Grooming your rabbits is an essential part of pet care and needs to be done regularly to ensure they are clean, healthy, and happy. Fur brushing and trimming, along with mat and debris removal, aren’t the only things that grooming involves. There’s also eye care, dental checks, ear cleaning, nail trimming, and keeping your pet’s rear and underside clean to ensure their skin does not develop infections. By and large, observing your rabbits and habitually checking for problematic conditions, like mites or other parasites, for instance, is also important when caring for your pets. Immediate action is required should there be something out of the norm, as it may call for treatment or medication.
In this post, we’ll go over the basics of rabbit grooming and highlighting essentials, so you can better understand how to maintain a healthy cleaning regimen for your bunnies. Remember, proper grooming is a must to keep your furry friends in tip-top shape!
Why is it necessary to make grooming a routine?
Whether your bunnies have short or long coats, their fur can hide a great number of problematic conditions. Lumps, skin issues, overgrown nails – these are all concerns that can remain unseen. With a routine in place, it not only helps your pets look their best but also offers essential interaction time that can pinpoint a medical concern right away.
Of course, the longer the hair, the more help they’ll need with grooming. Short-haired bunnies tend to need less assistance with their coats, as they normally have an easier time keeping themselves clean. However, longer-haired rabbits require extra help, and usually a lot of it too.
Depending on the length of their coat, set aside 1-3 times a week for fur brushing. Lastly, when you brush your pets regularly, you also prevent fur from getting into their digestive system and clogging it up – plus you also keep your house neater too!
Rabbit grooming tool kit
The following items are considered must-haves for any rabbit grooming kit:
- Bristle brush – Typically soft-bristled nylon brush, used to remove hair and help make the coat shiny.
- Flea comb – Tool that serves many uses, from removing loose fur to untangling hair to getting rid of feces and fleas.
- Mat rake – Rake-like comb that removes severely matted hair.
- Pin brush – Small, straight-pinned metal brush that is normally used for cats but works very well to help remove loose fur on rabbits.
- Wide-tooth comb – Often used after pin brush to prevent matting.
- Cotton swabs and balls – Soft balls of cotton can be used to apply styptic powder when a nail bleeds, while swabs help to clean ears and eyes.
- Flashlight – Use a light, compact flashlight to see the nail quick and gauge where to clip.
- Styptic powder – Medicated powder that helps stop bleeding fast when the nail quick is accidentally clipped too short.
- Nail clippers – Typical guillotine-style claw clippers for trimming (do not use human nail clippers).
Keeping your pet calm during grooming
If your pets are used to being handled, then you’re truly in luck. Unless you regularly interact with your bunnies and they’re fine with being held, most rabbits tend to instinctively flip-flop or start kicking when they’re picked up. This is especially true once they realize they’re about to have their claws trimmed.
As you can imagine, it’s really important for them to stay calm throughout the entire process – which is often easier said than done. Nonetheless, as a pet parent, you’ll need to take the time to get them used to being handled. In essence, what you’re doing is building trust with your furry friends. Work within your rabbit’s emotional and physical limits, and over time, they’ll get used to grooming and learn it’s not a dangerous situation.
The correct way to lift your bunny
The key to lifting your bunny correctly is to do so in a manner that helps them feel safe. If they feel safe, then they won’t get scared and try to flee. As long as you pick them up and hold them in a supportive manner, keeping their body firmly but gently against yours without causing fear or pain, they won’t go full-on into panic mode.
Here’s a technique that works very well:
- Calmly, gently, approach your rabbit. Talk to your bunny in a soothing voice, petting or scratching them on their preferred spot. Offer them a small, healthy treat directly from your hand.
- Use one hand to slide down their side, to then support them under their chest. At the same time, your other hand should move to support their rear.
- In this position, now lift your pet and place them against your chest securely – but not too tightly.
- Stand up slowly.
It will take some time and practice for your rabbits to get used to being handled. Of course, the earlier you start handling them, the sooner they will learn to trust you. Most bunnies don’t naturally want to be picked up – it usually ends up triggering a flight response. Luckily, they can get used to being handled by their favorite human, but you’ll both need to practice it together.
Don’t rabbits groom themselves?
Yes, they naturally do, unless there’s a health problem. Actually, you’ll probably notice that your pets will spend a lot of time grooming themselves. This behaviour is completely normal and will certainly make your routine all that much easier.
The grooming routine – Start with this basic schedule
Areas like their eyes, ears, nails, and fur will require frequent attention. However, there are two other things that will need regular checks too: a general health scan and cage condition assessment. Simply put, you’ll not only need to consider the overall health of your rabbits but also their current living conditions. There’s no sense in placing your clean pet in a dirty cage. And, if you end up finding something concerning during grooming, it’s always best to book an appointment with their vet immediately.
Now, let’s get down to grooming! The following is a basic schedule you can start with that can be adjusting according to your pet’s needs along the way.
As you groom your rabbit, keep an eye out for abnormalities and parasites, such as lumps, dry skin, and sores. Ticks and fleas can be removed with a special product, but it’s best to speak to your vet first to find out which one is safe to use on bunnies.
