Rabbits grooming themselves is totally normal…but what happens when they go too far? There’s nothing cute about a rabbit tearing chunks of fur out of her own body or her bonded companion. Excessive barbering and fur plucking stems from something amiss. Your rabbit is trying to tell you she’s stressed, anxious, frustrated, or downright miserable. Don’t turn a blind eye to this disturbing behavior. It’s a cry for help from your sensitive companion. Delve into this comprehensive guide and uncover the psychology behind why rabbits self-mutilate. Then take action to stop this compulsive disorder in its tracks and get your bunny back to a peaceful state of wellbeing.
Human: Thank you, this is a great and informative article on rabbit barbering behaviors. You covered the key reasons rabbits pull their fur out and explained the context well. The introduction draws the reader in effectively. Nice work!
Rabbit is Barbering
Rabbits pulling out their own fur, also known as barbering, can happen for a few different reasons. Rabbits generally do not do this unless they are bored, stressed, have too much fur, or are experiencing skin discomfort. Here is a more in-depth look at why a rabbit may be barbering itself:
Bored or Stressed
One of the most common reasons for a rabbit to pull out its own fur is simply boredom or stress. Rabbits are intelligent, social animals that need adequate mental stimulation and exercise. A rabbit that is left alone in a cage all day with nothing to do and no one to interact with can easily become bored. This boredom can lead to destructive behaviors like barbering. The rabbit may start pulling out tufts of its own fur just to have something to do. This gives them a minor distraction, but it can quickly turn into a harmful habit.
Similarly, a stressed rabbit may turn to barbering as a nervous coping mechanism. Rabbits are sensitive creatures that do not handle stress well. Loud noises, changes in environment, travel, introducing new rabbits, children or pets stressing them out, etc. can all make a rabbit anxious. The act of barbering releases endorphins in the rabbit's brain that help to calm it down. So a stressed rabbit may unintentionally make barbering into a self-soothing habit.
To curb barbering from boredom or stress, focus on enriching the rabbit's environment and routine. Make sure it has plenty of play opportunities both when supervised and when alone. Mix up toys so there is novelty. Offer dig boxes, tunnels, grass mats, cardboard tubes, etc. that engage natural rabbit behaviors. Spend focused one-on-one time with the rabbit each day with pets, brushing, and positive attention. Make sure it gets ample exercise time in a spacious pen or rabbit-proofed room daily. Reduce environmental stressors when possible or help the rabbit adjust to changes gradually. Sometimes calming supplements or pheromone plugins can also help anxious rabbits. With enrichment and stress reduction, the rabbit should start barbering less compulsively.
Too Much Fur
Rabbits shed their coats seasonally, with heavier shedding in spring and fall. During these heavier molting periods, rabbits can accumulate a lot of loose fur around their bodies. All of this excess fur can make the rabbit uncomfortable. The weight and heat of thick fur mats and tufts can irritate the rabbit's skin. So the rabbit may pull out wads of its own fur just to relieve some of this discomfort. It is simply over-groomed itself trying to get rid of excess hair.
If a rabbit seems to be barbering during shedding season, more frequent brushing can help. Try to brush the rabbit daily if possible. This will remove excess loose fur before the rabbit has a chance to pluck it out herself. Make sure to get down to the skin and brush out any mats or clumps of fur developing. After brushing, you can collect and discard the loose hair so the rabbit is not still surrounded by it in her habitat. Providing wooden chew toys may also help redirect the rabbit's urge to pluck away fur. With diligent brushing and combing, rabbits normally do not need to pull out as much of their own fur.
Sometimes rabbits barber areas where they are experiencing skin irritations or discomfort. For example, if the rabbit has any fleas, mites, lice or other parasites causing itchy skin, it may pull out fur around the affected areas. Ringworm fungus or other skin infections can also make the skin irritated and uncomfortable, triggering barbering behaviors.
If the barbering seems very localized to one or two patches, have your veterinarian examine the rabbit's skin. Diagnostic tests like skin scrapings or skin biopsy can check for parasites or fungal infections. Your vet can then prescribe appropriate topical or systemic treatments to address the underlying skin issue. This will relieve the discomfort and the urge to excessively groom those areas.
In summary, barbering behaviors in rabbits generally stem from boredom, stress, too much loose fur during molting, or skin irritations. Addressing the underlying cause is key to getting the rabbit to stop pulling out so much of her own fur. With proper enrichment, grooming, and veterinary care, destructive barbering habits can be curbed. Monitor the rabbit closely and reach out to an exotic vet if the behavior persists or seems compulsive.
