Most rabbit owners enjoy grooming time and take it as an opportunity to get close to their companion pet. It’s an opportunity to build a relationship and a special bond.
If your rabbit trusts you and you groom with gentle confidence, your rabbits will enjoy their grooming time too.
As rabbits very rarely show signs of illness or injury, grooming is also a great time to check for any signs of cuts, lumps, bumps, fleas, mites, fly-strike or overgrown teeth, and nails.
A nice tasty treat after grooming will teach your rabbits to associate your attention with something good too.
A bit like cats, rabbits, in most cases, are quite meticulous about their appearance and will self-groom as often as they can.
However, we still need to help them out from time to time and in some cases we need to groom our rabbits from once a week to as much as once a day, depending on the type of rabbit.
Rabbits may appear hardy and tough on the outside, especially when they kick out and run and jump the way they do, but they are, in fact, extremely delicate. Their ears, eyes, and skin are very sensitive and their backbones and internal organs are even more fragile.
Rabbit Grooming Overview
Do I Need To Groom My Rabbit?
As dog and cat owners have a regular grooming regime with their pets, so should you have with your rabbits?
Obviously there are some breeds that require more grooming than others. For example, the Angora rabbit breed needs extensive grooming every day otherwise their fur becomes matted, uncomfortable and unhealthy.
The extent of your rabbit grooming regime will largely depend on your situation. For example, if you show your rabbits at competitions and exhibitions etc, then your grooming procedures will be a daily, detailed exercise.
If you have several outdoor rabbits that live together in a social community, your regime will be slightly more relaxed as rabbits will take care of each other to a certain extent. Your rabbit grooming duties will increase during times of molt and wet weather.
To avoid long and stressful rabbit grooming time, the answer is to keep your rabbits from getting too dirty. You can do this by keeping all housing and play areas clean from fecal waste material by removing it on a regular basis. You can also practically eliminate the sticky fecal pellets by making sure their diet is full of fiber, (80% grass and hay) and limit their intake of rich, high calorie treats.
Rabbit Grooming Equipment
Things You’ll Need
- Clean towels (several)
- A soft bristle brush
- A spray bottle full of clean warm water
- Slicker brush and combs
- Pet-friendly wet-wipes (optional)
- Pet-friendly wipes for removing oils(optional)
- Rabbit grooming solution or baby shampoo
- Toenail trimmers/clippers
- Cotton buds / Q-tips
- Healthy treats
Rabbit Grooming Basic Steps
Place your rabbit on a clean dry towel, large enough to wrap around your entire rabbit when you’ve finished or to calm them down when tackling very dirty bits or clipping toenails. The towel and rabbit are best placed on your lap or a table. Don’t leave your rabbit unattended on anything too high.
Gently brush all over the rabbit’s back with a soft bristle brush. This will bring much of the loose hair to the top of the coat. Be careful around the eyes and ears. (The picture is just to show the brush, but it’s best to have your rabbit on a table or your lap so you can get a firm brush action over the coat.)
Spritz & Stroke
Wet your hands with the spritzer bottle and gently stroke your rabbit from behind the ears all the way back to the tail. Make sure to do this several times, stroking the sides and belly of the rabbit as well. Your wet hands will help remove the excess fur the brushing brought to the top of the coat.
Use a soft bristle slicker brush to help remove more fur. The brushes with thick rubber bristles are also good as they don’t pull, yank or scratch, attract hair like a magnet, and are gentle on a rabbit’s sensitive skin. They loosen hair easily and are said to stimulate natural oils in the rabbit’s coat.
The metal slicker brushes are not recommended on rabbits as they are quite penetrating and can harm your rabbit’s flesh. Some rabbit owners prefer them having used them confidently on their own rabbits for years, however never use this kind of brush to groom against the growth of fur, it will damage the fur and could hurt your rabbit’s sensitive skin.
Teeth & Nails
Rabbit grooming time is good for checking over the whole of your rabbit’s body, particularly for overgrown teeth and toenails. See below for more on checking rabbit’s teeth and also for more on how to clip your rabbit’s nails the correct way.
Once finished you can offer your nice clean bun a delicious treat. A piece of apple or carrot is perfect or whatever your bunny is particularly fond of. This way rabbit grooming time will be linked in their mind to something nice!
