Rabbit grooming is not just about keeping your rabbit’s fur looking nice, it’s also a chance for you to conduct basic health checks on your rabbit on a regular basis. Grooming also works to socialize and tame your pet rabbit. The more frequently you handle and brush your rabbit, the more they come to trust you and show you affection.
Rabbit grooming involves brushing and trimming their fur, getting rid of any matted fur build-up or any other dirt or debris in their fur. You should also check the health of their ears, eyes and clean up any debris around their bottoms and be regularly clipping their toenails. While you are brushing your rabbit, keep a lookout for any parasites or other skin infestations.
A healthy rabbit is one which is regularly groomed and cared for. This article will introduce you to the basics about rabbit grooming for both pet owners and rabbit show competitors but the underlying principles remain the same.
The basics of rabbit grooming
The basics of rabbit grooming involve fur brushing and nail trimming and cleaning around their eyes, ears and rear ends.
Regular brushing of rabbits is important as it prevents excessive fur buildup which discourages your rabbit from overgrooming. Rabbits are naturally clean animals and will self groom and they can do this to excess if they are anxious or if their fur is becoming matted and dirty.
Rabbits who over groom can end up developing gastrointestinal blockages as they ingest so much of their fur. When you regularly brush your rabbits, you reduce the likelihood of this happening. Plus their fur will continue to look and feel healthy. You should be able to observe your healthy rabbit grooming themselves several times during a day.
Rabbits will self-groom as a way to calm themselves if they are stressed. Sometimes you might see a submissive rabbit grooming the more dominant rabbit partner – in bonded pairs. If your rabbit is not grooming at all this could be a sign that there is an underlying health issue (particularly sore teeth or malocclusion). Rabbits who become obese may also undergroom because they don’t have the dexterity or energy for all that work. Your rabbit’s grooming behavior can give you an insight into their general wellbeing.
Grooming your rabbit starts with regular brushing which should be done every two or three days. This is sufficient to remove any loose fur and it also gets your rabbit used to regular handling and grooming. Rabbits may need extra brushing when they are in a heavy shedding cycle or where they may be shedding their winter coats. Some breeds of rabbits shed more rapidly than others and this can cause them to over-groom and develop hairballs. Regular brushing will take care of this though and you should choose the right grooming brush (and tools) specific to your rabbit’s breed. Always remember that your rabbit’s skin is fragile, so you should use a brush specifically designed for rabbits.
Regular brushing also prevents irritation and keeps their eyes clear of hay or fur which can irritate their delicate nasal passages. You can also use moistened cotton balls to gently clean around their eye area. You can also use a mascara brush to remove clumps of fur around their eyes without stressing them out too much.
Rabbits can also experience a build of wax or dirt in their ears. Lop-eared rabbits are more likely to have moisture buildup inside their ears which can be a breeding ground for bacterial infections or inflammation. So an important part of rabbit grooming is inspecting and cleaning (very gently) around and inside their ears.
You will also need to make sure your rabbit is sleeping in a clean cage and keep their rear ends clear of fecal build-up or urine stains. Wet wipes are best for this followed by dry paper towels. Making sure your rabbit hutch is kept clean and hygienic is not only great for their health and well being but it makes it easier for you to keep their fur clean and free of parasites.
Rabbit Grooming Essentials
Your rabbit grooming kit should include the following items:
- A slicker brush or similar type of brush.
- A fur splitter – this is a wide-toothed comb which can remove matted sections of fur.
- Scissors for cutting out matted fur sections.
- A mini-shaver – for certain types of breeds (the mini-Arco by Wahl).
- Nail clippers.
- Kwick Stop or similar styptic powder which can stop bleeding from freshly clipped toenails.
- Flea combs with handles.
- Disinfectant solutions (Chlorhexiderm or Betadine are excellent).
- Mineral oil for cleaning the sensitive scent glands of your rabbits (consider using coconut oil).
- Eye wash for cleaning the delicate eye areas.
- Cotton balls and Q-tips to clean their ears (but be very gentle with these). A Q-tip dipped in coconut oil can be used gently to remove ear mites.
- FURminator have a range of grooming tools for cats and dogs which can be safely used on pet rabbits. They also have some excellent dematting brushes and tools.
- Wide tooth and fine tooth combs.
- A Zoomgroom or other types of rubberized hand mitts are great for grooming as well to provide the finishing touches after you finish brushing your rabbit with a regular wire brush.
- Flea and ear mite medications which are safe for rabbits include Ivermectin and products such as Advantage and Revolution. Never use Frontline or Sentinel flea treatment (used for cats and dogs) as these are unsafe for rabbits. Also avoid putting cat flea collars on your rabbits as the chemical dosage can be toxic particularly as they try to nibble them off.
How do you safely hold a rabbit for grooming?
Many new rabbit owners may be unsure about how best to hold their rabbit when brushing them. Rabbits also startle very easily so you must approach them quietly and without making large movements.
Place your rabbit on a clean towel and check their fur from head to toe. Start with a suitable wire brush and stroke the fur only in the direction of the fur growth. Rabbits have delicate skin so be gentle. Spend a few minutes detangling their fur.
As a finishing touch, clip their nails, check their eyes, ears and rear ends. Then run a rubberized brush over their fur to collect any additional fur build-up. Zoomgroom (which is the brand name for a rubberized bendy-type of brush) are perfect for this as the rubber attracts the fur and they also deliver a pleasant brushing sensation for your pet rabbits.
What about managing parasites for indoor or outdoor rabbits?
There are safe and suitable medications you can use for your rabbits to prevent them from getting flea or tick infestations and these include Advantage and Revolution. Advantage and Revolution are small vials of medical solutions which can be applied to the back of your rabbit’s neck and which will prevent fleas, ticks and ear mites. These medications can only be used on rabbits which are more than ten weeks old and never on pregnant does. You can also give your rabbits Ivermectin if they get intestinal worms. Your vet can advise on correct dosages and any medical contraindications.
Flea combs will also quickly remove flea infestations and are ideal for very small flea infestations and if you want to avoid using any chemical preparations. You comb your bunny’s fur and dip the comb in warm soapy water (and add some coconut oil) which can help drown the fleas. Rinse the comb out after each pass over your rabbit’s fur and to remove any insects you collect.
If you decide to combine flea combs with the preventative medications, you should choose either Advantage or Revolution used monthly. Your rabbit shouldn’t object to the use of a flea comb particularly once they realize that it relieves their itching and removes any fleas, ticks or other pesky critters.
Regular rabbit grooming delivers mini-health checks
You should consider the grooming process as not just a cosmetic process but as a great way of conducting regular health checks on your rabbit. Rabbits enjoy their humans grooming them and it’s a great way to bond with them and get to know their quirks. You might even find your rabbit tries to groom you in return by licking your hand which is a clear sign of affection.
With regular handling and grooming you will notice your rabbit developing a calmer temperament as they will become more socialized and accustomed to their humans handling them and keeping their fur clean and tidy. Socialized (and impeccably groomed) rabbits also perform a lot better on the rabbit show circuit.