The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Rabbits are wonderful pets that you can adopt. Their soft fur and strong personalities make them a perfect companion for anyone in the house who wants an animal that isn’t a large dog or an aloof cat. One thing that you will need to keep in mind though is that, like with all pets, there are going to be some downsides to owning a rabbit.
Just as dogs need to be walked multiple times on a daily basis and how cats will have regular hairballs, rabbits have their own parts of ownership that are a little bit less than fun to deal with.
One downside of owning a rabbit is that they can be somewhat problematic to litter train. Litter training a rabbit is a long and boring process, especially when your rabbit is stubborn about it.
With that being said, there are many people who do not litter train their rabbits at all. After all, when your rabbit’s home has a shelf that can be pulled out and cleaned, there’s no reason to go through the effort and hassle of litter training your rabbit, right? This is far from the truth of it, as there are many times when you will benefit from litter training your rabbit.
The biggest reason why you will want to work on litter training your rabbit is because if you don’t, your rabbit will naturally be more prone to urinating inappropriately, as it will not have learned what is appropriate and what is not appropriate in terms of relieving oneself.
In some, more unfortunate situations, this can even lead to your rabbit urinating on you.
What Does it Mean?
It usually means one of three things when your rabbit urinates on you. Many people might take it as a sign that your rabbit hates you, or that the rabbit is angry, but this is actually very rarely the case.
On the contrary, it is commonly a sign that your rabbit actually likes you a lot and holds you in high regards.
This is because rabbits are naturally territorial creatures, especially unfixed males. When an animal is naturally territorial, it will want to do everything that it can to mark its favorite belongings as its own, often through spraying as, to a rabbit, this produces enough of a scent to let anyone else know that the sprayed-upon item is now the rabbit’s.
The problem with this comes in when the rabbit decides that it loves you enough to mark you as its territory.
In a way, you can equate this kind of behavior to when a cat rubs against your legs; your rabbit is leaving its scent on you in the best way that it knows how so that it is claiming you as its own. Unfortunately, rather than through scent glands under the skin, rabbits do this through urination.
While this is the most common reason why your rabbit will urinate on you, there are two other reasons why it may do this. If your rabbit is not yet litter trained and you insist on holding it for long periods of time, it may accidentally urinate on you.
This is done less as a way to “claim territory” and more as an accident, as rabbits do not have the same sense of cleanliness as humans do. When you are holding your rabbit outside of its home, you will want to be mindful of how long you are caring for it and you should always let it down every so often so that it can relieve itself as needed.
Finally, the last reason why your rabbit is urinating on you is because of a medical condition. Inappropriate and sometimes unpredictable urination from a rabbit that is otherwise litter-trained and obedient is usually a sign that there is something going on with your rabbit’s health.
If this kind of behavior is not your rabbit’s normal eliminating behavior, then you may want to consider a trip to the vet.
Now that you know some of the most common reasons why rabbits will pee on their owners, you will want to begin working on ways to dissuade your rabbit from doing this.
It should go without saying that each method is going to have a different way to solve the problem, so you will want to make sure that you are certain of the reason why your rabbit is acting the way that it is before you begin working on fixing the problem.
Male Rabbits, Spraying, and Getting Fixed
One thing that you should note is that it is more likely that it will be an unfixed male rabbit that urinates on you, if you are going to experience this problem at all in your life. Male, unfixed rabbits will often engage in a behavior known as spraying. This form of spraying is not unlike what dogs and cats do to mark their territories.
Because unfixed males will usually have more territorial tendencies, this means that they will feel more inclined to try and mark their territory so that other animals get the point and do not trespass on it.
While this can be fine when your rabbit lives in a hutch or outside, this is not fine when the rabbit is allowed to roam the house and it is especially not fine when the rabbit decides that you are territory that needs to be marked.
It has also been shown that when you fix a rabbit, it will be less prone to being territorial. While this will not completely eliminate the threat of your rabbit marking you as its territory, it does mean that it will be easier to train your rabbit on when is a good time to urinate and what places are inappropriate to urinate on.
With this in mind, before you begin trying to fix a rabbit’s behavioral problems, you will first want to consider the idea of neutering your rabbit. This procedure should be done before your rabbit reaches sexual maturity, and many rabbits that you can purchase will be fixed when you get them, but on the chance that they aren’t, you should aim to get them fixed before five to eight months of age.