Rabbit Grooming Video
Rabbit Grooming Special Points
Rabbits shed heavily every three months on average and in the meantime, they will have a light shedding that may not be very noticeable.
Rabbits are fastidious self groomers. They will lick themselves like a cat. This can create a hairball if they ingest too much hair.
However, unlike cats rabbits cannot bring up this hair by retching. If hairballs are allowed to form inside the digestive tract, they can become larger with additional food getting trapped too. This will eventually block the flow of food and nutrition. This means the rabbit will starve to death but will have the appearance of being fat.
Rabbits need to be brushed at least weekly. This helps prepare them for the multiple rabbit grooming that they must undergo when their heavy shedding begins.
Rabbits will shed in different ways. Some rabbits will shed for a few weeks or more. Other rabbits will be ready to get rid of their hair all in one day. These rabbits need extra attention once they start shedding.
You can remove large amounts of hair by just pulling it out with your hand. If you don’t remove it, your rabbit will during their self-grooming.
Long Haired Rabbits
These types of rabbits are wonderful to look at, but require a lot more attention in rabbit grooming sessions than short-haired rabbits.
Long-haired rabbits have a thick undercoat that you cannot get at by simply brushing the top layer. You will need to lift the top layers of hair to be able to brush the thicker coat underneath.
Rabbits have very delicate skin and can tear easily so a metal comb instead of a metal slicker brush is always a safer option here. A dual-level comb is great for combing long-haired rabbits such as Angoras or Cashmere lops. Rabbit grooming with a soft bristle brush is of no use on long-haired rabbits.
Rabbit grooming for long-haired bunnies can be a particular problem for the hair between the legs, belly and in the groin area and should be kept short by cutting with scissors or even shaved with electric clippers.
Rescue rabbits and severely neglected rabbits have some truly horrendous cases of fur matting, meaning their fur is all clogged up together.
In really bad cases, where they have been poorly treated for a long time, their whole body is covered with matted fur.
But some rabbits just seem to get matted in certain areas more often than not as a matter of course.
Interestingly though, human beings are the same when it comes clumpy hair. If we sleep with our head on a pillow and have a humid night with lots of moving about, our hair will often get matted on the backs of our heads. A simple hair wash with lashings of conditioner usually sorts it out, but unfortunately, rabbits can’t just jump in the shower with lots of fancy hair conditioning product, so we need to help them out.
A rabbit’s skin is a delicate organ beneath all the fur and is highly susceptible to cuts and tears, so any fur mats shouldn’t really be cut off with scissors.
Tangled and matted fur can collect urine and feces around the genital area and create a very unsanitary condition. Urine or fecal-messed fur is a breeding ground for maggots, (hatched from eggs laid by flies), which can burrow into your rabbit’s skin. Infection, pain, and even death can result. This condition is commonly referred to as ‘fly-strike’ and is easily avoided by proper rabbit grooming.
When dealing with mats on the rabbit’s feet, remember that they need the hair on their feet to protect them. However excessive matting on the footpads can usually be gently pulled out by a comb or your fingers. Make sure to leave at least ¼ inch of hair on their feet and only cut off the mats and don’t give their feet regular haircuts.
If you’ve had to pull or clip away larger mats, always check the feet to make sure the hair is growing back in and that there are no hock sores.
Bathe or Not to bathe?
It is a very rare bunny indeed that actually enjoys a bath. Although I have seen quite a few on the Internet is subjected to it.
Rabbits, like their wild ancestors, do not relish getting wet, they’re just not designed that way.
Even an occasional bath is quite stressful to the average rabbit and is not recommended for two main reasons:
- It can be most distressing for most rabbits, it is proven to raise their heart rates quite considerably. They can become quite upset but not even show it. They can also go into a state of shock and may even have a heart attack or stroke in severe cases of distress.
- But most also, and quite often overlooked, a rabbit’s fur is actually not supposed to get wet. The nature of the fur is to stop water from getting through to the skin. They take a long time to get wet and an even longer time to get dry.
Unless your veterinarian advises it to bring down a fever, you should never give a sick rabbit a bath. It’s best not to subject rabbits to the stress of a bath if at all possible.
