Rabbit grooming may seem like a simple topic, but they do require some specialized care. Brushing, nail trims and scent gland cleaning all need to occur on a regular basis. The good news is that rabbits do not ever need baths. Getting them wet is actually detrimental to their health. If their undercoat gets wet, it's very difficult to thoroughly dry. This puts them at risk for hypothermia and potentially even fungus or bacterial growth. Some rabbits with severe health issues may require occasional bathing on their hind legs and rear end to prevent urine scald or to remove caked on feces. Read on to learn how to properly care for your rabbit's aesthetic needs.
Brushing your rabbit is one of the most important ways to prevent health problems. Not only can you feel for bumps, you are removing loose hair that would otherwise end up in their stomach. Rabbits groom themselves constantly, they tend to ingest lots of hair when they do. This hair leads to blockages in the GI tract, which can be fatal. Brushing your rabbit at least once per week helps prevent this problem. Do not ever give them laxatives or any supplement that purports to cure hair blockages by dissolving them--they do not work and are full of unhealthy sugar. At our shelter, we sell Furminators, an expensive, but very well made shedding tool. Be careful when using it, the metal teeth can tear a rabbit's very sensitive skin quite easily. For fluffier rabbits like Angoras, you may want to use a slicker brush, again be careful with your rabbit's skin.
Breeds like Angoras and Lionheads will need more than just simple brushing, their thick coats might require regular trimming. At our shelter, we provide this service for a small fee. Angoras especially are prone to mats.
Rabbits shed throughout the year, but during seasonal changes, it tends to be worse. This time is when you may see shed lines on your rabbit--nothing to worry about, it's just the pattern in which the hair falls out.
Here are some shed lines on Moneypenny, note the color change in the fur.
For members of our rescue, nail trims are free! At monthly meetings, we do trims for non-members for $5. It can be daunting when you first try to trim nails, but you can easily learn to do this task on your own. You need a clipper, try this standard type or a guillotine clipper. We even use small wire cutters at the rescue, though you have to be very careful of the tip. You will also need Styptic Powder and a small penlight.
First, find a position that your bunny finds relaxing. Try resting them on their back, or sit them on your lap and take turns pulling each foot out from their body. Practice doing this several times without clipping first. It will get them used to the sensation. Second, look for the quick. If they have clear toenails, it's easy to see, cut a few millimeters past it. If they have dark nails, shine the light through the nail to see the quick and cut a few millimeters past it. Nails that are too long make it hard for a rabbit to walk and to groom themselves, so check them every month.
The quick can be seen halfway down the nail in this photo.
The most dreaded part of bunny care, cleaning the scent glands. There are two glands, on either side of their genitals. They can build up and cause a lot of odor problems when full. The substance hardens and it can be quite uncomfortable for the rabbit, especially if they get infected. To prevent this from happening, you need to check them once a month to see if they are full. Hold the rabbit in a comfortable position, supporting their back very well and use a q-tip dipped in warm water or baby oil if necessary to swab out the buildup.
Run your fingers over the bunny to check for lumps or wounds.
Now that your bunny is brushed, trimmed and cleaned, give them a once over to check for anything out of the ordinary. Check for scabs, bumps, lumps or any mark that looks new on their skin. It's like a full body massage for your bunny--they'll like it. Skin should be free of dust or dirt. Rub their cheeks to feel for any potential abscesses along their jaw. Check their front teeth to make sure they aren't overgrown. Bunnies' eyes should be bright and clear, no discharge. Check for nasal discharge.
Lastly, check their ears, you don't need an otoscope to look for discharge(sign of infection) or any crustiness, which could be ear mites. Lops are more prone to ear infections. They have narrow ear canals, which can cause a build-up of debris. Look for sensitivity to touch, rabbits who were fine with someone touching their ears who suddenly yank away, likely have a problem. Smell their ears, infected ears have an odor. However, it is possible to have an ear infection without external signs. Report anything different to your vet at your twice yearly visit. Knowing your bunny's body can save their life when you find something different than normal.
"Who is this adorable guy?"