Can You Use Cat Litter For Rabbits? The Best Litter To Use

orange and white cat looking at a grey rabbit, outdoors with grass background

Last updated on January 19th, 2024 at 07:20 am

by Dr. WL Wilkins, DVM, PhD

Chances are, if you have one pet then you have two pets – or more! Cat owners may have more than one cat, but they may also have pets of another species such as rabbits. 

One question that frequently arises among owners of both cats and rabbits is: “Can you use cat litter for rabbits?” While both pets have similar needs when it comes to cleanliness, their specific requirements can differ significantly. 

Many cat litters cannot be used for rabbits, especially clay-based litters. Clay litters are dusty which can harm the rabbit’s respiratory systems and can cause intestinal obstruction if eaten. The best litters for rabbits are paper or natural fiber-based and unscented.

This article aims to delve into this topic, exploring various types of litter suitable for rabbits, offer tips on managing litter boxes for homes with both cats and rabbits, and help you create a hygiene-conscious environment for your pets. 

Read on to make an informed decision about the best litter options for your rabbit and cat.

Understanding Rabbits’ Natural Litter Habits

Rabbits are naturally clean animals that establish specific areas for urination and defecation in their living spaces. In the wild, this behavior serves to reduce the scent trail that predators could follow. 

Marking behavior: Rabbits are naturally territorial creatures, and they use their urine and feces to mark their territory and communicate with other rabbits. Understanding this aspect of their behavior can help rabbit owners better manage their rabbit’s litter box habits in a controlled and hygienic manner.

Importance of Multiple Litter Boxes: Rabbits benefit from having multiple litter boxes placed strategically within their living space. This helps accommodate their need to mark different areas while preventing them from soiling their primary living area. Placing litter boxes near their sleeping and eating areas can encourage them to maintain cleanliness in those spaces.

Litter Training Success:
Litter training is an achievable goal for most rabbits due to their innate litter habits. Patience and consistency are key when training your rabbit to use a litter box. Begin by placing a litter box in an area where your rabbit tends to eliminate naturally, then gradually move it to a more suitable location if needed. Reward your rabbit with treats and positive reinforcement when they use the litter box correctly.

Choosing the Right Litter Material:
The choice of litter material is essential for meeting your rabbit’s natural needs. Rabbits’ sensitive respiratory systems make them susceptible to dust and other irritants. Additionally, the litter should be absorbent enough to control odors and provide a clean and dry environment. But you can’t use just any litter (more on that to come). 

Observing Individual Preferences: 
Just like people have different preferences, rabbits can also exhibit preferences for specific types of litter. Observing your rabbit’s behavior and adjusting the litter accordingly can lead to better litter box habits.

Characteristics Of An Ideal Rabbit Litter

When it comes to choosing the perfect litter for your rabbit’s habitat, there are several key characteristics you should consider. These qualities not only contribute to your rabbit’s comfort but also play a significant role in maintaining a clean and healthy environment. Let’s take a closer look at the essential characteristics of an ideal rabbit litter:

  1. Absorbency: An ideal rabbit litter should excel in absorbing moisture. Highly absorbent litter prevents dampness, which can lead to discomfort and even health issues for your rabbit. 
  2. Odor Control: Nobody enjoys dealing with unpleasant smells, and neither does your rabbit. A high-quality rabbit litter effectively traps and neutralizes odors associated with urine and feces. 
  3. Dust-Free: Rabbits are known for their sensitive respiratory systems. Choosing a dust-free litter is of utmost importance to prevent any potential discomfort or health issues caused by airborne particles. 
  4. Non-Toxic: Your rabbit may occasionally nibble on the litter, especially if it’s curious about its surroundings. Litter must be non-toxic and safe if ingested. 
  5. Unscented: Unscented rabbit litter is essential to prevent respiratory problems and allergies. Rabbits have sensitive respiratory systems, and artificial scents can cause discomfort and potential health issues.
Can You Use Cat Litter For Rabbits - a black and white kitten looking curiously at a black and white bunny on a bed of hay with barnwood background

Can You Use Cat Litter for Rabbits?

The short answer to this question is no – there are several potential risks associated with using most of the available cat litter for rabbits. However, the complete answer is more complicated and depends on the type of litter in question.

