First time rabbit parents find themselves wrecking their nerves trying to figure out rabbit grooming.
‘Why is the rabbit shedding so much?’
‘A bunch of hair just came out and there’s a bald spot. Did I just pluck out more hair than what’s required?’
‘The nails seem too long. Should I clip it? Will it bleed?’
There’s never a dearth of doubt when it comes to grooming techniques and methods for bunnies. This has partly to do with the fact that rabbits as pets are fairly recent. For a long time, they were bred for meat and fur.
So, even experienced rabbit parents sometimes find themselves at their wits end trying to figure out grooming.
Unlike dogs, rabbits have an entirely different set of grooming requirements that begins with regular brushing and ends with periodic inspection of the rabbit’s body parts. A well groomed rabbit will be healthy, happy and disease free. So it is crucial that you familiarize yourself with the essentials of rabbit grooming.
Also, along with helping maintain the health of the rabbit, grooming also helps you create an everlasting bond with your pet. It is not uncommon for rabbits to look forward to grooming time as they relax and enjoy the experience.
We created this Rabbit Grooming 101 guide for new as well as seasoned rabbit owners to make grooming safe, easy and enjoyable. We will cover every aspect of grooming in detail including some basic over the counter recommended medications for common health problems in rabbits.
Table of Contents
The Basics of Grooming
Despite appearing that they don’t need attention and that they can groom themselves pretty well, rabbits are extremely delicate creatures that can rarely display symptoms of health problems. Grooming them regularly helps you keep an eye out for potential problems and spot them before they can escalate to more serious ones.
The supplies that you need:
- Nail clipper
- Cotton (Lots of it)
- Styptic powder
- Baby Oil
- Matt rake
- Soft bristle brush
So are you all set to begin?
Brushing Your Rabbit
Brushing helps to remove the hair that the rabbit sheds naturally. And rabbits shed a lot. Most rabbit breeds shed heavily once in three months. The shedding alternates between unnoticeable and mild to heavy during which the rabbit’s coat is replaced by a new one.
The duration of the heavy shedding is highly breed specific and also dependent on the bunny itself. You may find that one of your bunnies sheds a lot more than the other.
Irrespective of the breed, brushing once a week for short haired breeds ensures that any of shed hair that may be clinging on to the coat is released. For long haired breeds like Angora, brushing is recommended at least once every three days. This also helps to prepare the bunny for the daily brushing sessions that will replace the weekly sessions during phases of molting or heavy shedding.
Soft-bristle brushes are perfect for brushing your rabbit’s coat. You should be careful to brush in the direction of the fur only. This is more than sufficient to bring any loose hair to the surface which can then be removed by hand. Some vets also use two different types of brushes for rabbits. While brushes with wider teeth are preferred for breeds with longer hair, bristled brushes are used for shorter fur. If there are too many tangles, you can use a mat rake.
When brushing on the underside, gently position the rabbit on your lap making them comfortable. You can use a towel or any other soft cloth to allow the rabbit to rest. Rabbits often doze away into slumber land when you brush their underside.
Another simple technique is to wet your hands and just run it over the coat to remove any loose hair. This cannot be considered as a replacement for proper brushing. But it does help to remove any small fur that may not be removed with normal brushing.
Rabbits like cats constantly lick themselves as part of their grooming behavior which can result in them ingesting hair. This can cause hairballs which are also known as trichobezoars. But unlike cats, they cannot vomit the hairballs out and it can cause an obstruction in their stomach or in their intestinal tract. Grooming helps to reduce the risk of hairballs in rabbits. One of the telltale signs of a hairball obstruction is lack of appetite and activity. Also, the quantity of feces will reduce significantly. If you suspect a hairball obstruction in rabbits, then contact a vet immediately.
Time and again, you may discover matted fur on your bunny’s body. Sometimes, it can be in locations which are very difficult to comb through. For example, under the tail. You might be tempted to go chop-chop on the mat as it can easily alleviate the tension that it causes. But rabbits have extremely delicate skin which is easily prone to cuts from a scissor. You can use a mat rake with a fine blade to take the mat apart. In case you find it very difficult to remove with a rake, speak to your vet for help.
Mites And Fleas
Despite frequent grooming and care, fleas and mites can find their way on to your rabbit’s skin and fur. These pesky little critters can hide themselves amazingly well and by the time you notice your rabbit scratching their gut out, the fleas might have spread to a full blown infestation. The first and most important thing is to find out the number of fleas on your rabbits body. Gently run your hands parting the fur to spot the fleas. If the infestation is mild, then use a flea comb. It is pretty similar to using a grooming comb and rabbits usually like being combed. After combing, if you find any fleas in the comb, then dip it in a soap solution or alcohol to ensure that the fleas are killed.
If the infestation is severe, then you may need to speak to a vet who will recommend a topical medication like Advantage, Program or Revolution. All three of these are brand names for topical insecticides which are safe for application in rabbits.
Care must be taken to ensure that the rabbits do not lick or ingest the medication as it can cause an upset tummy. One of the best spots to apply the medication is behind the neck.
Revolution in particular, is considered as one of the best treatments for multiple conditions including mites that cause ear canker and mange.
Speak to your vet about measuring the medication so that you can administer the right doses. Also, mite eggs can often hide in the fur or dander that the rabbit sheds. For this reason, it is crucial that you completely scrub and clean both, the cage as well as the area that the rabbit enjoys a free run in. That may be the house or the backyard or the run. But it must be vacuumed and any fur or dander that the rabbit may have shed prior to the treatment must be removed.
