For rabbits, like most other pets, smelling is believing. Urine is smelly, and rabbits spray urine to announce to the world, “This is mine!”
When your rabbit pees on you, your rabbit is marking you as its personal possession. For rabbits, this can be an expression of endearment, but most humans are not flattered.
While a single spray of urine can become just a memorable moment, constant spraying of urine becomes a real problem, especially when rabbits live indoors.
In this article, we’ll tell you about some other reasons rabbits spray urine, and what you can do to minimize the problem. Then we will answer some common questions about rabbits that spray their urine.
Spraying and Peeing Aren’t the Same
All healthy rabbits pee every day. Most healthy rabbits spray only occasionally.
There are several important differences between the two acts.
Rabbits usually pee against a flat, horizontal surface below their bodies. Rabbits spray into the air to mark objects and, sometimes, people standing upright.
Rabbit urine never smells good. But the urine rabbits spray (especially male rabbits looking for a mate) smells a lot like skunk.
The urine rabbits spray to mark something or someone as their own has additional chemicals that humans can’t smell.
These chemicals are called pheromones. Every rabbit’s pheromones smell just a little different to other rabbits.
Rabbit urine can be the rabbit’s equivalent of writing its signature. But pheromones are also important to rabbits in other ways:
- The male rabbit urinates on the female rabbit as part of its courtship ritual.
- Male rabbits may urinate on smaller or older male rabbits to say “I’m boss.
- A pheromone from the mother rabbit activates the learning centers of the brain in baby rabbits about four days after they are born.
One activity in male rabbits that parents sometimes have difficulty explaining to their children is ejaculation and urination more or less simultaneously without intercourse.
This is the buck’s way of announcing to females, “I am ready,”
Rabbits also mark their territory with small piles of poop and, by chinning, rubbing objects and people with their chins to release other pheromones. These chemicals tell other rabbits, “This is mine,”
But spraying is mostly about sex.
Male rabbits reach puberty about 10 to 12 weeks after they are born. Female rabbits become capable of pregnancy at about 16 weeks.
Spraying begins when hormone levels (testosterone in males, estrogen and progesterone in females) rise and stimulate reproductive urges.
Rabbits will spray less in the fall and winter than in the spring and summer, because their mating urges are stronger in warm weather.
Also read: How To Tell If Rabbit Mating Is Successful?
The Best Way to Stop Your Rabbits from Spraying
The most reliable way to prevent spraying is to take your rabbit to the vet to have it neutered.
Removing the testes in male rabbits or the ovaries in female rabbits stops the production of hormones that stimulate reproductive urges and the spraying behaviors that accompany them.
Spaying and neutering rabbits also mean you won’t have to deal with 10, 20, or even more baby bunnies every year from each doe.
The procedure also stops mounting. It takes away the incentive for males to fight over females and for females to fight over nesting spots.
Spaying and neutering also lowers the risk of certain reproductive cancers in rabbits. However, there are situations in which having your rabbit “fixed” won’t stop spraying.
Spraying in Neutered Rabbits
Sex hormones in rabbits aren’t produced just in sex organs. There is also a tiny amount of sex hormone production in the brain and in the adrenal glands.
This may be enough to cause occasional spraying, even in rabbits that are no longer reproductively intact.
But more often, the problem with spraying after neutering surgery is unusual stress or a urinary tract infection.
Some rabbits spray when they are picked up
There are some rabbits that spray urine when they are picked up.
These are generally smaller rabbits that can be seriously injured if they are dropped. Larger rabbits almost never spray when they are picked up gently.
Rabbits are prey animals. They instinctively try to flee larger animals that pick them up by their claws, like hawks, eagles, and coyotes.
Urination is a natural part of the fight-or-flight response. It lowers body weight so the rabbit can get away faster.
The solution to this problem is to get down to your rabbit’s level instead of picking up your rabbit to bring it to yours.
Sit next to your rabbit on the floor instead of trying to hold it in your lap.
On those occasions, you must pick up your rabbit, such as a trip to the vet or moving to a different hutch, approach your rabbit from the side, not from in front of it.
Rabbits have their eyes on the sides of their head, so they cannot see what is directly in front of them.
Shuffle your feet or speak to your rabbit to let it know you are coming. Pick up your rabbit from the middle of its body, not from its neck or hindquarters, and never, ever by its ears.
