How to Groom Your Rabbit: A Complete Guide

Updated on December 19, 2018
Jana Louise Smit profile image

Jana worked in animal welfare with abused and unwanted pets. She loves sharing her hands-on experience regarding domestic and wild critters.

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What You'll Learn About Rabbit Care

  • Why grooming is necessary
  • Tools of the trade
  • Holding the animal correctly
  • A complete grooming routine
  • How to avoid incorrect grooming

Why a Routine Is Necessary

Long-haired bunnies need more attention to keep their coats in top shape. Long coats also hide problems such as overgrown nails, skin issues and lumps. A grooming routine makes the animal look great and offers the chance for a medical check. Short-haired rabbits keep themselves clean and need less assistance. However, they also need a weekly appointment for brushing, nail and ear care. In addition to grooming and health checks, the sessions serve as bonding. Most importantly, rabbits cannot cough up hairballs like a cat. Combing prevents hair from clogging their digestive system—and your house.

Your Tool Kit

  • Pin brush. Purchase the type made for cats. This brush is small with straight metal pins. Purpose: The removal of loose hair
  • Flea comb. Purpose: This multi-use tool removes fleas and their feces, untangle the coat and removes loose hair
  • Wide-tooth comb. Purpose: Prevents matting, can be used after the pin brush
  • Bristle brush. These usually have soft nylon bristles. Purpose: To finish up the combing process, remove hair and shines the coat
  • Mat rake. Purpose: Removal of severely matted hair
  • Toenail clippers (don't use those designed for humans)
  • Flashlight. Purpose: To see the quick in nails
  • Styptic powder. Purpose: Should you accidentally snip the quick and the nail bleeds, this powder stops the blood
  • Cotton. Purpose: Cotton balls can be used to apply styptic powder and cotton-tipped swabs can clean eyes and ears

Keeping the Rabbit Calm

If your bunny allows lifting and handling, you're in luck. Most rabbits have an instinctive desire to start kicking frantically when hauled off their feet. It's essential that the rabbit stays calm during grooming, especially when their nails are being clipped. Building this kind of trust takes time, repetitive handling and working within your rabbit's emotional limits. Eventually, the animal learns there's no danger and allows more thorough grooming.

How to Lift a Rabbit Correctly

A rabbit that feels safe won't struggle. You can pick it up in any way that supports its body without pain or fear. The following technique is adequate:

  1. Introduce a calm encounter. Greet your pet with gentle scratches on the head (or any spot it loves being petted), or allow it to nibble a small snack from your fingers
  2. Slide a hand down the animal's side and under its chest. At the same time, move your other hand to support its bum
  3. While supporting the chest and hindquarters, lift the bunny and hold it against you (not too tightly)
  4. Stand up slowly

Most rabbits have to learn to trust the process of being picked up by a human. Most owners need to learn how to make it feel safe while also controlling the animal. This mutual learning takes time and practice.

Avid Groomers

You'll notice that your pet spends a lot of time grooming itself. This is healthy behaviour and will make your routine easier.
You'll notice that your pet spends a lot of time grooming itself. This is healthy behaviour and will make your routine easier. | Source

The Grooming Routine

Certain areas need regular attention. These include the rabbit's fur, nails and ears. In addition, one must do a health scan and keep the cage clean. No use putting your lemony-fresh bunny back in a messy home! Here's a basic schedule you can begin with. Adjust it according to what works for you.

Part 1: The Bathing Decision

If you can, avoid bathing your rabbit. Most bunnies struggle away from water and could hurt themselves should they slip from your grasp. Stock up on dry shampoo pet products or cornstarch to spot clean a dirty spot on the coat (apply and brush out the debris). However, there are times when your rabbit needs a wash. Especially when they soil their hindquarters with stool or urine.

Take two containers and fill them with two inches of lukewarm water. Dip only the soiled area and not the whole rabbit. Loosen the matted area with your fingers, brush or washcloth before applying a small amount of cat shampoo. After thoroughly massaging it into the material you wish to remove, dip the rabbit's affected area in the second container with the clean water and wash.

