As rabbits constantly shed, they need to be brushed at least weekly to remove loose hair. Here's some of the basics on how you can take care of your little fella.
Generally, rabbits have four different types of coats:
- Normal fur: Dense undercoat with coarse guard hairs.
- Satin fur: Fine hairs that give off a luminescent sheen.
- Rex fur: Denser than normal fur. Stands perpendicular to the skin.
- Angora wool: Long and soft with hollow fibres that give it a characteristic-floating feel. There are four different types of Angora wool.
Rabbits shed every three months; one shed will be light and hardly noticeable but the next shed is typically heavy. Rabbits can lose a lot of hair during a heavy shed and may even develop bald areas.
If your rabbit is going through a heavy shed, you should brush it daily. It may be easier to brush your bunny's fur with your fingers during a heavy shed, as it will be gentler on your bunny's delicate skin.
You can then follow up with proper brushing. Brushing should be done in the natural direction of the coat and not against the grain, as this will damage the fur. Dampening your hands and stroking your rabbit from head to tail will also help to remove dead hair.
Not all rabbits shed at the same time; each rabbit may shed for different periods of time. Sheds may last a day or up to two weeks, depending on the individual bunny.
A rabbit's skin is very delicate and you need to be careful when selecting a brush for your rabbit. Choose an appropriate brush that will not injure your bunny's skin when you brush it. To minimize discomfort or pain during brushings, a bristle brush or pin brush will be good.
Avoid using slicker brushes and hard metals brushes.
Most rabbits are fastidious groomers and will groom their coats to a nice, clean finish. Consequently, rabbits can end up swallowing a lot of hair and developing hairballs. To reduce the amount of hair your rabbit will ingest, brush them at least once a week.
Combing is useful to remove loose hair after brushing. A fine-toothed comb is effective in removing loose hair. Ideally, a silicone-coated comb is gentler on the skin and glides easily along the coat to remove unwanted hairs.
Rabbits are generally clean animals and do not need to be bathed. Bathing is a stressful experience for many rabbits and can become a cause of illness. If your rabbit has a small area of the body that requires cleaning, restrict the bathing to that area only.
Avoid using human shampoos or soaps, as it can these will dry their skins. A hypoallergenic shampoo with moisturisers or conditioner will be more suitable.
It is important to ensure that your rabbits do not become chilled during and from its bath. If towel drying your bunny isn't enough, you may use a hairdryer, set to lowest setting. A rabbit's skin is so delicate that high heat can cause burns. High heat settings also run the risk of heat stress.
If you have to wash your rabbit's face, avoid letting shampoo into their eyes. You can protect them by applying a non-medicated eye ointment over the cornea before the bath. A drop of mineral oil can be used as a substitute for eye ointment, but be sure to use it sparingly.
When grooming your bunny, you should check that its ears are free of waxy build-up and debris. Signs of wax may indicate an ear mite infection. Foul-smelling ears may also be due to infections. You may clean your bunny's ears with a special solution that can be purchased from your veterinarian.
Never stick a cotton swab or any such item into your bunny's ear canal as it may damage the ear.
Special care must be taken with lop-eared breeds because ears that hang down are prone to moisture build-up and ear infections.
Trimming your bunny's nails is an essential part of grooming. Long fingernails may potentially snag on something or worse, curl into your bunny's feet, causing great discomfort. Unless your bunny is regularly let out to play, its nail will not wear out properly.
When your bunny is properly restrained, you can examine its claw to locate the quick. The quick is the end of the live pink tissue in the nail bed and contains blood and nerves. You can locate it by holding your bunny's paw against the light.
Using a bunny nail clipper, clip off your bunny's nails just before the end of the quick. Be careful not to clip the quick because it will hurt your bunny and result in bloody toenails. If you accidentally trim the nails too short, use flour or styptic powder to stop the bleeding.
Some bunnies are startled by the sound of clipping, so you may consider filing the nails instead, though this takes a longer time if your bunny's nails are too long.
You may ask your bunny's veterinarian to teach you the appropriate method of clipping your bunny's nails if so required.
• Lookout For...
Fleas can also be a problem for rabbits, especially if they live or play outside. Keep a lookout for fleas and ticks during grooming sessions. If you find fleas on your bunny, you can contact your veterinarian for advice on how to rid your bunny of fleas. Typically veterinarians will prescribe powder and medication.
If your bunny has fleas, it's important to clean its environment to eliminate the recurrence of fleas.
When brushing your bunny, you should also take note of any sores or lumps on your bunny as it may indicate disease or infection. Crusts and scabs may suggest a mite infection. When handling your bunny, take the opportunity to check its eyes and ears for any discharge.
Check that its teeth are not misaligned or over-grown; in which case, your bunny will need to visit a vet to file its teeth down. You should also check under its chin to make sure that its scent glands are not swollen or infected.
If your bunny needs to trim its fur, avoid trimming the fur from your bunny's hocks and back feet, as this will predispose him to hock sores.
• Caring For Angoras
Caring for an Angora coat is very different from that of the other breeds because their wool is long. It is acceptable and sometimes advisable to keep your pet Angora rabbits' wool short so that it doesn't get dirty and is easier to manage.
However, if you do trim its hair, take precautions not to cut it right to the skin level. Rabbit's fur acts as natural protection against heat, cold, and anything that may injure its skin. Angora wool requires frequent brushing even when it is cut short.
Groomers advise clipping your bunny's hair to about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length to keep it manageable.
* This article was updated on 14 July 2020. It first appeared in Pets Magazine, 5 Oct 2015.