Most rabbit owners enjoy grooming time and take it as an opportunity to get close to their companion pet. It's an opportunity to build a relationship and a special bond.
If your rabbit trusts you and you groom with gentle confidence, your rabbits will enjoy their grooming time too.
As rabbits very rarely show signs of illness or injury, grooming is also a great time to check for any signs of cuts, lumps, bumps, fleas, mites, fly-strike or overgrown teeth and nails.
A nice tasty treat after grooming will teach your rabbits to associate your attention with something good too.
A bit like cats, rabbits, in most cases, are quite meticulous about their appearance and will self-groom as often as they can.
However, we still need to help them out from time to time and in some cases we need to groom our rabbits from once a week to as much as once a day, depending on the type of rabbit.
As dog and cat owners have a regular grooming regime with their pets, so should you have with your rabbits.
Obviously there are some breeds that require more grooming than others. For example the Angora rabbit breed need extensive grooming everyday otherwise their fur becomes matted, uncomfortable and unhealthy.
The extent of your rabbit grooming regime will largely depend on your situation. For example if you show your rabbits at competitions and exhibitions etc, then your grooming procedures will be a daily, detailed exercise.
If you have several outdoor rabbits that live together in a social community, your regime will be slightly more relaxed as rabbits will take care of each other to a certain extent. Your rabbit grooming duties will increase during times of moult and wet weather.
To avoid long and stressful rabbit grooming time, the answer is to keep your rabbits from getting too dirty. You can do this by keeping all housing and play areas clean from faecal waste material by removing it on a regular basis. You can also practically eliminate the sticky faecal pellets by making sure their diet is full of fibre, (80% grass and hay) and limit their intake of rich, high calorie treats.
Things You'll Need
Spritz & Stroke
The metal slicker brushes are not recommended on rabbits as they are quite penetrating and can harm your rabbit's flesh. Some rabbit owners prefer them having used them confidently on their own rabbits for years, however never use this kind of brush to groom against the growth of fur, it will damage the fur and could hurt your rabbit's sensitive skin.
Teeth & Nails
Rabbits shed heavily every three months on average and in the mean time they will have a light shedding that may not be very noticeable.
Rabbits are fastidious self groomers. They insist on being clean and tidy
and will lick themselves like cats, and like cats, they can get
hairballs if they ingest too much hair.
However, unlike cats rabbits cannot bring up this hair by retching. If hairballs are allowed to form inside the digestive tract, they can become larger with additional food getting trapped too. This will eventually block the flow of food and nutrition. This means the rabbit will starve to death but will have the appearance of being fat.
Rabbits need to be brushed at least weekly. In addition to removing any loose hair, this weekly brushing session helps prepare them for the multiple rabbit grooming that they must undergo when their heavy shedding begins.
Rabbits will shed in different ways. Some rabbits will take a couple of weeks or more to loose their old coat of fur. Other rabbits will be ready to get rid of their old coats all in one day and these rabbits are the ones that cannot be neglected once they start shedding.
You can often remove a very large percentage of hair by just pulling it out with your hand. But, however you remove it, remove it as soon as possible or your rabbit will do it during their self-grooming.
These types of rabbits are truly wonderful to look at, but require a lot more attention in rabbit grooming sessions than short haired rabbits.
Long-haired rabbits have a thick undercoat that you cannot get at by simply brushing the top layer. You will need to lift the the top layers of hair to be able to brush the thicker coat underneath.
Rabbits have very delicate skin and can tear easily so a metal comb instead of a metal slicker brush is always a safer option here. A dual level comb is great for combing long-haired rabbits such as Angoras or Cashmere lops. Rabbit grooming with a soft bristle brush is of no use on long haired rabbits.
Rabbit grooming for long haired bunnies, can be a particular problem for the hair between the legs, belly and in the groin area and should be kept short by cutting with scissors or even shaved with electric clippers.
Rescue rabbits and severely neglected rabbits have some truly horrendous cases of fur matting, meaning their fur is all clogged up together.
In really bad cases, where they have been poorly treated for a long time, their whole body is covered with matted fur.
But some rabbits just seem to get matted in certain areas more often than not as a matter of course.
Interestingly though, human beings are the same when it comes clumpy hair. If we sleep with our head on a pillow, and have a humid night with lots of moving about, our hair will often get matted on the backs of our heads. A simple hair wash with lashings of conditioner usually sorts it out, but unfortunately rabbits can't just jump in the shower with lots of fancy hair conditioning product, so we need to help them out.
A rabbit's skin is a delicate organ beneath all the fur and is highly susceptible to cuts and tears, so any fur mats
shouldn't really be cut off with scissors.