When handling your pet, check for the following signs that would warrant a vet check-up:
- Discharge or swelling of the eyes.
- Parasites or infection in the ears.
- Bumps along the face and body.
- Teeth that seem too long.
- A swollen jaw or improper/painful movement of the joint.
- Foot sores, indicating the possibility of humidity or too much moisture in their enclosure.
Lastly, consider if your rabbit is behaving normally. If they seem to be in pain or lethargic, then they should be examined by their veterinarian.
Cage cleaning should be done, at the very least, on a weekly basis. After spending so much time and effort grooming your pet, there’s no point in returning them to a habitat that’s dirty – it defeats the purpose of grooming them! Therefore, as you’re scooping them up to groom them, check out the state of their cage to see if it needs a good cleaning. Or, schedule weekly cage cleanings for the day before you groom your rabbit.
When you’re preparing to brush your bunny, choose an area where you can sit comfortably, keeping the brushes you may need within reach. Hold your rabbit in your lap securely. Speak to them gently, offering a healthy treat every so often to make the brushing process less stressful and more enjoyable for them.
- Begin by brushing their fur with the pin brush, following the direction of the natural direction of their coat (never against). Avoid brushing their extremities, such as the ears, face, tail, and feet.
- Next, use a flea comb to work through the coat to remove fleas and tangled fur.
- Lastly, use the bristle brush to add the last few touches and make the hair shinier.
Brushing a long-haired bunny
The longer the hair, the more prone your bunny will be to tangles and matting. In severe cases, if matting is excessive and cannot be removed, then you may need help from your vet to correct the issue.
Rabbits with long or bushy hair need frequent brushing, often on a daily basis. It doesn’t take much for tangles to appear. However, this can be easily solved with scheduled daily grooming. Doing so will not only prevent your pet from uncomfortable matting, but it can also eliminate the need for frequent vet visits to solve the problem.
- As with short-haired rabbits, start by using a pin brush.
- Part your pet’s hair into sections, using a flea comb to gently comb through the hair from root to tip.
- Continue brushing out the hair with a wide-tooth comb first, then follow-up with the bristle brush to add sheen.
Your rabbit’s skin is very delicate susceptible to injury, so avoid pulling on it while brushing. Again, if there is too much matting, contact your vet to solve the situation in a safe, pain-free manner.
As with most other clawed house pets, your rabbits need periodic nail trimming. It is essential to note that rabbits must NEVER be declawed.
If you notice that the fur padding on their feet have thinned or worn down, revealing calluses or inflamed skin, then your bunnies will need soft, dry resting areas, such as rugs, in their enclosure. The sensitive, exposed skin is likely to become infected should it crack or come into contact with urine. While it is always necessary to keep their cage, litterboxes, and rugs clean and dry, it is especially important when these health issues are present.
Some bunnies display excessive scratching and digging tendencies. In such cases, consider adding a big box of hay to their habitat, where they can dig around to their heart’s content.
Eye discharge or watery eyes require the attention of a vet. Along with whatever eye drops and medications are prescribed, you’ll also need to keep your rabbit’s cheeks clean and dry. If the cheeks stay moist, then the area can become chafed and the fur may even fall off. Absorb excess wetness with clean tissues. If painful lesions appear, then your vet may prescribe an anesthetic powder until the tearing issue resolves.
Since your bunny’s teeth grow continuously, you’ll need regular checks during grooming to assure they’re wearing down properly. Normally, rabbit teeth will naturally wear down with everyday chewing and gnawing. However, if your pet has crooked teeth – known as a malocclusion – then they will need manual trimming for their teeth. Do not attempt to do this yourself – seek out veterinarian assistance. Bunnies cannot eat properly and may starve to death when malocclusions are left untreated.
The great bathing debate
Once in a while, you may find a cute video clip of a water-loving bunny on YouTube that just melts your heart. But, whatever you do, don’t try to teach your pets how to swim. Rabbits simply do not like getting wet – let alone take an actual bath. It is not recommended to bath rabbits since doing so is very stressful for them.
Yet, every once in a while, you’ll end up with a bunny that has a dirty posterior. In these such instances, “spot” cleaning is the best approach, whether it’s urine or stool. Here’s how to wash out the dirty area without actually giving them a full bath:
- Fill two small bowls with about 2 inches of warm water.
- Dip the dirty part of the bunny in one bowl, using a washcloth or your hand to splash water on the soiled fur and work out the mats.
- Use a small squirt of vet-approved shampoo, working it into the hair.
- Now, switch your pet over to the second bowl, using the clean water to wash out the shampoo.
- Lastly – but very important – dry your pet immediately with a towel once you’re done. Do this in a warm room, switching towels until the fur is completely dry.
Never let the fur air dry. Bunnies develop hypothermia quickly – much faster than humans. Therefore, if you’re going to spot wash them, then take the time to towel dry them fully.
Some people use a hair dryer on the lowest setting, but as bunnies have very delicate skin this is not advisable. They can suffer burns, so it’s a better idea to avoid this potentially dangerous scenario altogether.
