Cat Litter For Rabbits (Is It Ever Safe?)


Some animal lovers keep more than one pet, however, as we know, pets can cost a lot to keep. Naturally, owners try to save money by using the same products for several pets, even those of a different species. We often get asked if cat litter can be used for rabbits, and as rabbits are our passion, we’d like to talk about this topic in this short post. First, let’s clarify is cat litter safe to use with rabbits?

Although some paper and wood-based cat litters are safe for use with rabbits, many litters should not be used as they clump when they get wet. Some litters if eaten accidentally can cause stomach upset and potentially life-threatening conditions such as gastrointestinal stasis.

That’s the short answer, and although there are some cat litters that can be used with rabbits, with up to 60% of cat litters sold in the US being of the clay variety let’s take a closer look to help you decide if it’s a risk worth taking for your own rabbits.

Safety concerns of using cat litters for rabbits

The main concern around cat litter is of course the risk of it causing harm if accidentally ingested. Although this may seem like an unlikely occurrence, especially if you religiously keep your rabbit’s food and toilet areas separate, it’s worth remembering that rabbits are keen explorers and use their mouths to nibble on anything new or interesting.

This exploratory nature coupled with the clumping properties of many cat litters (add these to the complicated digestive system of the rabbit) makes for a recipe for disaster. Rabbits can not vomit the foreign material out once it’s in, the rabbit has no gag reflex, so the material has to pass through the entire digestive system.

The rabbit digestive system evolved to handle coarse fibrous plant materials so it is important to make sure that they don’t have access to anything that could pose a threat to their health if it is unintentionally ingested. The bentonite clay that makes up the majority of clumping cat litter is extremely hazardous.

Another potential health issue associated with cat litters (including some wood substrates such as shavings) is the risk of a rabbit being exposed to chemicals such as dyes, aromatic oils, and artificial fragrances.

Rabbits are sensitive and some of these chemicals can be harmful to a rabbit’s internal organs such as the liver and lungs.

What are the types of Cat Litter?

There are several different types of cat litter, almost all of which are not suitable for rabbits. We’ll describe these briefly below.

Clay Litters

This litter is the most popular choice for cat owners because it is easy to come by, cheap, and readily available. Clay litters make up the majority of cat litters and are available with lots of different options including low dust, dust-free, clumping, and non-clumping.

Made up of varying size clay pieces which absorb moisture and create a cement-like material as described these are a poor choice for a rabbit, especially the dustier brands that (as well as impacting the digestive system), may also have very negative effects on the lungs.

Silica Gel Litters

A fairly new concept, silica gel cat litter is made from sodium silicate sand that is processed with oxygen and water. This creates tiny beads with pores that absorb and trap liquid (urine). It’s less dusty than some clay litters, non-toxic and biodegradable, which makes it a good choice for cats.

However, silica is another example of a litter that can cause digestive issues if ingested by our rabbits. The expansion of this substance of up to 40 times its original weight, when exposed to liquids, means that it has the potential to wreak havoc with a rabbit’s digestive system.

Wooden litters (pellets)

More environmentally friendly than clay and clumping litters are the wooden pellet type litters. Many of these are very low dust and like clay, litters come in both clumping and non-clumping varieties.

Often made from pine these litters are biodegradable and high absorbency retaining up to twice their weight in liquid.

There are many opinions on whether or not pine litter is safe for rabbits particularly around the phenols (natural chemicals in pine) that may cause harm to a rabbit (specifically liver damage).

Personally, we used these litters in our early days of rabbit ownership and saw no ill effects on our several rabbits, however, we quickly stopped using these once we learned of the potential risks associated with chemical inhalation especially from substrates made from treated pine and cedar.

Wheat Litters

Made from processed biodegradable and renewable wheat, these litters are good at controlling odors. They clump when exposed to pee, trapping the urine and ammonia odors that are then neutralized by the wheats natural enzymes.

Naturally, some rabbit owners would think that these litters would be perfectly safe for rabbits however, again the clumping properties of wheat litters put rabbits at risk of gastrointestinal issues such as stasis.

Grass Seed Litters

Another of the natural cat litter options is grass seed litter. It’s ultra clumping and you may be misled into thinking it is safe for rabbits due to the fact it is named after one of their favorite foods.

Rabbit owners who have tried grass seed litter have reported that their pets have spent more time eating it than using it as a toilet and although rabbits readily graze on grass, grass seed is not part of their normal everyday diet and does not make a good medium for a rabbit toilet area.

Corn Litters

Similar to other litters including wheat, grass seed, and wooden pellet, corn litter is produced from all-natural ingredients – in this case, dried corn kernels.

It’s long been known that corn kernels can cause blockages in the rabbit digestive system, however, this mostly relates to the endosperm of fresh corn and not dried corn which means that the small particles of dried corn that make up these litters are unlikely to cause many issues if ingested in small quantities.

However, there is a problem with corn litter that makes it an unsuitable choice for a rabbit, in fact, truthaboutpetfood.com reports that these litters may even be dangerous to cats.

This is because when corn litter gets wet, a deadly aflatoxin mold can begin to grow. This poisonous mold and its spores can be very hazardous to the health of a rabbit.

Paper Pellets

Made from recycled paper material or newspaper these eco-friendly litters are available in a variety of types and textures. They are dust-free and are used by many rabbit owners due to their low price, natural materials, and absorbancy.

