Rabbits are very clean animals and groom themselves thoroughly several times a day but sometimes they need a little help from us...
Rabbits are very clean animals and groom themselves thoroughly several times a day but sometimes they need a little help from us.
The amount of grooming your rabbit will require depends mostly on breed. Those will long hair such as Lionheads and Angora may need almost daily brushing, while short haired types such as the Rex require virtually no grooming.
Your rabbit will need daily brushing when it is moulting, to help reduce the risk of hairballs. Most rabbits moult several times a year and it can take weeks each time. The moult usually starts on the forehead and moves over the rabbit's back down to the rump.
You can use a cat brush or a doll's hairbrush to brush your rabbit. Always brush in the direction of the hair and avoid touching your rabbit's ears, feet or tail. To remove moulted hair sometimes the best way is to stroke your rabbit firmly as the moisture in your hand picks up the loose hair.
Bathing / washing
Regular baths are unnecessary for rabbits and should be avoided - not only is it stressful for them but the sudden changes in temperature can be damaging to their health. Even if you think your rabbit needs a bath, for example if she has been digging in the garden and is covered in mud, you will find that your rabbit will very quickly clean herself up. In this scenario it is better to give her a gentle rub down with a towel to remove the worst of the mud and let her do the rest.
Bathing may be necessary if your rabbit is unable to clean themselves for any reason, for example if they are sick or overweight and cannot reach all areas of their body. For rabbits prone to sticky bottom (caked on droppings around their bottom and back legs), you can give them a "bottom bath". Put a few inches of water in a sink, hold your rabbit above it and dip its bottom into the water. Use a baby shampoo or special rabbit shampoo and gently rub the droppings off. Dry your rabbit in a towel afterwards and keep it warm until its hair has completely dried.
Overweight rabbits and those with teeth problems can also need help keeping their dewlaps dry and clean. This is the fold of skin directly under their chin and if the rabbit cannot reach to clean it the skin can become inflamed and sore. This is a difficult area to clean as most rabbits are very touchy about their dewlaps - you might need to wrap your rabbit in a blanket to prevent it pushing you away with its front feet. Wipe the area with a damp cloth, then dry with a towel.
Rabbits with plenty of hard surface to run around on, such as patio tiles or concrete, may never need their nails clipped. Most rabbits, however, will need regular clipping every 6 - 8 weeks. Nails that are too long will prevent your rabbit moving around freely and are a major contributor to sore hocks.
Most rabbits hate having their nails clipped and for this reason it is a good idea to wrap your rabbit in a blanket or towel to stop it struggling. You can then take one foot out at a time to cut the nails. Unless you are very experienced, nail clipping is a two person job - one to hold the rabbit and one to cut. Specialist nail clippers can be bought from any petshop - don't use regular scissors or nail scissors.
If you look closely at your rabbit's nails, you will see where the "quick" ends i.e. the nerve and where the "dead" nail begins. The quick looks darker than the rest of the nail (in rabbits with white nails the quick usually looks pink). This can make it tricky for rabbits with very dark or black nails but you should still be able to see the difference by holding the nails up to the light or shining a torch through them.
Always cut below the quick or the nail will bleed. Cut a small amount off, straight across the nail to prevent splintering. If you do cut the quick, you can use styptic powder (an antiseptic clotting agent) or a styptic pencil to stop the bleeding; this is available from most pet shops. Alternatively, put the bleeding nail into a bar of unscented soap and keep it there until the bleeding stops.
If you are nervous about nail clipping, ask your vet to do it first so you can see what to expect.