There are many different types of litter and most of them are not suitable for rabbits. But some litters are designed for use by cats as well as rabbits and other small animals. Let have a look at the various types available. 

Clumping Clay Litter

Clumping clay litter is one of the most commonly used types. It’s made from bentonite clay, which forms solid clumps when it comes into contact with moisture, making it easy to scoop out waste. 

This convenience factor has contributed to its popularity among cat owners, but it should be avoided for rabbits due to its potential risks to their health and well-being.  

One of the most significant problems with clumping litters is the production of dust when the litter is disturbed. This dust can be harmful to the rabbit’s respiratory system, potentially causing respiratory irritation, allergies, and more serious respiratory problems. 

Additionally, rabbits are known for their habit of exploring their surroundings with their mouths, and if they eat clumping clay litter, it can create clumps in their digestive tract, leading to gastrointestinal blockages, discomfort, and related health issues. 

The dust and fine particles from clumping clay litter can also cause skin irritation for rabbits, resulting in skin problems and discomfort. 

Finally, the clumping nature of this litter can also impact rabbits’ behavior, as the texture might be uncomfortable for them to dig and move around in, potentially leading to litter box aversion. 

Non-Clumping Clay Litter

Similar to clumping clay litter, non-clumping clay litter is also made from natural clay minerals. However, it doesn’t form clumps when exposed to moisture. 

While it may be less dusty than clumping varieties, it can still pose respiratory risks for rabbits. It also has the same risks as clumping clay litter when it comes to causing intestinal blockages, skin irritations, and litter aversion. 

Silica Crystal Litter

Silica crystal cat litter is a type of cat litter that is made from silica dioxide, a naturally occurring mineral that is highly absorbent. It’s often used as an alternative to traditional clay-based litters. 

The primary reason for using silica cat litter is its exceptional absorbent properties. The granules can absorb moisture several times their weight and change color as they take in moisture, giving pet owners a visual cue that it’s time to change the litter.

Silica cat litter is also known for being less dusty compared to clay litter. However, the silica dust is still present and still poses a risk to the rabbit’s health. Silica litter also poses risks for intestinal blockages, skin irritation, and litter aversion just like clay litters.

Natural and Biodegradable Options

Natural and biodegradable litters for both cats and rabbits have gained popularity due to their eco-friendly properties and potential safety benefits. These options are made from materials such as wood and recycled paper. 

Not only are they generally less dusty, but they also often offer good absorbency and odor control. Moreover, they are considered safer for rabbits as they are less likely to cause harm if ingested or come into contact with sensitive skin.

What Is The Best Rabbit Litter? 

Ideal litters for rabbits prioritize their well-being, safety, and natural behaviors. Here are some suitable options to consider:

Paper-Based Litters for Rabbits

Paper-based litters are a popular and rabbit-friendly option that provides comfort, safety, and ease of use for both rabbits and their owners. These litters are made from recycled paper materials, offering an eco-friendly solution while meeting rabbits’ specific needs. 

A paper litter is safe if ingested, reducing the risk of gastrointestinal issues that can occur with other litter types. They also contribute to a more environmentally friendly alternative to manage rabbit urine and feces, as they are made from recycled materials and are biodegradable.

There are several variations of paper-based litters available, each with its own advantages:

Recycled Paper Pellets: Recycled paper pellet litter is among the most commonly used litters for rabbits. They are made from compressed recycled paper, forming small, dense pieces that are highly absorbent. 

They have minimal dust, making them suitable for rabbits’ sensitive respiratory systems. These pellets absorb moisture efficiently, keeping the litter box dry and helping to control odors. 

Shredded Paper Litters: Shredded paper litters are another good rabbit litter option to consider. These litters are created by shredding newspaper or other paper materials into small pieces. While they might not be as absorbent as pellets, they offer a softer texture that some rabbits prefer. 

Shredded paper litters are also eco-friendly and can be a cost-effective choice if you have access to suitable paper materials for shredding. Some people even use unshredded paper such as newspaper sheets or paper towels. However, they may require more frequent changes due to their lower absorbency compared to pellets. 

Paper Pellet Mixes: Some commercially available paper-based litters combine paper pellets with other natural materials, like baking soda or plant extracts, to enhance odor control and absorbency. These mixes offer a balance between the benefits of paper pellets and additional odor-fighting properties.