Rabbits can develop bald patches or flakes on their skin due to mites. Sometimes, it can also be caused due to an allergy triggered by fleas. In either cases, your vet may recommend one of the three medications that we have mentioned above. In cases of chronic inflammation or in case of bacterial infections like pyoderma, speak to your vet about the best treatment methodology.
Cleaning The Scent Glands
If your rabbit suddenly smells like a skunk, then it may be due to the buildup of a gooey or waxy substance in their scent glands around the anus. This is scent musk and is a normal secretion in rabbits. However, some bunnies secret a lot more than others. It has a very pungent odor and cleaning or unplugging the glands from time to time helps prevent the buildup and the odor to an extent.
Gently position the rabbit on your lap, lift up the tail and part the skin around the little anus to expose the scent glands. You will be able to see the waxy buildup now. Use a Q-tip to scoop out the secretion from one gland. Repeat for the other gland as well. You can also use a cotton wad dipped in some petroleum jelly to lubricate the gland. This makes it easier to remove the waxy secretion. FYI, rabbits also have scent glands under their chin which they use to mark their territory.
House rabbits often do not get enough exercise on a variety of ground surfaces. They spend most of their lifespan on carpeted floors or linoleum surfaces which prevents their nails from being naturally worn out and maintained. So, you may have to trim the nails from time to time to a suitable length. Nail trimming is a fairly simple process once you know the precise length to trim it to. The nail has a vein in it which is also called the quick. You need to clip the nails just below the quick. If you accidentally do clip the quick (common occurrence), just apply Styptic powder to stop the bleeding.
If you are new to it, your vet can help you with the process. Some rabbits are petrified of nail trimming. So, it is important to associate nail trimming with positive reinforcement. Offering them treats or patting them helps ease the anxiety. Also, if you start at an early age, the bunny will get desensitized to the trimming.
Declawing a Rabbit
Never ever, declaw a rabbit. A rabbit’s claw helps them generate traction on the floor and they are not retractable like those of a cat. In effect, the rabbit will be hopping around on the surgery site for days to come until it is completely healed. Not only is it extremely painful for the bunny, but it is very likely to get infected.
Rabbit cages must have rugs or fleece blankets that provide your bunny with a soft and comfortable resting place. This will help prevent the padding of the feet from being worn out or form calluses. Calluses or skin inflammation on the pads must be treated immediately for the risk of infection which can become chronic over a period of time. Also, ensure that the resting rugs are dry. Moist surfaces can trigger a bacterial skin infection.
With the incessant gnawing and chewing on the hay that is kept in their hutch or cage, a rabbit usually keeps their teeth growth in check. However, if your bunny has crooked teeth then it may not get worn out naturally with the chewing. In such cases, you may have to clip the teeth to restrict or control their growth. If left unchecked, it grows to an extent that the rabbit finds it impossible to eat and can even starve to death. You can use a teeth clipper yourself or you can take your rabbit to the vet to get the teeth clipped. It’s a simple and painless procedure.
It’s fun to see the bunny frolic in water, isn’t it? Well, it is far from fun for the rabbit. Rabbits hate water. In fact, they despise the experience so much that it can traumatize them and make them extremely anxious. In some rare cases, it can also cause a heart attack. Rabbits do not need to be bathed. Like cats, they are excellent at licking themselves clean. However, there may be situations when you feel that the rabbit needs to be bathed. For example, it has a poopy butt or has tracked in dirt or has matted fur all over. You can always use a damp towel to spot clean. Read our section on matted fur to know how to detangle mats. But let me reiterate. Never bathe the rabbit unless your vet recommends it as a measure to bring down fever.
Checking The Ears
The buildup of ear wax or debris in a rabbit’s ears must be cleaned at least once every four weeks. Just check the inside of the ear and use a cotton swab or a baby wipe to scoop out the wax. Do not use Q-tips as it may cause the wax to get pushed further inside the ears. Also, there’s always the risk of damaging the inner ear. If your rabbit hutch is outdoors, then ear mite infestations will occur at some point or the other. Thankfully, the condition is easy to treat if diagnosed early. You can use a topical solution like Mitox or anything similar that your vet recommends. Once the condition is treated completely, use baby oil to prevent a reinfection.
Last but not the least, we have the rabbit’s eyes. Your bunny’s eyes will naturally produce some gunk or wax which form crusts in the corner. These can be removed by using a damp cotton swab allowing the crust to loosen first. However, if you feel that the rabbit is crying or there’s a white mucus like discharge from the eyes, then it may be a condition called runny eyes or epiphora. This is one of the commonest conditions in rabbits. The only respite may be to head to the vet because if it is a bacterial infection, it needs to be checked before it spreads or becomes more severe.
The Vet Check up
Even if you are a diligent groomer, you still need to ensure that your bunny gets its periodic checkup by a veterinarian. If you are unsure whether the vet is rabbit savvy, you can always use the House Rabbit Society Veterinarian Index to find a rabbit-savvy vet close to you. Regular health checkups help to spot any potential health condition that you may have missed out on. Remember what we told you about the lack of symptoms in rabbits?
To Sum it up
After every successful grooming session, pat your rabbit to encourage them and instill a positive feeling about the grooming experience. You can also use their favorite treats.
Images source: Bigstock.com