Tangled and matted fur can collect urine and faeces around the genital area and create a very unsanitary condition.
Urine or feacal-messed fur is a breeding ground for maggots, (hatched from eggs laid by flies), which
can burrow into your rabbit's skin, causing infection, pain and even death.
This condition is commonly referred to as 'fly-strike' and is easily
avoided by proper rabbit grooming.
When dealing with matts on rabbit's feet, remember that they need the hair on their feet to protect them. However excessive matts on the foot pads can usually be gently pulled out by a comb or your fingers. Make sure to leave at least ¼ inch of hair on their feet and only cut off the matts, and don't give their feet regular haircuts.
If you've had to pull or clip away larger matts, always check the feet to make sure the hair is growing back in and that there are no hock sores. (See Rabbit Anatomy to get to know the different parts of your bunny).
It is a very rare bunny indeed that actually enjoys a bath. Although I have seen quite a few on the Internet being subjected to it.
Rabbits, like their wild ancestors, do not relish getting wet, they're just not designed that way.
Even an occasional bath is quite stressful to the average rabbit, and is not recommended for two main reasons:
Unless your veterinarian advises it to bring down a fever, you should never give a sick rabbit a bath. Because seemingly healthy rabbits can have undiagnosed problems, it’s best not to subject them to the stress of a bath at all.
If your rabbit is very badly infested with
fleas, there’s a good chance that they will be already compromised and may go
into shock when bathed. There are many safe alternatives to flea control.
A thoroughly wet rabbit takes a very long time to dry, so spot cleaning the dirty area with an application of baby cornstarch and then gently combing out the dirt with a fine flea comb is better than a wet bath. Spot bathing extremely dirty areas (feet, scut, etc.) is definitely the way to go as it is far less stressful for the rabbit and quicker too.
There are some important steps and protocols to adhere to when the very last resort to cleaning your rabbit is putting it in a bath of water.
Some last resort bathing scenarios would include:
If you think your rabbit needs to be bathed, the important steps to take and points to consider are detailed in the Complete Rabbit Grooming Guide available as part of the iRabbit READY System.
Certain breeds and types of rabbit such as the long haired breeds, show rabbits or rabbits kept in cages are susceptible to quite specific grooming needs and because a rabbit's skin is delicate and can tear easily, grooming of any kind should be undertaken with caution and significant preparation.
Being aware of common causes of skin conditions and knowing what is healthy or not healthy, will also give you greater confidence when grooming your precious bunnies. For example scratchy, flaky skin with bald patches is usually a symptom of mites or, more rarely, an allergic reaction to fleas.
The Complete Rabbit Grooming Guide available as part of the iRabbit READY System, will give you all you need to know about looking for common symptoms of skin problems with rabbits of all breeds.
Like dogs and cats, rabbits need their toenails trimmed, especially house rabbits as they don't spend so much time digging and running about outside.
If a rabbit's nails are left to grow too long and sharp they become not only be very uncomfortable for your bunny but they can also be dangerous. They can rip off completely if caught in caging, or flooring etc.
Because of risk of infection, de-clawing is definitely NOT recommended for rabbits. If excessive digging or scratching is a problem, then a large box of hay, straw or dirt, where bunny can pursue these activities, may help.
Have a look at Rabbit Training for more tips on how to get your rabbit to stop digging etc.
If the padding (fur) on the feet is worn down, exposing inflamed or callused skin, then soft dry resting pads (rugs) should be provided. Exposed skin that becomes urine burned or broken is very likely to infect. Take extra care that rugs and litter boxes are kept clean and dry.
Most rabbit owners forget that the scent glands need checking at rabbit grooming time. Male and female rabbits have scent glands, both under their chin and around their anus. You can usually tell if your rabbit has scent gland build-up as they often have an unpleasant odour.
It’s simple to clean the glands, however. Simply dip a cotton-bud into some warm water and hold your rabbit in a safe hold that gives you access to the genitals.
Locate the two slits on either side of the rabbit’s genitals. Take the Q-tip and carefully swab away the brown build-up. It should just take you a second and you’re done!
A rabbit's eyes should be clear, bright and free from any discharge or wetness. If you notice your rabbit's cheeks are wet, sticky or matted, you may have a problem.
Watery eyes or eye discharge needs to be diagnosed by a vet so if you suspect anything out of the ordinary you should take your bun to your vet immediately.
In the meantime you can use a tissue to absorb some of the moisture and use some saline solution (the type used for contact lenses) on bunnies cheeks to crystallize any 'tears', these can these be brushed out with a clean flea comb once dry. A touch of prescription aesthetic powder on a finger can be applied to the area if there are painful lesions.