Very important! Dry your pet as thoroughly as possible. Bunnies develop hypothermia faster than humans, so don't let it dry by itself. Towel it as thoroughly as you can, before placing the animal in a warm environment with towels. The latter will help absorb more moisture. Some people use a hair dryer on the lowest setting, but this could be exceptionally dangerous. Rabbit skin is fragile and could get burned.

Part 2: Health Check

While you groom, look for parasites and abnormalities like sores and lumps. Fleas and ticks need to be removed with a rabbit-safe product and a vet must examine suspicious areas

  1. Check for healthy eyes—there should be no swelling or discharge.
  2. Ears should be parasite and infection free.
  3. Examine the teeth and check the jawline for bumps. If the jaw is not smoothly symmetrical, see a vet.
  4. Investigate foot sores, they are indicative that the pet's enclosure is too moist.
  5. Is the rabbit's behavior normal? If it seems lethargic or in pain, it must be examined by a vet.

Part 3: Brushing

Keep all the brushes within reach and hold the rabbit on your lap. Speak gently and if necessary, offer treats to make the experience more pleasurable for your pet.

  • Start with the pin brush and brush with the coat, not against it (avoid the extremities such as the face, ears, feet and tail)
  • Next, work through the coat with the flea comb to remove fleas and matted hair
  • Round things up with a good combing, using the bristle brush

The Problem With Long Hair

Rabbits with long hair are prone to tangled hair. If this tendency is not controlled, severe cases need to be corrected by a vet.
Rabbits with long hair are prone to tangled hair. If this tendency is not controlled, severe cases need to be corrected by a vet. | Source

Brushing a Long-Haired Rabbit

Bushy bunnies need a daily brushing. Most long haired breeds tangle very quickly, sometimes severely. Sustained grooming can prevent a lot of trouble, including a visit to the vet.

  • Start with the pin brush and use in the same way as with short haired rabbits
  • Going through the rabbit's coat in sections, part the hair and use the flea comb to comb the fur from the root outward
  • Take the wide-tooth comb and then the bristle brush, gently giving your pet a once over with each

Never pull on the rabbit's hair with a comb, their skin is very prone to injury. If the fur is too matted to be removed, you'll need help from a vet to safely remedy the situation.

Part 4: Clipping the Toenails

Thankfully, your bunny only needs a manicure every 6 to 8 weeks. Neglected nails hamper walking and a claw could snag on something, often with horrific results. Short nails also prevent the owner from getting scratched. It's best to enlist the assistance of a helper. If you don't want to do this, you could always book a vet appointment to have it done for you.

  1. Assess the length; nails should be clipped when they reach past the foot's fur
  2. Gather a small flashlight and the nail clippers
  3. If the animal tends to struggle, gently wrap it in a towel
  4. Let your helper sit down and hold the rabbit on their lap (the bunny's bum should be against your assistant's stomach)
  5. Carefully grasp a front leg and turn until you see the dewclaw
  6. Find the quick (the vein within the nail). Shine the flashlight against the nail and the quick should appear as a dark line. Avoid cutting too close as this causes bleeding
  7. Clip the tip of the nail, positioning the guillotine clippers from the side of the nail to get a secure grip
  8. If you accidentally cut the quick, use styptic powder to stave the bleeding

9. Repeat with the other nails, taking breaks as needed

Clipping the Hind Nails

The back nails are thicker, but more prone to fracturing. Your assistant must hold the rabbit under their arm, with the animal's head sticking out the back. In a way, it resembles holding a football just above the hip. The rabbit must be comfortable, otherwise it will struggle during the clipping. Most owners gently pull the leg straight back, rather than sideways, but it depends on what keeps your particular rabbit cooperative.

Part 5: Ear Maintenance

The ears need a weekly examination. Most of the time, they'll be fine. Stay on the lookout for buildup of any kind, like dirt and ear wax. You can remove dirt and debris by gently scooping it out with a cotton ball. Wax is a protective substance and shouldn't be removed every time. Just keep the buildup under control. Also, never push a cotton-tipped swab down your rabbit's ear canal. This pushes the wax down into it and causes serious problems. If the ears smell bad, even after a good cleaning, look red or have a crusty discharge, you need to see the vet as this could be symptomatic of mites.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Jana Louise Smit

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