DIY Options: For those who prefer a hands-on approach, you can create your own paper-based litter by shredding newspapers and paper materials at home. This allows you to control the size of the pieces and ensure they’re free from harmful inks or chemicals.

blue litter box with low sides filled with hay pellet litter

Wood-Based Litters for Rabbits

Wood-based litters offer a natural and biodegradable option for rabbit owners seeking a comfortable and safe litter solution. These litters are typically made from compressed wood fibers and come in various forms, each with its own benefits. 

However, it’s important to note that aromatic woods like pine and cedar are not recommended for rabbits due to potential health risks. Wood-based litters intended for rabbits is usually made out of wood such as aspen.

Wood Pellet Litters: These pellets are created by compressing sawdust and wood shavings without any added chemicals. When they come into contact with moisture, they break down into sawdust and absorb liquids. 

Wood pellet litters are highly absorbent and control odors effectively. They have minimal dust, making them suitable for rabbits with sensitive respiratory systems. Additionally, these litters can be eco-friendly, as they’re made from renewable materials and can be composted.

Shredded Wood Litters: Shredded wood litters are made from shredded wood fibers and provide a softer texture compared to pellets. Aspen shavings fall into this category. They offer good absorbency and can be a comfortable choice for rabbits. Like wood pellets, they are biodegradable and eco-friendly.

Why Aromatic Woods Are Not Recommended: Aromatic woods like pine and cedar release natural oils and compounds with strong scents. While these scents might be pleasant to humans, they can be harmful to rabbits. The volatile oils in pine and cedar can lead to respiratory irritations, allergic reactions, and other health issues in rabbits. 

Advantages of Wood-Based Litters: Wood-based litters are safe for rabbits if ingested, reducing the risk of digestive problems. They provide a natural and comfortable texture for rabbits to walk on and dig in. Additionally, their biodegradability contributes to environmentally friendly waste disposal.

Hay-Based Litters for Rabbits: A Dual-Purpose Solution

Hay-based litter provides a unique and versatile option for rabbit owners who want to combine their rabbit’s natural behaviors with litter box hygiene. 

These litters are made from compressed hay, offering both a comfortable substrate for rabbits to dig and nest in and a suitable material for waste containment. 

Hay-based litter comes in the form of compressed pellets. They are made by compacting hay fibers into small pellets. These pellets retain the natural scent of hay, which can be appealing to rabbits. 

When used as a litter, they provide a soft and comfortable texture for rabbits to move around in. The pellets absorb moisture and control odors, contributing to a fresh and odor-free living space.

One of the main advantages of hay-based litters is their dual-purpose nature. Not only do they serve as a litter substrate, but they can also be a source of nutrition for rabbits. The pellets are perfectly safe for the rabbit to eat. 

Some rabbit owners wonder if their pets will get confused if hay is used as litter. After all, “you don’t poop where you eat” is a well-known saying. But in fact, hay-based litter can align well with rabbits’ natural behaviors. Here’s why:

  1. Natural Instincts: Rabbits have a natural tendency to use soft materials for nesting and resting. Hay-based litter provides a comfortable texture that rabbits are naturally drawn to, making them more likely to use the litter box.
  2. Dual Purpose: Hay-based litters have the advantage of being both a litter substrate and a potential source of nutrition. Rabbits can nibble on the hay while in the litter box, which aligns with their natural inclination to eat while eliminating.
  3. Familiarity: Hay is a staple of a rabbit’s diet, so using hay-based litter doesn’t introduce a foreign material. It’s a material rabbits are already familiar with, which reduces the likelihood of confusion.

The only downside to hay-based litters is that they can be more expensive than other options. Additionally, the pellets may need to be changed more often due to their lower absorbency compared to paper or wood litters. 

Natural-Fiber Litters for Rabbits: An Environmentally Friendly Choice

Natural fiber litters offer an eco-conscious option for rabbit owners seeking a comfortable and safe litter solution. These litters are typically made from renewable plant-based materials, providing a natural and biodegradable alternative that is free from harmful chemicals. They are readily available in most pet stores. 

There are various types of natural fiber litters, each with its own advantages and benefits for rabbits:

Coconut Coir Litters: Coconut coir, also known as coconut fiber, is a popular material for natural fiber litters. It’s made from the husks of coconuts and is biodegradable. Coconut coir litters are highly absorbent and do a good job of managing moisture and controlling odors. 