Rabbits have scent glands in two areas: under their chin and around their anus. They use these glands to mark their territory or things that they like – like you! The scent glands in the anus can get a very unpleasant odor when they build up. Luckily, these glands are easy to clean in a quick and simple 2-step process.
- First, after placing your pet in a secure hold that allows access to their underside, dip a cotton swab in warm water.
- Secondly, carefully swab away the brown buildup located on either side of your pet’s anus.
Honestly, this doesn’t take more than a second or two to do. Plus, once done, your pet won’t smell as stinky as before!
Your pet’s nails should be clipped every 4-6 weeks. Neglected claws could end up being big problems, hampering walking or snagging on something until it rips off. Also, when your rabbit’s nails are kept short, you won’t get scratched (as much).
Ideally, it’s a lot easier to clip your rabbit’s nails when you have an assistant to help out. If you’re having too much trouble trimming their claws, you can always book an appointment with your vet.
The process is quite simple and is as follows:
- Assess the nail length – claws should be trimmed when they’ve grown past the fur on their paw.
- Keep the clippers, styptic powder, and flashlight within reach.
- Use a towel to gently wrap the rabbit to help them feel secure.
- Ask your assistant to sit down with the bunny in their arms, placing the pet on their lap while against their abdomen.
- Grasp a front paw carefully, turning it until the dewclaw is visible.
- Using a flashlight, locate the quick (the vein within the nail) – it should appear as a dark line. Avoid cutting too close to prevent bleeding.
- Positioning the clippers from the side of the nail to get a secure grip, clip the tip of the claw.
- Use styptic powder to stop the bleeding if you accidentally cut the quick.
Repeat with the other nails, taking breaks as needed.
Clipping the back nails
A rabbit’s hind nails (the ones on the back paws) are prone to cracking when clipped. In order to decrease the likelihood your pet will move during nail clipping – greatly increasing the chances of cracking – have your assistant hold your rabbit in a different position.
While seated, they’ll need to hold your pet securely under their arm, while the rabbit’s rear is facing forward and head is looking backwards. It will sort of look like your helper is holding your rabbit like a football, just above their hip.
The key to making sure this position works with your rabbit is they must be comfortable. Otherwise, they’ll struggle while you’re trying to clip their nails and the whole thing will be stressful for everyone.
Another trick to clip the hind claws is to gently pull the leg you’re about to trim straight back and not sideways towards you. In the end, you know your rabbit best. So, feel free to employ other methods to keep your pet calm and cooperative.
Examine your bunny’s ears every week. Most likely, they’ll be perfectly fine. However, look for buildup of any kind, such as ear wax or dirt. Get a cotton ball to clear out any debris or dirt, using a scooping motion.
Wax is actually a protective substance that your pet needs to help keep their ear clean. As such, don’t aim to remove it completely every single week. Instead, what you’re trying to do is keep the amount of buildup under control.
When cleaning the ear canal, don’t insert a cotton swab down into it. If you do, you’ll end up shoving the wax down into the passageway, which can result in a blockage or other serious issues.
Should you notice a foul smell coming from the ears even after cleaning, a red discharge or general redness, it’s important to see the veterinarian right away. These things could be indications of parasites or mites.
Mites and fleas
Even if your bunnies are exclusively indoor pets, they may get mites, ticks or fleas. Parasites can come into the home on other family pets, or on your clothing or shoes. Also, though it may sound disturbing, parasites can come into your house via store-bought hay.
Check with your vet for the right kind of medication to eliminate a tick or ear mite infestation. Do not try to solve this problem on your own – only a veterinarian can advise you on rabbit-safe products and dosage.
A non-toxic, effective way to remove fleas is a flea comb – but it requires a lot of patience. Many bunnies love having the flea comb used on them because it feels nice and gets to those itchy spots really well. You can also use the flea comb to supplement your main flea-control program.
Stay away from these dangerous products
The following is a list of products that should NOT be used on rabbits:
- Frontline (fipronil) – although safe for cats and dogs, Frontline has been linked to neurological damage and death in rabbits. Merial, the manufacturer, has added a warning on the product line that states Frontline should never be used on bunnies.
- Flea powders – while some are advertised as safe for rabbits, none of these powders are recommended for use on rabbits.
- Flea shampoos – like the powder form, some cat and kitten shampoos are advertised as safe for rabbits but are in fact not recommended for use on rabbits.
- Flea control “bombs” or sprays – can leave behind poisonous residue on your bunny’s cage. If ingested, then it can lead to death.
Before using any product on rabbits, speak to your veterinarian first.
A groomed bunny is a happy bunny
Owning a rabbit comes with a fair share of responsibility and commitment. They’re your fur baby, after all! Although you may be tempted to skip grooming them once in a while, doing so can come with several health setbacks. Instead, if it’s easier for you, consider breaking up the grooming process into smaller blocks of time. This can be especially helpful when you have long-haired rabbits that need a lot of hair care.
Regular grooming doesn’t just maintain their adorable appearance, it also ensures your bunnies stay healthy for years to come.