Rabbit grooming time is a great time to check your bunny's teeth.
Rabbits teeth grow continuously and must be checked to ensure that they are wearing down properly.
While you’re brushing your rabbit or clipping nails also look at their teeth to make sure they are not overgrown or crooked.
Bunnies with straight teeth will keep them worn down with everyday gnawing and chewing, as their teeth line up properly, however rabbits with malocclusions, or crooked teeth, will need to have their teeth kept trimmed with guillotine-type clippers. If this occurs and is left untreated, the rabbit will not be able to eat and could starve to death. Your veterinarian can show you how to clip a rabbits teeth or you can get them to do it for you.
If your rabbit's ears are smelly or have puss on them anywhere it will probably be a sign of infection. In which case you will need to take a trip to your local vet.
Ear wax can be lifted out with a cotton swab (cotton bud) from the outer canal and ear tip (the long part) but take care not to put the bud/swab in too deep, as it could push any wax in deeper and cause other problems.
You can also try a mild ear cleaner containing Chlorhexadine, such as Nolvasan Otic.
If your rabbit has read, scaly or obviously sore ears they probably have mites. A mite solution can be used such as Mitox.
In severe cases your veterinarian may also prescribe Ivermectin.
Rabbit grooming time is the perfect opportunity to check for fleas and mites on your rabbit. If you have the unfortunate task of dealing with fleas or mites there are a lot of safe treatments available to help you.
To prevent and kill fleas on rabbits, these products are recommended:
Note: Advantage has been known, rarely, to irritate the
skin of certain rabbits so Revolution is preferred, as it is also
effective against various types of mites that cause symptoms of mange,
ear canker, and 'dandruff', which is often caused by fur mites in the
You’ll need a tuberculin syringe (no needle) or a small pipette to measure the small quantity of liquid required.
Ideally apply the dose to the back of the rabbit's neck where they can't readily lick it off.
It is essential to thoroughly clean your rabbit’s cage and exercise areas after each treatment to control any re-infestation, since fur and dander in the environment may contain mite eggs.
A flea comb is a non-toxic device that takes more patience, but is both physically and psychologically rewarding. Most rabbits learn to love the attention of being flea combed during rabbit grooming, and it can be used as a supplement to your main flea-control program.
The following products should NOT be used on rabbits:
If you find your rabbit(s) with a flea problem, these carefully selected products from Amazon will allow you to choose the best, most appropriate solution for you.
These are on the Amazon UK site but should also be available in your country or you can get them shipped by the seller for the standard shipping price.
The important thing to note with these products that you check they are suitable for rabbits, as cat and dog solutions are not always safe for use on small animals such as rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs. (Always check the label!)
A rabbit with a urinary infection or a disabled older rabbit may not be able to project urine away from the body. The result may be saturated fur around the hindquarters.
You will easily notice this during rabbit grooming time. For milder cases, shave the areas that get wet so the skin can dry (remember, rabbit fur takes a long time to dry), rinse the affected areas daily, and follow up with a dusting of corn starch. (Not talcum powder, this is carcinogenic to rabbits and us!)
For more infirm cases, disposable baby nappies turned backwards so the tabs are up, do wonders for keeping the moisture away from the skin. (Huggies Step 2 work well for an 8 pound rabbit.)
If your rabbit has never been groomed
before, or they are very uncomfortable with your rabbit grooming sessions, or even the thought of being touched, you will need to do some
training with them. Have a look at the section on gaining a rabbits trust and then...
Start with a soft brush or a glove. Get them used to being touched and brushed. Talk to them during these sessions, give them lots of praise and extra stroking.
Over time you can start introducing different brushes and combs as they start to become more comfortable and trust your rabbit grooming sessions as a good thing.
When your rabbit grooming session is all done, always stroke your brave bunny in their favourite places, and constantly speak words of encouragement (they can understand your gentle tone).
A final reward of a treat, such as a bit of carrot or apple is a good idea at this point. You could also use a bit of malt flavoured hairball remedy, such as Petromalt (which is actually a cat hairball remedy) which is OK for rabbits in small quantities.
Once you get your rabbit's coat into good condition, maintain a regular brushing schedule. The more you brush your rabbit the less hair they will ingest and the all better for their digestive system, health and lifespan.
For more details about modern rabbit accommodation and housing, reports and fact sheets on rabbit health, diet and disease control, scientific breakthrough evidence on understanding rabbit behaviour, including companionship and bonding insights, plus an in-depth grooming guide, check out the Just Rabbits revolutionary 'iRabbit READY 3 Step System'.
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