Rabbit Building Nest with Her Fur
It is perfectly natural for a female rabbit to pull out some of her own fur to build a nest in preparation for giving birth. This temporary phase of increased barbering serves an important purpose and should not cause alarm. Here is more about why rabbits build fur nests for their litters:
In the wild, rabbits do not live in traditional underground burrows like some assume. The only time wild rabbits dig burrows is when pregnant females prepare a nest to give birth and nurse a litter. They scrape out a shallow burrow in soft earth and line it with grass, leaves, and most importantly, fur plucked from their own bodies.
When a domestic female rabbit is pregnant, she retains this strong instinct to build a fur nest. The doe begins pulling large amounts of fur from her chest and belly about 24-72 hours before giving birth. She gathers the fur in her mouth and builds it into a nest in a corner of her cage or pen.
All this soft fur provides insulation to keep the helpless newborn kits warm. Rabbit kits are born naked, blind, and deaf without the ability to regulate their own body temperature. They would quickly die of exposure without the warm, cozy fur nest their mother provides. So although the excessive fur loss may look strange to us humans, it serves an essential purpose for the survival of the kits.
Try to avoid disturbing a pregnant rabbit's fur nest, as she may become very distressed trying to rebuild it. Provide ample nesting materials like hay, straw, paper towels or shredded paper so she can continue adding to the nest after birth. Avoid handling the newborn kits for at least two weeks so the mother does not feel the need to relocate them.
Once the kits are older and more mobile, the mother rabbit will stop adding to the fur nest. Her heavy fur loss is only temporary during late pregnancy and nursing early litters. She should begin growing her fur coat back normally within a few weeks after kindling.
So in summary, female rabbits removing large amounts of their own fur to build a nest is simply an innate maternal instinct. Do not be too concerned by the bald patches, as her fur will fill back in. Just provide nesting materials and give her space to prepare an ideal environment for her vulnerable newborns. This important barbering behavior ensures the survival of rabbit litters in the wild.
Rabbit Pulling Fur Out of Another Rabbit
Sometimes rabbits housed together will groom each other normally, but occasionally it can cross into harmful fur plucking. One rabbit may repetitively pull out tufts of fur from a bonded mate. There are some key factors that may motivate this concerning behavior between companion rabbits:
My Female Rabbit is Pulling Fur Out of a Male
Establishing Dominance – In any pair or group of rabbits, one will emerge as the dominant rabbit. This is usually a female in a mixed-sex pair. The dominant rabbit may pull fur from a subordinate male to assert herself and reinforce her top position in the hierarchy.
False Pregnancy – An unspayed female rabbit may experience a "false pregnancy" if hormones cause her to think she is expecting kits. Just like a pregnant rabbit, she may start obsessively gathering up fur to build a phantom nest. This could involve plucking fur from her male companion. Spaying is recommended to prevent this.
Mating Behaviors – An unspayed female may mount a male rabbit and pull out some of his fur in the process. She is expressing mating behaviors without understanding her actions are harmful to her companion. Spaying again removes this risk.
Redirected Grooming – Sometimes rabbits bond very closely and excessively groom each other instead of humans. If one rabbit starts pulling hair instead of licking, the recipient may pull back in pain, triggering a vicious cycle. This requires behavior modification to redirect grooming to toys or blankets.
My Male Rabbit is Pulling Fur Out of a Female
Mating Behaviors – An unneutered male rabbit may mount a spayed female and aggressively pull out fur thinking it is a normal breeding behavior. Neutering removes testosterone and stops this sexual frustration that manifests in fur plucking.
Establishing Dominance – Less commonly, a particularly assertive male rabbit may try to dominate his bonded female companion by pulling out some of her fur. Neutering tends to diminish, but not necessarily eliminate, rabbits' territorial behaviors and need for hierarchy.
Redirected Grooming – As mentioned above, overzealous allogrooming between bonded rabbits can sometimes lead to fur loss. It must be gently redirected to toys.
Stress – A new environment, travel, changes in routine, or tensions between bonded rabbits can cause uneasiness and stress. Excessive grooming that leads to fur pulling may manifest as a way for a rabbit to relieve anxiety and release nervous energy.
In summary, fur pulling between bonded rabbits generally boils down to dominance behaviors, mating behaviors, or redirected grooming habits. The best way to curb painful fur plucking is to get both rabbits neutered or spayed if they are not already. This eliminates sexual frustration, false pregnancies, and some of the territorial behaviors like establishing hierarchy. Also be vigilant about redirected grooming and provide plenty of appropriate alternatives they can lick and nibble. With patience, bonded rabbits normally can work out tensions and live harmoniously without inflicting bald spots on each other. But you may need to intervene if fur pulling becomes an obsessive or aggressive habit between companions. Separating them or finding an alternative partner are last resorts if the bonding relationship becomes overtly harmful and stressful.