However, as with all litters made specifically for cats caution should always be exercised and in fact, my own personal experience of paper pellet litter was not a good one.

I’d heard lots of rabbit owners recommending paper litters and so I decided to test these myself. Unfortunately the very same week I lost a rabbit to a mystery illness. While I cannot say for sure if this death was related to the paper litter, I couldn’t rule it out for certain either.

Do rabbits need litter?

Rabbits produce a lot of poop (up to 200 droppings per day) and pee which means that owners should be cleaning toilet areas daily and the entire cage/hutch/enclosure thoroughly at least once a week (more for smaller enclosures).

Because of the amount of waste that a rabbit produces a layer of newspaper coupled with an absorbent substrate is recommended however, this does not necessarily have to be cat litter and can be any number of absorbent substrates.

Some rabbit owners simply opt to use hay in their rabbit hutch (this makes sense as rabbits have no problem with eating where they poop) however, hay is not very absorbent and can become wet and smelly very quickly. In my experience, it can also be difficult to scoop out without getting in a mess due to the long strands.

Our preferred option is to use natural wood shavings. Although they aren’t quite as absorbent, they still hold around twice their weight in liquid which will be more than adequate, provided you keep up a regular cleaning schedule. Avoid the aforementioned pine and cedar substrates and opt for untreated aspen or spruce.

Suitable litters/substrates for rabbits

We’ve already talked about clay litters and the negative impact they can have on the digestive and respiratory systems. These same issues occur with many clumping litters but if you’re still unsure about what to use for your rabbit we’ve put together this quick reference table.

Litter/SubstrateDescriptionOur Choice
Wooden pelletsWooden pellets can come in many forms including Feline (cat), Equine (horse), and even those advertised as fuel for heating stoves (provided they are not soaked in accelerants). Avoid pine and cedar varieties.Kaytee Wood Pellets for Pets
Newspaper Newspaper is readily available, absorbent, and very cheap (even free). Rabbits also seem to enjoy ripping at it. Our recommended use is as an absorbent underlayer for one of the other substrates on this list.Any Free Local Newspaper
Barley StrawWhile not very absorbent, barley straw is a safe substrate to use in litter areas, however, keep your eyes out for any long sharp strands which may be a hazard to the rabbit’s delicate eyes.Snowflake
HayRegardless of whether you decide to use hay in a toilet area or litter box, it is the staple of a rabbits diet and an unlimited amount should be available for them to graze on. As mentioned above the main disadvantage of hay in a toilet area is that it can get a little smelly and difficult to scoop out once soiled. Blue Mountain Organic
ReadigrassReadigrass is a completely natural feed made exclusively from natural pastures. It’s highly palatable, rich in digestible fiber, and aids in correct gut function in rabbits.
Our favorite brand ‘Friendly’ uses a special low-temperature drying process that removes the water but leaves the fragrant aroma and vibrant green color of the grasses (and most importantly the high nutrient value of fresh grass).
Friendly
Wheatgrass based pelletsMade of wheatgrass and other plant fibers they provide a safe chemical, additive, odor, and dust-free toilet environment for rabbits.Critter Country
Natural Wood Shavings (Aspen or spruce)Hard-wood beddings may not be quite as comfortable as soft paper-based substrates but they are a popular substrate that has been used for decades. Choose brands without added aromatic oils or other chemicals.Kaytee Aspen Bedding
Paper pulp litters/PelletsWe’ve already given our opinion on these litters above. Often made from 100% reclaimed natural paper fibers they provide an ultra-absorbent comfy place for your rabbits to sleep, poop, and pee.Carefresh

Is litter training necessary for rabbits?

You do not have to litter train your rabbit but it is recommended especially if the rabbit will be kept inside the home.

Before attempting litter training you should have rabbits fixed as this will stop them from marking their territory through spraying and reduce the risk of future health issues including some cancers.

Lastly, if you want to be successful, you will need to get started with litter training as soon as possible, even before the rabbit reaches maturity.

Fortunately, litter training a rabbit is a relatively simple process and if you are keen to learn how it’s done you can read our complete guide here.

Further Reading

Bunny’s litter box animalhumanesociety.org

Rabbit urine odor control Rabbit.org

Can Cat Litter Be Used in the Bottom of a Rabbit Cage? Petsthenest.com

Related Questions

Do rabbits eat cat litter?

Rabbits don’t particularly enjoy the taste of cat litter however they may eat small amounts by accident. Rabbits use their mouths to explore and will nibble on anything new or interesting. In the course of this exploration, they may ingest small amounts of a substrate or litter.

What do you put in a rabbit litter box?

rabbit litter box

Rabbits litter boxes should contain a safe, chemical-free, absorbent substrate. A layer of newspaper underneath the substrate can also add extra absorbency and helps to make cleaning easier.

How often should I clean a rabbits litter box?

rabbits in a litter box

Rabbits can produce up to 200 droppings per day, therefore it’s recommended to clean their litter box daily, removing any wet or soiled litter and replacing it, and thoroughly cleaning the box with warm soapy water. Keeping the litter tray clean will reduce the risk of harmful parasites and flystrike.

Darren

Darren is the founder and editor at Bunny Advice and has been caring for rabbits for over a decade. He has a passion for helping animals and sharing his experience and knowledge with others.

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