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.
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.