GROOMING YOUR RABBIT

by

Barbi Brown (3B's Rabbitry)

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DO RABBITS NEED TO BE BRUSHED?

Yes, particularly while they are shedding or moulting. Rabbits spend a good part of their day grooming themselves. In the process they ingest hair as they lick themselves which can lead to hair balls. More rabbits die from hairballs than most any other cause so keeping them free of loose hair is critical.

Regular petting and handling will usually minimize the loose hair but most rabbits seem to enjoy the brushing as part of their natural instinct to groom one another.

Brushing with a wire slicker will remove loose hair and any matting. Rabbits with a short coat like the Rex will only require a little water on your hands rubbed over the body to remove the loose hair.  Grooming supplies are listed on our Show supplies page.

HOW OFTEN DO THEY SHED?

Rabbits shed, or molt, their coat two to three times the first year and then typically once a year after that.

The first molt may be at three months of age when you'll see a little fur fly when you pet them.

The six month molt is the big one where folks are certain their rabbit has something wrong because their hair is falling out in great handfuls.

The new fur that comes in after the six month molt will be their adult color and texture. Long haired rabbits fur from this point on will be slightly coarser and easier to maintain with less matting. The Rex coat will be silkier and more velvety feeling.

They may shed again at nine months, but not always.

Then at a year they will shed again. After that, unless there is a dramatic change in weather, they will only molt once a year (around their birthday).

HOW DO YOU CUT THE RABBIT'S NAILS?

For babies I like to use cat nail trimmers because it's easy to see the tip of the nail and baby nails are soft enough to cut easily.

Dog or bird claw trimmers are best for the adults. A good sharp pair of small wire cutters also work well and are my personal favorite since I am mechanically challenged when it comes to a guillotine type of nail trimmer.

White nails are the easiest because you can see the pink where the blood vessel begins. Dark nails are another story. When in doubt, be conservative. If you don't trim past the hair at the end of the nail you'll always be safe.

Many pet stores and breeders offer to trim nails for little or no charge. Be sure to ask if they offer the service. If not, your local veterinarian will be happy to do it for you (for a fee of course). I always to trim nails free of charge so I get to see my babies as they grow up. Selfish, I know.

Rabbits that run around on cement or have a piece of plywood in the cage to scratch on will keep their front claws worn down pretty well but the back ones will still need trimming.

Nails left untrimmed may catch in the wire while the bunny is running around and may pull one out.

WHAT IF I CUT TOO CLOSE AND THE NAIL BLEEDS?

The bleeding may be stopped in several ways. A styptic pencil is an easy remedy or there is a powdered product carried by most pet and feed stores called "Kwik Stop".

Household items like ice cubes or a paste made of black pepper and water or wood ash and water work equally well.

The nail will eventually stop bleeding on it's own but it's better to stop it quickly if you can.

HOW MANY NAILS DO RABBITS HAVE?

Five on the front feet, counting the dew claws, and only four on the back feet.

HOW AM I GOING TO HOLD HIM WHILE I CUT THE NAILS?

If you start handling your bunny a lot right away when he is young it will be easier than starting later. I like to turn the bunny over on his back in my arms securing his head under my armpit holding the foot with my left hand and trimming with the right. Another way to do it without assistance is to slide the bunny head first into a long sleeved heavy flannel or felt shirt or sweatshirt. Let his nose stick out of the wrist slightly while the rest of his body is snug and comfy in the shirt sleeve. You can then easily take each hind foot out of the sleeve and trim it. Ditto for the front feet. Gently reach into the sleeve by the head and slide one front foot out at a time for trimming. I will post a picture to demonstrate the technique. ( It is really quite simple. It also works quite well for tattooing show bunnies.)  We also carry a slick little pounch called a Bunny Be-Calm bag with velcro opening for feet to pop out for nail trimming. Details on the show supply page.

SHOULD YOU BATHE RABBITS?

You can bathe them but it shouldn't be necessary. They are instinctively very clean animals who perpetually groom themselves. Yard bunnies, however, can get into some dirty messes. Some bunnies with a sensitive stomach may have periodic bouts of loose stools which will soil the fur on their bottom.

If your dog or cat insists on sharing fleas with your bunny you may need to give Thumper a flea bath. Any shampoo for cats will be safe for a rabbit.

HOW DO YOU BATHE THEM?

The easiest way is to buy a dry powder called "Bunny Bath" but it is not very effective on really dirty fur.

Unlike cats, most rabbits seem to enjoy a nice warm bath. And yes, they can swim!

Long haired rabbits should be brushed first, removing any matting that may be lurking in hidden corners like under the chin, around the tail and behind the neck.

Allow plenty of time for the project! At least one hour is required. Have several big absorbent towels close at hand and a hair dryer.

Fill a sink with luke warm water (like you would prepare for a people baby) and gently immerse the bunny, obviously leaving the head out of the water or use a sprayer nozzle with not too strong a spray.

The first bath should probably be a two person effort, one to hold the bunny and one to wash. A firm grip on the loose skin on the back or a gentle hand around the neck should offer maximum control with minimum effort and stress on your furry friend.

Run a bead of shampoo from behind the ears down to the tail and lather. I like to wash the entire body, leaving the head for last so it gives the bunny time to relax and reduces the chance of getting soap and water in his eyes and ears.

When washing the head and ears, tilt the head back pouring the water so it doesn't run over the nose, taking care not to get it down the ears. A cottonball placed loosely in each ear will prevent unwanted water in the ears. Use a soapy wash cloth to scrub the face, taking care to keep soap out of the eyes and ears. Then rinse with the head tilted back.

When Thumper is squeaky clean, ring him out! Well, perhaps squeeze him out...gently. You will be amazed at how much water that fur will hold!

Wrap him immediately in a warm towel and squeeze out some more water. Change towels and begin towel drying. When the second towel is adequately soaked, the real work begins.

Turn the hair dryer on warm and begin blow drying, taking care not to get too close to tender skin. Be sure to BRUSH the fur as you dry so it will get the downy undercoat dry as well.

DON'T JUST WASH AND LET THEM AIR DRY OUTDOORS! No matter how warm you think it is, it takes a long time for fur to dry and your bunny can catch cold if not adequately dried.

Once you have him brushed and dried, move him to a warm area to let him finish the grooming himself. If it's warm and NOT WINDY outside it is okay to put him out providing you watch to see that he doesn't get too hot! But it is generally safest to confine him to a cage in the bathroom overnight to be sure he is thoroughly dry.

MY RABBIT'S FEET ARE STAINED YELLOW. WILL A BATH MAKE THEM WHITE AGAIN?

Generally a little white vinegar on a wash cloth rubbed on the fur will remove the stain. For really stubborn stains try a little Hydrogen Peroxide followed by household corn starch powder, then brush.

Don't cut the stains off the feet! Your bunny needs the padding on his feet to protect him from the cage wire!

If the vinegar or peroxide don't work, soap and water may, but not very likely if the stain is caused by a rusty cage.

There are also commercially prepared stain removers on the market. Just be sure they are safe for cats or rabbits.

HOW CAN WE GET RID OF THE RUST ON THE FLOOR OF THE CAGE?

Brushing with a stiff wire brush or wire wheel on a drill will remove most superficial rust. Then polish with a clean soft cloth to remove the dust and paint the surface with a rust proof spray paint. Most paints today are lead free so it won't hurt if they chew on the wire. You can also buy replacement wire for the floor but often a new cage is less expensive if you are short of time.

 

 

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