Rabbits love to keep themselves clean but they still need a little help from their owners, especially during shedding season.
The problem is that rabbits are very sensitive and don’t always like being brushed.
The good news is that with a little patience, you can help your rabbit to enjoy regular grooming sessions, helping them to look and feel their best. Find out how to make grooming sessions as relaxing as possible for your furry friend.
Grooming sessions are an excellent opportunity to check the overall health of your rabbit. We recommend the following routine:
- Brushing your rabbit
- Checking their eyes
- Checking their ears
- Checking your rabbit’s teeth
- Checking their bottom and scent gland
- Checking their nails and clipping them if necessary
Make sure you use the same routine each and every time you groom your rabbit. This helps you pick up on any issues like matted fur or overgrown nails before they become a problem, but it also helps keep your rabbit calm as they know what to expect.
How to brush a long or short haired rabbit
Rabbits have very delicate skin which can easily be damaged. As a result, they often don’t enjoy being brushed.
Most rabbits do love being stroked though! We recommend using one hand to brush your rabbit and the other hand to stroke them.
Keep your rabbit on the floor or in your lap, wherever they’re happiest. Start brushing them very gently, following the direction of their fur. Keep stroking with your free hand and pluck away any tufts of fur that start to work loose.
Keep grooming sessions very short to start with. You can build up the amount of time you brush your rabbit as they get used to the sensation.
Finding the right type of brush is key to successful grooming. Different rabbits will tolerate different types of brushes, so you may need to experiment to see which type your rabbit prefers.
Types of brush to use
We recommend the following brushes:
- Glove brush
- Rubber brush
- Soft brush
- Slicker brush
- Fine-toothed comb
Glove brushes and rubber brushes are well tolerated by most rabbits, but they don’t remove a lot of fur.
Many rabbits also like soft brushes and these can be useful for picking up loose fur at the end of a grooming session.
Slicker brushes are a little harder so you’ll need to introduce them to your rabbit slowly to gauge their reaction.
While fine-toothed combs are best at removing fur, not all rabbits will tolerate them.
How often should you brush a short haired rabbit?
Depending on the breed of your short haired rabbit, a once-weekly grooming session should be sufficient for most of the year. Some breeds of rabbit won’t even need that when they’re not shedding.
During shedding season, you may want to brush your short haired rabbit daily.
Keep an eye on your rabbit’s poo — if the individual pellets are linked by strands of hair, that’s a good indication your rabbit is ingesting a lot of hair and you need to increase the number of grooming sessions.
Excessive hair in your rabbit’s digestive system can lead to dangerous blockages.
If you’re looking at buying a rabbit, then The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund have some good advice. Recommending, where possible: “selecting rabbits who are as low maintenance as possible, with short fur. This avoids grooming, which can be stressful for the rabbit, can lead to nicks and cuts to their fine skin, and disrupt the bond between owner and rabbit.”
How often should you brush a long haired rabbit?
Long haired rabbits are much higher maintenance than their short haired friends. The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund mention that without grooming, long haired breeds can “develop horribly matted fur, leading to sore skin and flystrike.”
Breeds like Angora and Lionhead rabbits should be brushed at least once per day when they’re not moulting.
During moulting season they will shed a lot of fur, and you may need to brush them multiple times per day to keep this under control.
Again, keep an eye on their poo as an indicator that they’re not ingesting too much fur.
How often do rabbits moult?
Wild rabbits generally moult twice a year, in spring and summer. Domestic rabbits might follow the same pattern or moult more frequently.
The temperature plays a part in shedding, so house rabbits may shed their fur little and often all year round.
When your rabbit moults, they tend to shed the hair on their heads first and you’ll see a distinct line between the new and old coats. This line will gradually move down their bodies until the entire coat has moulted. The sheer amount of hair that they shed can come as a surprise — it’s a lot!
What not to do when grooming your rabbit
You may have heard ‘trancing’ recommended as a way to keep rabbits calm during grooming.
This position actually places rabbits under a huge amount of physiological stress. Rather than calming them down, they’re actually so terrified that they can’t move.
Becky Skyrme, Animal Behaviourist at the pet charity Blue Cross, told us that the Blue Cross pet charity “do not advise the trancing technique, also known as Tonic Immobility.
As a prey species, rabbits will instinctively ‘play dead’ when they feel threatened or caught in a particular position.
Although it might seem to make tasks like grooming easier from an owner’s point of view, it’s known to be extremely stressful for the rabbit. It’s far better to associate grooming with gentle and sensitive handling, along with some tasty food.”
How to clean matted rabbit fur
If you notice any matted sections of fur on your rabbit during their grooming sessions, there’s two options:
- Detangle the matted section
- Cut or clip the matted section out
Use a dematting tool, or gently pull the mat apart with your fingers until you can brush the mat out.
