Grooming Your Bunny
Grooming is very important with your rabbit, especially if the fur is long. It is also a great opportunity to check your rabbit's overall health.
Note: this page is currently being updated regularly to include more thorough grooming instructions. Please check back soon for more information after reading once.
This is Cocoa and Brownie, the twins, engaged in mutual grooming. This is a bonding experience for both of them (not that twins need to bond - it's kinda built-in with them), as well as a necessary part of their social interaction and health. The twins showed me a lot about how bunnies look out for one another.
Rabbits will groom themselves fastidiously, but this may present a problem during molting when they may ingest too much fur and wind up with an intestinal blockage. Also sometimes rabbits have a difficult time reaching certain parts of their bodies and need help grooming there. Most rabbits learn to deal with being groomed, even if it has to come in small increments. And sometimes you will have to take breaks, since grooming a rabbit in full molt can be like reaching into a cloud of fur.
Grooming your rabbit is a good way to give it an overall inspection for health issues, skin problems, injuries, etc. Get to know what your bunny feels like, and how to properly touch him and inspect his feet, paws, belly, and other areas that are often out of sight when he's just hanging out. Since rabbits hide their illnesses and injuries, grooming is a good time to see if he's been hiding anything. Any funny smells should be investigated. Matted fur can lead to all kind of skin problems, up to and including maggot infestation (flystrike)
When your rabbit is shedding, check the poops for signs of fur going through its system. You will see a number of droppings strung together almost like a "string of pearls" - this means your bunny has ingested some fur and may mean your bunny needs some help with grooming. Likewise if you have a bonded pair of bunnies, watch for signs from either one of them getting too much fur in their stomachs.
Whenever your rabbit is shedding and not just grooming himself, you should help by either brushing or plucking the loose fur as much as possible in any given session (and it may take several sessions). This will help reduce the amount of fur he will ingest by trying to groom himself. Be gentle with either method, and rubbing/scratching the area as you work helps to relieve the itching and irritation that brushing and plucking can create.
Some common tools for brushing fur include:
Certain breeds do better when you gently pluck their fur instead of trying to brush it out. Long-hairs, Angoras, and Rexes (which have very short hair) are good examples of breeds where brushes are only marginally effective. Plucking involves finding tufts of loose fur that have begun coming out but are still entangled with the rest of the fur, and then gently pulling it out. You should scratch and rub the area under this fur because you are also pulling on fur that is still attached and it will cause itching and irritation. You can also just rub your thumb against your finger to gently remove loose fur, and soon you'll have a nice little mess to brush up.
Even when your brush is ineffective for grooming your bunny, you can always use it to pick up for from your couch or carpet or even your clothes.
If you have more than one bunny and one has very short whiskers, this is usually an indication that the Alpha bunny has been "barbering" him as a show of dominance - the bunny with the shortest whiskers is lower in rank. While it is not a major threat to their health, bunnies need their whiskers to navigate around objects by feel, and they should not be clipped or groomed down by you (there's little you can do about a dominant rabbit doing this, however).
You should also clip your rabbits nails periodically, so they don't get too long and potentially rip off from the toe (this becomes quite easy with their sudden movements and the possibility of snagging the nail on something). If you can't do it yourself or with the help of someone else, call around and find a vet office where there is a technician who can do it for you.
When Noffy finally bonded with the twins after Tamari's death, one of the best indicators I had even when the bunnies were all hiding was the fur lining the fence of the x-pen that separated them. I allowed him to visit them while he was mourning, and when the grooming started through the fence, I knew they were ready to try spending some playtime together. To my surprise, besides some head-humping to instigate a chase or assert dominance, everyone got along and I had a trio.
It should go without saying that when you're done with a grooming session, you should give treats (and maybe snuggles, depending on the preference of the individual rabbit) to make the end of the experience a nice memory.
Stomach blockages can quickly become fatal because rabbits have small sphincters - this means that it only takes a small clump of fur in the digestive system to block it up and cause the bunny major problems. If during molting (or any time at all), your bunny stops eating or pooping, get him to a vet immediately!! Left untreated, blockages can lead to stasis, hypothermia, and death - in a matter of hours.
As a general rule, you should never give your bunny a bath, and it can cause intense stress for the bunny and can also lead to sickness (from being wet) which can be fatal. Please see this page for more information.
Rare Form of Shedding Finally Caught on Video
Dulci and Lucia, Dwarf Angora sisters, total weight 5 pounds. They're real, and they're spectacular.
This stop-action single-frame image shows a very rare form of shedding that few rabbits are known to do, and is referred to in the vernacular as "exploding" or "explosive shedding" (the technical term is "hyper-expeditive exfoliation").
It has rumored to have been witnessed only rarely and was considered an urban legend, until this image was captured on video for the very first time. With two rabbits simultaneously exploding, it is now theorized that the trigger is pheromonal or otherwise olfactory in nature.
This image shows two short-haired rabbits shedding their winter coats in preparation for warmer weather. The entire process takes about one millisecond (1/1000 or 0.001 sec)., and the fur flies. Literally. In a split second, they completely shed their winter layer of fur and assume a warm-weather coat. Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom!
Using a digital video camera at 1000 frames/sec, we were able to capture this one image as they are in the middle of instantaneously shedding their entire coats, in preparation for a seasonal change in temperature. The fur has been known to approach the speed of sound and embed itself in solid objects such as wood and even cement. This bench was mostly destroyed during this event, as was the background latticework, and the ground beneath the bench actually had small craters lined with pressure-solidified fur just after this image was captured. The camera was also destroyed by the flying fur and resulting shockwave, and we are still trying to get an image of these two rabbits with their short summer coats. By the time we got to the scene, they had been adopted.
These bunnies are so cute it makes me want to take hostages. I'm not really sure what I mean by that, but since I said it, I will stand by my assertion. I don't know exactly what I'd need with the hostages, but it is a very respectable value of adorable.
Special thanks to Dulci & Lucia for finally shedding their fur while the camera and tripod so rudely stood so close to them and just stared at them all day long. Such nerve.
Trapper grooming Tamari, then demanding grooming from her, then both of them posing for the "fwashy box". By putting his nose down and under hers, he is asserting dominance and telling her to groom him. When your bunny does this to you, it's time to start petting and grooming your bunny. Dominant bunnies will demand grooming as a show of rank, and they may not return the favor, but not all bunnies are like this - some are affectionate enough to return the favor and lick you (and possibly chew on your hairs, eye brows, etc). My forearms are often itchy from the "grooming" I get when I'm petting my bunnies.
WabbitWiki's page on grooming
The House Rabbit Society's FAQ on grooming
Zooh Corner's article on grooming
Specially designed comb for rabbits
An excellent article on fur loss and skin problems in rabbits
Article on trimming your rabbit's nails
Tips on trimming your rabbit's nails
Article on general grooming care, including scent glands
Good article on grooming angora rabbits
Zooh Corner's article on grooming long-hair rabbits