Rabbits and Baths
House rabbits, similar to cats, are incredibly diligent in maintaining their personal hygiene. They dedicate a significant amount of time to grooming themselves and their bunny companions if they have any. As a result, baths are generally unnecessary for house rabbits and can even be traumatic. Most rabbits, like cats, have an aversion to water and find the experience highly stressful, which could potentially lead to excessive stress or, in extreme cases, heart complications.
In some cases, like when a rabbit has “poopy butt”, a shallow bath may be necessary. Read our article, Poopy Butt: Causes and Treatment, for a full rundown of how to clean your rabbit’s behind and the preventative measures you should take to avoid future recurrences.
It is also important to state that a rabbit’s living conditions should always be kept clean, dry and well-ventilated. Make sure you clean your bunny’s litter boxes regularly and use an unscented, newspaper-based litter like Yesterday’s News to reduce odors and absorb urine.
Brushing Your Rabbit
Rabbits of all different varieties shed. Sometimes it is mind-boggling how much fur can come out of such a small animal. But removing excess fur is vital to your rabbit’s well-being. As mentioned before, rabbits groom themselves and their bunny partners quite frequently. When they ingest large amounts of fur, they can develop serious digestive issues, such as GI Stasis.
For the tufts of fur that stick out, you may have the most success by gently plucking them out with your fingers. Interspersing petting with the plucking can help appease rabbits who prefer you’d leave those tufts in place.
In addition to hand-plucking, you should also use a brush for a more thorough grooming. Rubber brushes, such as the Love Glove, are both gentle and effective on rabbits’ coats.
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Clipping Your Rabbit’s Nails
In the wild, rabbits dig extensive warrens. Their nails grow rapidly to accommodate this frequent wear. Unfortunately for house rabbits, they can’t wear down their claws fast enough (despite all the digging they do on your floors and furniture). Therefore, you will need to clip your rabbit’s nails on a regular basis.
To trim your rabbit’s nails properly, you should make a “bunny burrito” with a towel, identify the quick (or vein in the nail), and clip the nail without clipping the quick. Learn more in our article, Clipping Your Rabbit’s Nails.
How to trim a rabbit’s nails
A rabbit’s nails can grow to be very long and sharp, which can be uncomfortable for both you and the rabbit. Check the nails at least every four to six weeks. You can trim your rabbit’s nails with a guillotine-type nail clipper — the type made for cats and birds, available from most pet supply stores.
Wrapping the bunny in a towel can help to keep them calm and prevent injury from kicking. Try holding the bunny on their back with their head tucked into the crook of your elbow.
If your rabbit has light-colored nails, the quick (the portion of the nail containing blood) is highly visible, making the nails very easy to trim. Just clip the nail right before the quick but not too close. Dark-colored nails, of course, make it more difficult to see the quick. Try shining a penlight through the nail.
People are often afraid to trim their rabbits’ nails for fear that they will cut the quick and draw blood. If bleeding occurs, it can be stopped by one of the following methods:
- Apply ﬂour to the area by dabbing it on with your ﬁngers and applying pressure. The ﬂour will help clot the blood.
- Apply pressure to the nail with a cotton ball.
- Use styptic powder (one brand is Kwik Stop), available at most pet supply stores. Always have this on hand if you plan to trim your bunny’s nails.
Read more: The Complete Guide to Grooming Your Rabbit
Can you declaw a rabbit?
Never declaw a rabbit. It is not recommended for rabbits and is also unsafe, inhumane, and totally unnecessary. If you’re not able to trim your rabbit’s nails on your own, your veterinary clinic can do it for you or recommend other local options.
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, even those considered safe for cats and kittens or advertised as “rabbit safe”, 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 harmful residue that the rabbit can ingest. Safer alternatives include borax and diatomaceous earth, worked into the carpet where fleas leave their eggs.
Although a rare bunny may grow up swimming in the family pool and going on camping trips where she paddles around in the lake, the vast majority of rabbits, like their ancestors, do not relish getting wet. Even an occasional bath is quite stressful to the average rabbit, and is not recommended.
unless your veterinarian advises it to bring down a fever–should you give a sick rabbit a bath. Because seemingly healthy rabbits can have undiagnosed problems, it’s best not to subject them to the stress of a bath. If your rabbit is very badly infested with fleas, there’s a good chance that he is already compromised and may go into shock when bathed. There are many safe alternatives to flea control (see these under “Fleas,” above).
