel secure. I also hid a grape in each pan to tempt them into using them. The grape thing worked with Kensington but Hillary wasn’t as easy to fool; she was smart enough to take the treat and hop out to pee in front of the pan. Needles to say I was getting perturbed but at least I was back to where I started.

Finally, I got rid of the cover on Hillary’s pan and put a few Hillary poops in her pan along with a lot of hay. Eureka! It worked. To keep the scent just right I would leave a little soiled litter in each pan so they could smell which was theirs. I did this for about ten days, and then I scrubbed the pans completely but by that time they had each created their own litter box territory.

I am very happy with the new improved litter trained rabbits, even though I have two pans to clean everyday. The task of cleaning two pans is small compared to cleaning rabbit urine off the floor three times a day. Another hidden perk in the new system is that Hillary and Kensington seem so much happier together. They used to spend most of their time apart and join each other for grooming, or to steal food. Now they are practically inseparable but they still steal treats from each other. I wonder if that should be my next behavior modification? Nah, they look too cute doing it.

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