If your rabbit is very badly infested with fleas, there’s a good chance that they will be already weakened and a bath may send them into shock. There are many safe alternatives to flea control.
A really wet rabbit takes a really long time to dry. Avoid getting them completely wet whenever possible. You can spot clean the dirty area with an application of baby cornstarch and then gently combing out the dirt with a fine flea comb is better than a wet bath. Spot bathing extremely dirty areas (feet, scut, etc.) is definitely the way to go as it is far less stressful for the rabbit and quicker too.
Last Resort Bathing
There are some important steps and protocols to adhere to when the very last resort to cleaning your rabbit is putting it in a bath of water.
Some last resort bathing scenarios would include:
- severe matting
- the only solution to feces or dirt removal
- flea or mite control
- toxic contamination
Grooming Notes For Rabbit Body Parts
Certain breeds and types of rabbit such as the long-haired breeds, show rabbits or rabbits kept in cages are susceptible to quite specific grooming needs and because a rabbit’s skin is delicate and can tear easily, grooming of any kind should be undertaken with caution and significant preparation.
Being aware of common causes of skin conditions and knowing what is healthy or not healthy, will also give you greater confidence when grooming your precious bunnies. Scratchy, bald, flaky skin is usually a symptom of mites or, more rarely, an allergic reaction to fleas.
Claws & Nails
Like dogs and cats, rabbits need their toenails trimmed, especially house rabbits as they don’t spend so much time digging and running about outside.
If a rabbit’s nails are left to grow too long and sharp, they become not only be very uncomfortable for your bunny but they can also be dangerous. They can rip off completely if caught on their cage.
De-Clawing / Nail Removal
Because of the risk of infection, de-clawing is definitely NOT recommended for rabbits. If excessive digging is a problem, a large box of hay, straw or dirt may help.
If the padding on the feet is worn down, then soft dry resting pads should be provided. Skin exposed to urine can become burned and is prone to become infected. Take extra care that rugs and litter boxes are kept clean and dry.
Important Notes for Specific Body Parts
“What do I do when I accidentally cut my rabbit’s nails too short?”
“Are there easier ways to cut the rabbit’s claws?”
“How can get over my fear of grooming my rabbit?”
Most rabbit owners forget that the scent glands need checking at rabbit grooming time. Male and female rabbits have scent glands, both under their chin and around their anus. You can usually tell if your rabbit has a scent gland build-up as they often have an unpleasant odor.
It’s simple to clean the glands, however. Simply dip a cotton bud into some warm water and hold your rabbit in a safe hold that gives you access to the genitals.
Take the Q-tip and carefully swab away the brown build-up in the slits on the rabbit’s genitals. It should just take you a second and you’re done!
A rabbit’s eyes should be clear, bright and free from any discharge or wetness. If you notice your rabbit’s cheeks are wet, sticky or matted, you may have a problem.
Watery eyes or eye discharge needs to be diagnosed by a vet so if you suspect anything out of the ordinary you should take your bun to your vet immediately.
In the meantime you can use a tissue to absorb some of the moisture and use some saline solution (the type used for contact lenses) on bunnies cheeks to crystalize any ‘tears’, these can these be brushed out with a clean flea comb once dry. A touch of prescription aesthetic powder on a finger can be applied directly to the affected area if there are painful lesions.
Rabbit grooming time is a great time to check your bunny’s teeth.
Rabbits teeth grow continuously and should be checked to make sure they are wearing down correctly.
While you’re grooming your rabbit, take a look at their teeth. If they are overgrown, or crooked, a trip to the vet is warranted.
Bunnies with good teeth will naturally wear them down with everyday gnawing and chewing. However, rabbits with malocclusions will need to have their teeth kept trimmed to prevent them from being unable to eat and starving to death. Your veterinarian can clip your rabbit’s teeth.
It’s important to check your rabbit’s ears every time you have a rabbit grooming session. They should be clean and smooth, with no obvious odor or redness.
If your rabbit’s ears are smelly or have puss on them anywhere, it will probably be a sign of infection. In which case you will need to take a trip to your local vet.