Also, a thoroughly wet rabbit takes a very long time to dry, so spot cleaning the dirty area with an application of baby cornstarch (available at any supermarket in the baby section) (do not use talcum, as it is carcinogenic) and then gently combing out the dirt with a fine flea comb is better than a wet bath.
A wet rabbit can quickly become hypothermic. If your rabbit is wet to the skin for any reason, be sure to thoroughly blow dry the bunny until even the undercoat is dry and fluffy. Normal rabbit body temperature ranges from 101oF – 103oF. Because rabbit skin is very delicate, and rabbits are sensitive to heat, never use a blow dryer on a setting higher than “warm,” and constantly monitor the temperature of the air on the bunny’s skin by placing your hand in its path.
Rabbit skin is delicate and highly susceptible to cuts, so mats should not be cut off with scissors. Instead, use a mat splitter or mat rake to take the mass apart. Bunny fur usually requires a finer blade than most cats and dogs.
Scratchy, flaky skin with bald patches is usually a symptom of mites or, more rarely, an allergic reaction to fleas. Products described under “Fleas” will usually clear up such problems. A veterinarian should be consulted for such conditions as open sores, or chronic skin inflammation.
Rabbits have scent glands both under their chin (that’s what they use to mark items (and people!) when they chin things), and around their anus. When the anus scent glands build up, the rabbit often has an unpleasant odor. It’s simple to clean the glands, however. Simply dip a Q-tip into some warm water and hold your rabbit in a safe hold that gives you access to the genitals. Locate the two slits on either side of the rabbit’s genitals. Take the Q-tip and carefully swab away the brown buildup. It should just take you a second and you’re done!
House rabbits who spend all of their time in homes with carpeting and linoleum periodically need to have their toenails trimmed, in the same way as dogs and cats.
Because of risk of infection, declawing is definitely NOT recommended for rabbits.
If excessive digging or scratching is a problem, then a large box of hay or straw, where bunny can pursue these activities, may help.
If the padding (fur) on the feet is worn down, exposing inflamed or callused skin, then soft dry resting pads (rugs) should be provided. Exposed skin that becomes urine burned or broken is very likely to infect. Take extra care that rugs and litterboxes are kept clean and dry.
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. 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 baby powder or corn starch. For more infirm cases, disposable baby diapers-turned backwards so the tabs are up-do wonders for keeping the moisture away from the skin. (Huggies Step 2 work well for an 8 pound rabbit.)
Ear wax can be lifted out with a cotton swab, being careful not to push on wax in the canal, or you can try a mild ear cleaner containing Chlorhexadine, such as Nolvasan Otic. For ear mite infestation, apply a topical medication such as Mitox. The veterinarian may also prescribe Ivermectin.
Rabbits teeth grow continuously and must be checked to ensure that they are wearing down properly.While you’re brushing your rabbit or clipping his nails also look at his teeth to make sure there is not a problem.
Bunnies with straight teeth will keep them worn down with everyday gnawing and chewing. Buns with malocclusions, or crooked teeth, will need to have their teeth kept trimmed with guillotine-type clippers. If this occurs and is left untreated, the rabbit will not be able to eat and could starve to death. Your veterinarian can show you how to clip a rabbits teeth or they can clip them for you.
Rabbits nails can grow to be very long and sharp and will be uncomfortable for the rabbit. If the rabbit has light colored nails they are very easy to trim. You can see the blood inside the nail and you clip just before that point. The dark colored nails are harder to see where they should be clipped but it is still visible.
People are often afraid to clip nails for fear that they will cause the rabbit to bleed. You can purchase a product called Kwik Stop to keep on hand for this problem, but I’ve found that just holding pressure with a cotton ball works better for me. Your veterinarian will also clip nails for you. They should be checked every 6-8 weeks.
Watery eyes or and eye discharge needs to be diagnosed by a vet. In addition to any medications or eye drops. The cheek needs to be kept dry and clean so the area will not become chafed nor the fur peel off. Clean tissues will absorb mild wetness. Ophthalmic saline solution (what people use with their contacts). Carefully poured onto the cheek will crystallize the tears so that they can be removed with a clean flea comb. A touch of prescription anesthetic powder on a finger can be applied to the area if there are painful lesions.