Changes in location may cause rabbits to spray
Your rabbit may spray when you first bring it home.
Rabbits spray when they are moved to different cages, and when they are introduced to new cage mates.
A close encounter with a scary dog or wild animal may trigger spraying by your rabbit.
Rabbits spray when they are under stress.
You can minimize stress by giving your rabbit a quiet environment and a predictable daily routine.
Feed your rabbit at the same time every day. Have playtime at the same time every day.
Keep in mind that for rabbits, smelling is believing. When you must move rabbits to a new home, bring blankets, bedding, or toys that have old scents on them to the new location.
Hold off washing these items until your rabbit has had a few days in its new home.
Also read: Does Rabbit Poop Kill Grass?
Spraying Caused by Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) or Kidney Stones
Spraying can also be a sign that your rabbit has a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a kidney stone.
The urine of healthy rabbits is microbe-free.
Bacteria can migrate up from the opening of the urethra to the bladder when there isn’t enough urine to wash them outward.
“Low-flow” conditions occur when:
- The rabbit is dehydrated. This can be due to forgetting to refill the water bottle, so it runs out, or leaving foul-smelling water in the rabbit’s water bottle so it does not want to drink.
- The rabbit is so obese that abdominal fat interferes with the flow of urine from its bladder into the urethra.
- The rabbit does not get enough exercise outside its cage. Rabbits are inhibited from urinating when they are confined all the time, so urine accumulates in the bladder and gives bacteria a chance to colonize its lining.
- The rabbit can’t hop around due to splaying or injury to its legs.
Spraying can also be a sign of kidney stones.
Kidney and bladder stones can block the urinary canal with the result that urine builds up until it bursts out.
Or kidney and bladder stones can scrape the lining of the bladder and urinary canal to give bacteria a place to accumulate.
Kidney stones are most likely to be a problem for:
- Rabbits that are fed a diet of mostly alfalfa pellets. Alfalfa is very high in calcium, which forms kidney stones. (Small amounts of alfalfa pellets are OK for bunnies up to the age of 4 months, but not after that.)
- Rabbits that are chronically dehydrated. Their kidneys do not generate enough urine to flush out calcium salts before they become calcium crystals.
- Rabbits that have kidney “sand,” scraping the lining of the bladder to cause chronic inflammation, which later blocks the flow of urine so stones form.
When the underlying cause of spraying is kidney stones, spraying is just an early symptom.
The condition will progress so that the rabbit only dribbles urine, urinates outside its box, strains to urinate, has bloody urine, or passes a pasty white secretion around the opening of its urinary canal.
Because the opening of the penis is smaller than the opening of the vulva, male rabbits have more problems with kidney stones than females.
A completely blocked urinary canal is a veterinary emergency—rabbits that don’t get veterinary treatment may die in just 24 hours.
Also read: How to Store Rabbit Manure?
How to Remove Stains Caused by Rabbit Pee?
You can remove urine stains caused by rabbit spraying with pure white vinegar, or white vinegar diluted with tap water half-and-half. Remove any vinegar smell with water.
The reason to use vinegar is that it removes urine stains without affecting the color of the carpet or fabric.
To clean up rabbit urine, you will need the following:
- Full-strength white vinegar.
- Warm tap water.
- A spray bottle for the vinegar. (If spraying is a frequently problem, you may want to just keep a spray bottle filled with white vinegar ready at all times._
- Clean wash cloths or paper towels.
The clean-up process will take 5 to 10 minutes.
To remove the urine stain:
- Blot up as much of the urine as you can with washcloths or paper towels. Do the blotting step first, so you do not spread the urine by diluting it.
- Spray the affected surface with vinegar. Allow the vinegar to stand for 2 or 3 minutes on wood floors or 4 to 10 minutes on carpets or upholstery.
- After the vinegar has had a chance to work, blot up as much vinegar as you can with a fresh washcloth or a new paper towel. Then remove the rest of the vinegar with warm water.
- If you are removing urine from a wood floor, be sure to dry it with a paper towel so there is no watermark,
You will need a warm-water rinse whether you use full-strength or diluted vinegar.
Throw paper towels away after using them to clean up urine. It’s OK to reuse sponges or washcloths if you send them through the hot-water cycle of your washing machine.
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