Ear wax can be removed with a cotton swab from the outer canal and ear tip (the long part) but take care not to put the bud/swab in too deep, as it could push any wax in deeper and cause other problems. You can also try a mild ear cleaner containing Chlorhexidine, such as Nolvasan Otic.
If your rabbit has red, scaly or obviously sore ears they probably have mites. A mite solution can be used such as Mitox. In severe cases, your veterinarian may also prescribe Ivermectin.
Rabbit Grooming Problems
Fleas & Mites
Rabbit grooming time is the perfect opportunity to check for fleas and mites on your rabbit. If you have the unfortunate task of dealing with fleas or mites, there are a lot of safe treatments available to help you.
To prevent and kill fleas on rabbits, these products are recommended:
- Advantage (imidacloprid)
- Program (lufenuron)
- Revolution (selamectin)
Note: Advantage has been known, rarely, to irritate the skin of certain rabbits so Revolution is preferred, as it is also effective against various types of mites that cause symptoms of mange, ear canker, and ‘dandruff’, which is often caused by fur mites in the genus Cheyletiella.
You’ll need a very small syringe (no needle) or a small pipette as the amount of liquid needed is very small.
Ideally, apply the dose to the back of the rabbit’s neck where they can’t readily lick it off.
It is essential to thoroughly clean your rabbit’s cage and exercise areas after each treatment to control any re-infestation, since fur and dander in the environment may contain mite eggs.
A flea comb is a non-toxic device that requires lots of patience but is both physically and psychologically rewarding.
The following products should NOT be used on rabbits:
- Frontline (fipronil) has been linked to neurological damage and death in rabbits, although this product is apparently safe for dogs and cats. The manufacturer (Merial) has placed a warning on the Frontline, “label stating that Frontline should never be used on rabbits.”
- Flea powders, regardless of their packaging claims, are not recommended for use on rabbits.
- “Flea shampoos, even those considered safe for cats and kittens or advertised as “rabbit safe,” are not recommended for use on rabbits. Bathing of rabbits, in general, is strongly discouraged because the stress of the bath itself can cause serious health problems, and has in some cases been linked to the death of the rabbit. Flea baths or dips are NOT recommended for this reason.”
- For “environmental flea control, sprays and ‘bombs’ are not recommended, as they may leave a harmful residue that the rabbit can ingest. Safer alternatives include borax and diatomaceous earth, worked into the carpet where fleas leave their eggs.”
Recommended Flea Control Solutions
If you find your rabbit(s) with a flea problem, these carefully selected products from Amazon will allow you to choose the best, most appropriate solution for you.
These are on the Amazon UK site but should also be available in your country or you can get them shipped by the seller for the standard shipping price.
The important thing to note with these products that you check they are suitable for rabbits, as cat and dog solutions are not always safe for use on small animals. (Always check the label!)
“A rabbit with a urinary infection or a disabled older rabbit may not be able to project urine away from the body. The result may be saturated fur around the hindquarters.”
You will easily notice this during rabbit grooming time. “For milder cases, shave the areas that get wet so the skin can dry (remember, rabbit fur takes a long time to dry), rinse the affected areas daily, and follow up with a dusting of corn starch.” (Not talcum powder, this is carcinogenic to rabbits and us!)
For more infirm cases, disposable baby nappies do wonders for keeping the moisture away from the skin. (Huggies Step 2 work well for an 8-pound rabbit.)
Grooming Nervous Or Scared Rabbits
If your rabbit has never been groomed before, or they are very uncomfortable with your rabbit grooming sessions, or even the thought of being touched, you will need to do some training with them. Have a look at the section on gaining a rabbits trust and then…
Start with a soft brush or a glove. Get them used to being touched and brushed.
When your rabbit grooming session is all done, always stroke your brave bunny in their favorite places, and constantly speak words of encouragement (they can understand your gentle tone).
A final reward of a treat, such as a bit of carrot or an apple is a good idea at this point. You could also use a bit of malt-flavored hairball remedy, such as Petromalt (which is actually a cat hairball remedy) which is OK for rabbits in small quantities.
Once you get your rabbit’s coat into good condition, maintain a regular brushing schedule. The more you brush your rabbit the less hair they will ingest and the better it will be for their digestive system, health, and lifespan.