Grooming your rabbit is important to avoid matting of the fur and maintain a healthy shiny coat. It also helps to build a relationship with your pet and provides an opportunity for you to examine your rabbit to check for any signs of illness.
The grooming routine
Start a regular grooming routine when your pet is young and introduce him gradually to the equipment (allow him to smell everything before using it). When you first start your routine, brush your pet for short periods of time then gradually lengthen the time.
A rubber mat placed on a table makes an ideal non-slip area for grooming your pet, or hold the rabbit on your lap. Remember that if your rabbit is frightened, he is likely to try to escape so having a grooming site high up could result in accidental injury. Sitting on the floor with your rabbit in your lap can help reassure your rabbit as well as providing a low grooming platform.
Hold your rabbit firmly but gently over the back of the neck (you do not need to scruff them), talking to him all the time for reassurance. If your pet becomes agitated and seems unhappy, stop and wait a few minutes, or continue the grooming another day. Check the whole animal for any discharges particularly from the eyes, nose, around the mouth, and around the rabbit’s backend. You should also check for:
Sores from soiling and discharges
Scabs from fights or wounds
Lumps such as skin cancer or fatty deposits
Parasites, e.g. fleas or lice
Condition of its coat – is there any damaged hair or scruffy skin?
It is also important to check the teeth regularly as they are continuously growing and tend to become overgrown if your rabbit’s diet and lifestyle are not as good as it should be.
Rabbits like to clean themselves by licking but, as they cannot vomit, hairballs can become a problem. Grooming will remove the dead hair and avoid the rabbit ingesting the hair. Brush your pet from head to tail, followed by the sides and the underneath. Mainly brush the hair in its natural direction, but occasionally brush it in the reverse direction to check underneath for any signs of parasites, sores, etc. Pay particular attention to the area around the anus which can become dirty and soiled.
Most breeds of rabbit are easy to groom and just require particular attention during times of moult (spring or late autumn). If you have an Angora or other longhaired breed of rabbit, keeping his coat in good condition is however a time-consuming task. Most long-haired rabbits have their adult coat by 6 months of age but the very woolly baby hair is especially difficult to care for.
For a long-haired rabbit, it is best to start with a wide toothed comb to ease out any knots and then go over with a finer-toothed comb. Never pull roughly on the fur as rabbits have sensitive skin that can easily tear. To groom tummy and legs, place the rabbit on his back on your lap (be careful of its delicate backbone which can be easily damaged), or groom while your rabbit is lying outstretched.
Have everything ready before you start your grooming routine. This helps to keep the grooming time shorter and means that you don’t have to move around with your pet finding the equipment.
Medium to soft brush (to use around head and face of your rabbit)
Fine to medium comb (to use over the body area and legs)
Small animal shampoo (designed specifically for small mammals/rabbits, can be used to clean any soiling of the coat particularly around the backend)
Towel (to dry your rabbit thoroughly if a bath is needed)
Nail clippers (your veterinary surgeon can teach you how to clip nails)
Look out for...
Rabbits can become infested with mites and fleas. Mites are usually introduced via bedding and are visible in the fur around the neck and face and particularly the ear tips. There may be excessive scratching, fur loss or damage. If you are concerned about your pet having parasites, seek advice from your vet.
The other area your rabbit might have a problem keeping clean is its rear end (under the tail). This area may become soiled and matted and, with long-haired rabbits, might need to be trimmed (with electric small animal clippers – a second person will be needed to help). Never use scissors – a rabbit’s skin is very fragile and easily damaged.
A soiled coat is very dangerous for a rabbit. In the summer, flies will be attracted to a dirty, smelly rabbit. Flies can lay their eggs on the rabbit which, in turn, hatch into maggots and burrow under your rabbits skin causing infection, pain and even death. The rabbit becomes fly blown (having maggots on them). Maggots can hatch within a few hours. The condition is known as flystrike but can be avoided by regular grooming. For this reason, it is imperative that you check your rabbit all over regularly. If your rabbit becomes soiled with faeces, wash the soiled area and clean the matter away. Angora rabbits are particularly prone to problems in this area and owners may need to seek the advice of a vet or professional groomer.
Although they naturally keep themselves clean, most rabbits enjoy being groomed. Regular grooming is a good way to tame your rabbit, making him more friendly and easier to handle.