Buyer's Guide –
Factors to Consider for Best Rabbit Litter
Finding a suitable litter for rabbits is straightforward; after all, why put too many thoughts into something your rabbit will use as a toilet, right?
Well, not exactly – you must choose the right litter to prevent the spread of urine odors, contain the moisture, and be comfortable enough for your bunny to use the potty area.
Having a litter-trained bunny and using high-quality and highly absorbent litter, will help you avoid those nasty smells and help you keep your bunny's cage clean.
1. Differentiation between bedding
Before going through the considerations for choosing the ideal litter material, we must emphasize the difference between litter and bedding. There is a popular misconception among rabbit parents that these two are the same.
Although some bedding materials can be used as litter, the concept behind these two cage necessities is different.
- Litter is placed inside the litter box provided your rabbit is toilet-trained. The sole purpose of the litter is to absorb urine and offer odor control.
- Bedding can be used in other parts of the cage to keep your bunny comfortable.
Whenever you think about putting something inside your rabbit's cage, keep in mind that your rabbit will likely nibble on it. Therefore, everything needs to non-toxic.
In addition to being non-toxic, the ideal litter must also be safe – even if ingested, it should not pose a risk for gastrointestinal upsets and blockages.
Simply put, in terms of safety, the ideal litter should be non-scented, non-clumping, free from chemicals and dust, paw-friendly, and natural.
You need to choose the type of material – wood, paper, or non-clumping cat litter. Each material has both pros and cons, so the final decision is usually based on personal preferences.
- Wood-based litters are the cheapest option, but they will need very frequent cleaning to ensure adequate hygiene levels.
- Paper is also budget-friendly and offers satisfactory odor control.
- Finally, non-clumping cat litter comes with a more expensive price tag but usually has strong absorbing and odor control properties.
4. Odor control
The main reason why you need litter is to ensure odor control. Different litter options offer various odor control levels.
Rabbit urine has a particularly strong and repugnant smell because of the high ammonia concentrations. If using a high-quality litter with strong odor control powers, you will probably be able to sense that smell just after your rabbit pees, and then it will disappear.
A low-quality litter will allow the urine odor to linger. In addition to being unpleasant, the urine smell poses a health risk – it can irritate the nasal passages (yours and your rabbit's).
The ability to absorb urine is the second reason why you need litter. The ideal litter should absorb the urine your rabbit produces and prevent the formation of pee puddles.
Pee puddles, in addition to enabling odor release, pose health risks. First, they are an excellent breeding ground for bacteria, and secondly, they attract parasites and flies.
Although your rabbit will not be spending too much time inside the litter box, it is recommended to choose a dust-free litter. Some litter materials are dustier than others, and dust is a well-recognized health hazard.
If inhaled, dust irritates the upper airways causing severe issues – allergies and respiratory infections. Dust is dangerous not just for your rabbit but also for you.
7. Ease of cleaning
You will be cleaning the litter box daily, so it is crucial to find a litter material that is practical and easy to clean. If the litter falls apart when peed or pooped on, you will have a more challenging time maintaining a litter box clean.
On the other hand, some clumping litters, like cat litter, can be exceedingly dangerous for rabbits and cause blockages if ingested. So, it's best to find the perfect balance between safe and practical.
Once again, practicality is vital. Some types of litter are biodegradable and can be composted, while you can simply flush others down the toilet. If using a flushable litter, it is recommended to check with the authorities whether that option is permitted (there can be variations based on where you live).
What Can You Use for Rabbit Litter?
With the basic litter features covered, it is time we review the most frequently used and safe litter choices for rabbits.
Paper-based pelleted litter
Paper-based pelleted litter is one of the most popular litter choices for rabbits. They are made of compressed recycled paper. Since it is made of recycled materials, this is an eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable litter material.
The paper-based pelleted litter comes with high absorbing capacity, and most brands ensure satisfactory odor control. Because of their qualities, even a tiny amount of litter will be enough to satisfy your rabbit's daily toilet needs – this feature is easy on your pocket and practical to maintain clean.
Unlike the softwood options (cedar and pine), aspen is a hardwood and free from the troublesome phenols and aromatic oils. Aspens shavings make a good litter choice in terms of price and odor control.
However, aspen shavings are not particularly absorbent, meaning you will need to use copious amounts daily to ensure the litter box is clean and moist-free.
Another potential problem with aspen shavings is its unique scent which some rabbits might find deterring – this is a significant issue, especially during the litter-training period.
Also, if you're using aspen as bedding in other parts of the cage, you need to choose a different material for the litter box so your bunny can tell the two areas apart from each other.
Compressed sawdust pelleted litter
The compressed sawdust pelleted litter is made by compressing the leftover sawdust from the wood industry into highly absorptive and practical pellets. The best thing about this type of litter is its low cost. Plus, if purchased in bulk, its cost drops even more.
Compressed sawdust pelleted litter is excellent in terms of odor control, but its absorption capacity is smaller than paper-based litter options.
You can use any paper bedding marketed for rabbits as a litter. This is a relatively absorbing option offering reasonable odor control. However, the paper bedding is not as efficient as other litter options. You can achieve satisfactory qualities but only if you use significant amounts and practice frequent cleaning.
Again, if you're using paper bedding in the cage, you should choose a different material to be used in the litter tray, so your rabbit knows where to go potty.
This is perhaps the cheapest litter option. All you need is used paper and a good shredding machine, and instead of buying, you can make your own litter material. Although cheapest, shredded paper is not the ideal litter choice because of its moderate absorbing and odor-controlling capacities.