It is also important to note that this behavior can also occur in female rabbits, especially if there is a rivalry between other rabbits for territory. Female rabbits are much less likely to spray to mark their territory, but they may still urinate on you in other ways.
For additional reasons, you should still aim to get your rabbit fixed before you begin working on the behavioral problems.
Ruling Out Medical Problems
You cannot teach a rabbit to fix a problem that is being caused by an internal health problem. This is simply not feasible. For some rabbits, inappropriate urination may not be a chosen behavior that the rabbit decided to do, such as marking territory, but it may be a wholly intentional behavior caused by something not acting right inside of the rabbit’s body.
There are a few ways that you would be able to check and make sure that the issue is rooted in medical causes and not behavioral. For one, there will usually be other signs of inappropriate urination besides peeing on you.
A rabbit with issues with its bladder may not even try to work on being litter trained, and it may seemingly forget years of good progress of being litter trained. Any sudden changes in the way that your rabbit eliminates its waste can be cause for belief that the problem is medical.
If you notice that your rabbit is having trouble with urination in other aspects of its life, it may be worth going to the veterinarian first before you try to correct any perceived behavioral issues.
As long as your rabbit doesn’t have any health complications that affect its ability to urinate, you can feel confident in knowing that properly teaching your rabbit how to use its litter box will eliminate the problem of inappropriate elimination.
Teaching the Rabbit to Use the Litter Box Through Your Reactions
One way that you will be working on helping your rabbit remember and learn how to use its litter box (and not use you as its litter box) is going to be through the way that you react to its inappropriate eliminations.
Rabbits, being very social animals, are going to be sensitive to the way that you respond to problems. No matter how much you want to yell or cry when your rabbit pees on you, you absolutely cannot let that show, or else you might inadvertently enforce unwanted behaviors such as aggression.
Instead, when you notice that your rabbit has urinated somewhere it shouldn’t, you will want to say the rabbit’s name and the word “No!” in a firm, commanding voice. You can even repeat saying this a few times.
If the rabbit is used to being picked up, you will then want to pick it up and place it in an area like their pen where they cannot go back to the place that they eliminated in. Otherwise, you will want to usher the rabbit in that direction, while keeping calm.
Once you have done this, then you can get angry while you clean up the urine. Remember to thoroughly wash the area with the stain as much as you can to try and get rid of the smell. Much like with cats, if the rabbit is able to smell an area where it urinated to mark territory, then it will feel inclined to urinate there again to enforce that marked smell.
On the chance that using a firm “No!” doesn’t teach your rabbit not to do this, then you will want to use relatively more drastic measures. Remember that you should never truly punish the rabbit, raise your voice, or turn to aggression when scolding the rabbit.
Instead, you should consider using a spray bottle and spray a fine mist of cold water on the rabbit’s fur when you catch it in the act, while continuing to say “No!”
Additionally, you will want to try and encourage proper litter use and discourage problematic situations. Like with cats, you will want to praise your rabbit when it chooses to use its litter tray. You can do this through pets, treats, or toys, depending on which one your rabbit will respond best to in terms of praise.
To discourage problematic situations, you will want to try and not feed the rabbit when it is playing with you. Many rabbits enjoy eating where they eliminate, so you do not want to develop a connection to eating in a place where you don’t want the rabbit to eliminate.
You will also want to make sure that when you are holding the rabbit, you keep it relatively close to its litter tray. Because of the way that a rabbit’s digestive system works, they need to eliminate rather frequently.
If you hold them with you on the couch for prolonged periods of time, the problem may not be that the rabbit is marking its territory so much as it doesn’t have the ability to hold it in for too long.
Always remember to play with your rabbits in relatively close range to their litter tray so that they have the option to use it when they feel the need to.
Finally, there is some evidence shown that rabbits can learn and understand words and associate them with actions. Through this process, you can teach your rabbit to associate a word with urination, such as “pee” or “wee.”
To begin, when your rabbit is on the tray and eliminating, you will want to repeat the command word so it begins to associate that word with being on the litter tray.
From there, whenever you believe that your rabbit needs to eliminate, you will want to lead the rabbit to its litter tray while repeating the command word along the way. This helps the rabbit differentiate this command word from all of the other words that you might use, and helps it know that this word is one that it will want to pay attention to.
With enough patience and practice, you will eventually be able to use this command to get your rabbit to use the litter tray of its own volition. Remember to offer treats to the rabbit when it gets the command right to rely on positive reinforcement.