Hemp-Based Litters: Hemp-based litters are made from hemp fibers, which are known for their absorbent qualities. These litters are designed to effectively absorb moisture and odors, maintaining a fresh litter box environment. 

Other Plant-Based Litters: Some natural-fiber litters are made from other plant materials, such as wheat or corn. These litters offer a biodegradable solution that’s safe for rabbits if ingested. They provide absorbency and comfort, catering to rabbits’ natural behaviors.

Advantages of Natural-Fiber Litters: Natural-fiber litters align with rabbits’ natural instincts and behaviors, providing a comfortable and safe substrate for them to dig, nest, and eliminate. 

These litters are often less processed than synthetic alternatives, making them a more environmentally friendly choice. They’re biodegradable, meaning they break down naturally over time, reducing waste impact.

When using natural-fiber litters, observe your rabbit’s response and behavior. Some rabbits may prefer certain textures, so it’s important to provide options that cater to their individual preferences. Make sure to scoop the litter regularly to help keep your rabbit’s feet clean and dry.

grey kitten cuddled up to a white rabbit on a white background

9 Tips For Managing Litter Boxes With Both Cats And Rabbits

Having both cats and rabbits in your home requires a bit of strategy to ensure a clean and odor-free environment. 

Each pet has its own unique litter box needs. Here are some tips to help you manage litter boxes in homes with both cats and rabbits:

Separate Litter Boxes: Maintain separate litter boxes for cats and rabbits. This helps prevent confusion and reduces the risk of territorial disputes. Cats and rabbits have different behaviors and needs, so separate spaces for elimination are important.

Choose the Right Litters: For cats, you can choose a suitable cat litter that controls odors effectively. A clay cat litter is perfectly fine so long as you make sure the rabbit cannot access the cat’s litter box. For rabbits, use rabbit-safe litters like paper-based, wood pellet, or hay-based litters. 

Litter Box Placement: Strategically place the litter boxes in different areas of your home. Cats and rabbits have distinct territorial behaviors, so ensuring they have separate spaces to do their business can prevent stress and potential conflicts. Putting the cat litter in a place inaccessible to the rabbit will let you use a clay-based litter for the cat without putting the rabbit at risk. 

Regular Cleaning Routine: Establish a consistent cleaning routine for all the litter boxes. Regularly scoop waste from both cat and rabbit litter boxes to maintain cleanliness and prevent odors from building up.

Odor Control Measures: Use odor control measures that are safe for both cats and rabbits. Consider placing a small box of baking soda near the litter boxes to help neutralize odors.

Proper Ventilation: Ensure that the room where the litter boxes are located has proper ventilation. Good air circulation can help prevent odors from lingering in the space.

Maintain Hygiene: Wash your hands thoroughly after handling each animal’s litter box to prevent cross-contamination and the spread of germs. If you notice odors in the litter boxes even after changing the litter, it is time to wash the litter boxes as well.

Monitor Behavior: Regularly observe the behavior of both cats and rabbits around their litter boxes. If you see the rabbit in the cat litter box, or the cat in the rabbit litter box, look for ways you can change the setup to encourage each animal to use its own litter box.

Consider Litter Box Enclosures: If necessary, consider using litter box enclosures or covers that provide privacy for both cats and rabbits while containing odors. Litter box enclosures that require the cat to climb to access can also keep rabbits out of cat litter if needed. 

Conclusion

In households that are home to both cats and rabbits, a thoughtful approach to litter management is essential. Understanding the unique needs and behaviors of these animals is the key to creating a comfortable and hygienic living space. 

For cat owners, opting for a cat litter that prioritizes low dust, efficient odor control, and a texture that your feline companion finds inviting is crucial. Balancing these factors ensures that your cat’s litter box habits remain consistent and comfortable.

On the other hand, rabbits thrive when provided with litters that are absorbent, safe for ingestion, and aligned with their natural behaviors. The choice of litter directly impacts their health, comfort, and litter box experience. 

From paper-based litters to wood pellet options and even hay-based substrates, understanding these alternatives is essential for creating a safe and healthy environment for both species.

Sources:

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins DVM PhD.

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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