If the mat can’t be detangled, it’s best to cut or clip it away. As a rabbit’s skin is so sensitive, you may want to ask your vet to do this or see if you can find a professional rabbit groomer.
You can find a vet here, if you don't already have one.
How to clean a rabbit’s eyes
Each grooming session, check your rabbit’s eyes look bright and clear.
If you notice your rabbit’s eyes looking a bit gunky, you can use a cloth or cotton ball dipped in tepid water to clean them.
Lay the wet cloth gently over your bunny’s eye but don’t apply any pressure. After five seconds, remove the cloth and wipe the eye from front to back.
Repeat this process as needed until their eyes are clean.
If your rabbit’s eye looks red or swollen, or you see sticky discharge, it’s best to call your vet for advice.
Rabbit can suffer from pink eye or conjunctivitis, which can be passed to humans. They can also get blocked tear ducts and abscesses near their eyes.
Runny eyes can also be a symptom of myxomatosis.
How to clean a rabbit’s ears
If your rabbit has lop ears they may develop ear infections or a build-up of wax.
Head shaking or excessive scratching of the ears is an indicator your rabbit may have an infection. Each grooming session, check your rabbit’s ears for any discharge or odour.
If your rabbit does have an infection, it’s best to speak to your vet for advice. If they recommend cleaning your rabbit’s ears, you’ll need a cleaning solution, some cotton balls, and a towel. This will be easier with two people.
Using the towel, wrap your rabbit into a bunny burrito. Hold one ear upright and gently squeeze the cleaning solution into their ear.
Place a cotton wool ball over the ear canal and massage the base of their ear for 30 seconds. Use another cotton ball to wipe your rabbit’s ear and repeat on the other side.
Many rabbits don’t enjoy having their ears cleaned, so you may want to ask your vet to demonstrate how they do it before attempting it at home.
How to check a rabbit’s teeth
Rabbit’s teeth grow around 2-3 millimetres each week. If the incisors are slightly misaligned, the top and bottom teeth won’t wear each other down, leading to a condition called malocclusion.
As you’re grooming your rabbit, gently lift their front lips and check the incisors aren’t overgrown. If they are, your vet may need to trim or file them down.
Your rabbit’s gums should be a healthy pink colour. Any redness could be a sign of gum disease.
Gently feel along your rabbit’s cheeks for any lumps or bumps that indicate a problem with their back teeth. Other signs of teeth trouble include:
- Swollen jaw
- Weight loss
- Dropping food
- Bad breath
How to clean a rabbit’s bottom
Most rabbits are very good at cleaning their own bottoms but if they’re senior or overweight they may have trouble.
Each grooming session, check that your rabbit's bottom is free from poo and you can’t see any evidence of flystrike, urine scalds, or irritated skin.
If your rabbit does have poo stuck around their bottom, you may need to soak your rabbit's bottom in warm water.
Bathing your rabbit can be very stressful for them, so speak to your vet before attempting a bunny bath.
How to cut a rabbit’s nails
You should only need to clip your rabbit’s nails every 1 - 2 months, but it’s a good idea to check them every grooming session.
Rabbits that spend most of their time on soft surfaces like carpet or grass will need their nails clipped more often than rabbits that walk on hard ground like paving slabs.
The easiest way to clip your rabbit’s nails is with a helper. You’ll need a pair of rabbit nail clippers.
One person should hold the rabbit on a flat surface, or cradled in their arms. This is to keep your rabbit as calm as possible.
The other person can then take one paw in turn and clip each nail. Rabbits have five nails on each front paw and four on each back paw.
If your rabbit has pale coloured nails, you should be able to see the blood vessel inside them, known as the quick. Never cut too close to this as it will hurt your rabbit.
If they have dark nails, and you can’t see the quick, just trim the bottom quarter of their nail.
How to clean a rabbit’s scent gland
Rabbits have scent glands under their chin and on either side of their anus and genitals. These are used to mark their territory with pheromones.
Rabbits usually do a great job of cleaning their own scent glands. If you notice a dark waxy substance on your rabbit’s anal scent glands, you can use a cotton bud dipped in lukewarm water to very gently help clean this away.
Keeping your rabbit happy and healthy
Rabbits love to keep themselves clean but can end up ingesting a lot of fur as they lick themselves. This can cause intestinal blockages, so a regular grooming routine is essential.
As well as brushing your bunny, you can check their overall health at the same time.
Bunnies are sensitive little souls, so take time to introduce your rabbit to being groomed slowly.
Once they’ve got used to the idea, many rabbits enjoy grooming sessions, especially if they involve a few tasty snacks as a reward! Find out what you can feed your rabbit here.