Many people struggle with this scenario: Bunnikins has always had perfect litter box habits. Now, all of a sudden, your rabbit keeps hopping on the couch and peeing on it. It’s a frustrating situation and one that has happened in our household as well.
I remember the third time it happened with Cosette a few years back. Frustrated by this behavior, I had picked her up and put her in her cage. (She still had a cage back then although it was always open.) I closed the cage door and closed the kitchen door where the cage was located at the time. But even in the other room I could hear her thrashing around in the cage trying to break free. For a rabbit who detests being picked up and despises even more being cooped up in a cage, this was the greatest insult.
But I did it both to punish her and also to simply remove her from the area so I could clean up the mess. To my surprise however, when I let her out of her cage after an hour, she never peed on the sofa again.
I later came across an incredibly useful article on the House Rabbit Society website which helps shed light on this behavior and suggests ways to train your rabbit. The article is called FAQ: Training, and under the heading “Behavior motivated by social structure,” it delves specifically into the rabbit peeing on the couch problem. Rabbits will mark areas where you often sit (the couch, the bed, etc.) to tell you, “I am the dominant one in this relationship. Your space is mine now.”
The appropriate responses to this unwelcome behavior are to either completely ban your rabbit from the area or use devices called snappy trainers to discourage your rabbit from jumping the couch. This establishes the correct hierarchy of you as Top Bunny. So by temporarily banishing Cosette to her cage, I had inadvertently enforced the notion that she was second on the totem pole to me.
But anyone who is experiencing this issue should read the House Rabbit Society article in full. The entire article is very enlightening, covering various behavior issues that most bunny owners will come across at some point.
- Ensure this is not simply a case of losing good litter box habits. If there are a lot of other outside-the-box accidents, take steps to retrain your rabbit. This usually involves limiting his or her space. See our article, Litter Training Your Pet Rabbit for more information.
- Make sure your rabbit is spayed or neutered. This will help calm your rabbit’s hormones and reduce the urge to mark territory. For more information about the surgery and what to expect, see Spaying or Neutering Your Pet Bunny.
- “FAQ: Training by Nancy LaRoche, House Rabbit Society.