Also, sometimes shredded paper can have sharp edges, which may cause cuts to your bunny's paws.
Materials You Should Not Use for Bunny Litter
Many materials available online or in local pet stores are not safe for rabbits despite being labeled and marketed for rabbit use. Considering some of those litters can put your rabbit in great danger, it is critical you know what to avoid.
Clumping cat litter
Clumping cat litter is highly efficient – extremely absorbable, easy to clean, and with strong odor-controlling powers. However, clumping cat litter is not suited for rabbits. In fact, not suited is an understatement – it is particularly dangerous.
The clumping cat litter's quality stems from its ability to clump. And this is also the reason why this material is dangerous – it will clump regardless of whether it is in the litter box or the rabbit's digestive system.
Rabbits, same as all rodents, munch on all items inside their cages, including the litter. If ingested, the clumping cat litter can cause gastrointestinal blockages.
Pine or cedar shavings
Softwood options like pine and cedar shavings do not make a good option for rabbits. This is because pine and cedar are rich in aromatic oils and phenol, which can cause serious health problems – infections of the upper respiratory tract and allergies. Additionally, long-term exposure to these chemicals is associated with liver damage in rodents.
Scented litters are also a no-go for rabbits. Rabbits have a highly developed sense of smell, and strong scents are highly irritating to their sensitive noses.
The scents are actually added chemicals that increase the rabbit's already high risk of developing respiratory irritations, infections, and allergies.
What is more, scented litters are also problematic for rabbit parents prone to respiratory issues – infections, allergies, or asthma.
Corn cob litter
Although inexpensive and with relatively good absorbency and odor control features, you should avoid corn con litter. First of all, your rabbit might be tempted to nibble on it, but they are hard to digest and likely to cause issues.
Additionally, corn cobs have harsh and pointy ends, which can easily damage the rabbit's sensitive paws and cause injuries. Finally, corn cob litter is quite messy – you will find small and hard corn pieces all over the house.
Can You Use Cat Litter for Rabbits?
Most cat litter brands are not safe for rabbits. This is because cat litter is generally made of clumping materials which makes spot cleaning an easy task. The clumping nature of the litter is not an issue for cats as they do not nibble on litter.
However, rabbits are different – they enjoy munching on anything, including the litter.
If purchasing cat litter for your rabbit's litter box, make sure the term "non-clumping" is present somewhere on the package.
A clumping litter will clump when in contact with moisture, meaning it will form clumps inside the rabbits' digestive tract if ingested. The clumps can cause gastrointestinal blockages – a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention.
It should be emphasized that not all types of cat litter are dangerous for rabbits, only the clumping ones. For example, cat litters featuring recycled paper are perfectly safe for rabbits.
If purchasing cat litter for your rabbit's litter box, make sure the term "non-clumping" is present somewhere on the package. Generally speaking, all paper-based cat litters are non-clumping, but it is always better to err on the side of caution and re-check.
Should I Have Hay in My Bunny's Litter Box?
As weird as it may sound, rabbits like to nibble on something tasty while pooping and peeing. Providing hay inside the litter box or nearby can improve the overall litter box using experience and make the litter-training process simpler and quicker.
If you decide to put the hay inside the litter box, make sure you check on it several times per day – you do not want your rabbit munching on poop or pee-covered hay.
Alternatively, it might be more practical to get a special hay rack and install it near the litter box. If you have multiple rabbits in the same cage, you will need to provide one hay rack for every litter box.
How to Control the Odor of Your Rabbit's Litter Box?
Even with the best litter material, your rabbit's litter box will release some unpleasant odors. Plus, some rabbits have stronger smelling urine than others.
To ensure maximum odor control, in addition to using a high-quality litter material, you can follow these helpful practices:
- Clean the litter box daily – ideally, to prevent odor buildup, you should thoroughly clean the litter box daily and scoop the soiled areas when needed.
- Get a covered litter box – covered boxes are highly efficient in managing the unpleasant urine smells. However, they can be confusing, especially if your rabbit has never used a closed toilet area.
- Invest in an air purifier – in addition to removing the smells, a good air purifier will get rid of any dust particles from the litter and bedding as well as hair and dander from the rabbit.
- Use scented oil – you can place scent plugs (not too close to the rabbit cage as prolonged and direct exposure can irritate the rabbit's airways) with rabbit-friendly scents such as lavender, citrus, or mint.
Summing Up – Best Litter for Bunnies
If you decide to litter train your rabbit, you will definitely need to educate yourself on the rabbit litter topic. The modern pet market offers dozens of litter options for rabbits. Sadly, not every marketed option is safe for rabbits.
Basically, various litter options are safe for rabbits and practical for you – to change and maintain clean. Considering there is no one-type-fits-all litter material, the final decision on choosing depends on you and your rabbit.
Keep in mind that your rabbit's preferences constitute a significant part of the decision – what is the point of investing in a high-quality litter material if your rabbit refuses to use it or is not correctly litter-trained. On the other hand, having a litter-trained bunny and using high-quality and highly absorbent litter, will help you avoid those nasty smells and help you keep your bunny's cage clean.
Ivana Crnec is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine specialized in domestic carnivores. She graduated from the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. Ivana is a certified canine nutritionist and also certified in HAACP food safety system implementation. She currently works as a veterinarian while completing her postgraduate studies. Her research has been published in international journals.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your rabbit’s specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.