The good news about the grooming needs of rabbits is that baths usually aren’t needed. Rabbits take care of that task themselves. In fact, getting rabbits completely wet in a bath is something to avoid. Unless your furry friend gets into a major mess, spot cleaning any occasional dirt usually works fine. The better news is that one major grooming task, brushing the coat, improves your rabbit’s health and increases the bond between you. With weekly to daily brushing and a few other grooming duties, you can help your rabbit be healthy, fluffy, and proud.
The Need For Grooming
Grooming rabbits helps them stay healthy and makes them more pleasant companions. A specialized type of grooming for shows prepares them for presentation in the show ring, but our focus is on the grooming needs of companion rabbits. Ingestion of excessive fur, a dirty bottom, and long nails are just some of the health hazards rabbits face without a regular grooming routine. Those who live with an unkempt rabbit face increased odor and chances of getting scratched.
Groom Your Rabbit’s Coat
Much like cats, rabbits use their paws and tongue to take care of bathing. Keeping rabbits in pairs or groups not only gives them rabbit companionship, it also allows them to help each other with grooming their coats. You come in when it comes to brushing.
Petting your rabbit daily is a must and probably something you do without even thinking about it. Gentle brushing with a soft-bristled brush, slicker brush, glove-type brush, or comb goes a step beyond and helps remove excess fur or dirt from the coat while keeping the fur smooth. You might even be able to gently pull out some fur during shedding. Give your rabbit a thorough brushing session at least weekly; up this to daily during times of shedding, which occurs about every three months. Shedding times and durations vary by rabbit.
No matter how you brush, always be gentle. Rabbit skin is delicate and can actually tear. For longhaired breeds, brushing prevents knotted fur, which can be uncomfortable for the rabbit and interfere with the fur’s ability to insulate the bunny. If knots develop, sometimes a mat breaker comb is needed. Some people with longhaired rabbits choose to keep the fur trimmed to avoid knots and matting. Wally, an English Angora with trimmed fur, even got famous on Instagram because of his unique look. Fur trimming is best done using a pet clipper, not scissors. Get trimming done by your veterinarian or a professional groomer who regularly grooms rabbits, at least until you know how to do it and feel comfortable restraining your rabbit to complete a trim.
Beware Nasty Nails
Nails get nasty when they’re too long. Long nails not only look bad, they can be dangerous to your furry friend and even to you. A broken nail could get infected. A nail that catches on something could get torn or even cause injury to the leg. Long nails make hopping and even sitting difficult and painful. A rabbit with long nails might accidentally scratch someone.
Rabbit nails need trimming about every 6 to 8 weeks, so your pal will likely need nail trims once a month. You know your bunny and will know when the nails are too long. Your veterinarian or a professional groomer who regularly grooms rabbits can do nail trimming, or you can ask to be shown how to do it yourself if you are comfortable restraining your rabbit. When trimming nails, avoid cutting into the blood vessel in the nail, which is called the quick. The quick can usually be seen in light-colored nails, but not in dark-colored nails. Shining a flashlight behind a dark nail might allow you to see the quick to avoid it. Use rabbit-specific nail trimmers or the guillotine-type trimmers. Keep styptic powder or flour nearby to stop bleeding if the quick is nicked. An emery board can smooth any rough edges.
Check The Teeth, Ears, And Bottom
Eating hay improves a rabbit’s dental health. The chewing required to eat hay helps to clean and wear down the constantly growing teeth. This doesn’t mean you can ignore your bunny’s teeth. Once a week check out your furry friend’s mouth. You won’t be able to see the molars in the back, but if your bunny allows you to push back his or her lips, you can check whether the incisors look OK. Look for anything abnormal, including growing too long, uneven wear, cracks, and missing pieces. Examine your rabbit’s face area. If you see or feel swelling, lumps, unexplained wetness, discharge or anything abnormal, then it’s time to contact your veterinarian. It’s also time to contact your veterinarian ASAP, if a rabbit who previously happily munched on hay suddenly refuses to eat it or eats less.
When you inspect your rabbit’s mouth and face, move up a bit and look at the ears. Examine the outside and inside for anything abnormal, such as inflammation or parasites. Rabbits with long ears or lop ears might be more prone to ear ailments. Ear mites can leave a brown, crusty residue inside the ears that the Merck Veterinary Manual warns should not be removed in conscious rabbits due to the pain it causes. If you see anything abnormal with your rabbit’s ears, contact your veterinarian.
Although it sounds odd, you need to check your rabbit’s bottom regularly. Be sure that it stays dry and the fur doesn’t get matted or get crusted with discharge. Impacted feces are another concern. As always, contact your veterinarian if anything looks abnormal. The scent glands on either side of a rabbit’s anus need periodic cleaning. Your veterinarian or a rabbit-savvy groomer can do this, or you might wish to learn how from them.