Rabbit owners may naturally feel concerned if they see their pets pulling out their fur. Find out the reasons for this habit and what you should do to address fur pulling if you believe it’s a sign of a problem with your pet.
As a rabbit owner, you may feel worried if you see your bunny pulling out their own fur. Moderate fur pulling or plucking is usually normal behaviour for rabbits, predominantly seen in does (female rabbits). Yet, fur pulling can also be a sign of an underlying health condition that requires veterinary attention.
Here are five common reasons for fur pulling in rabbits:
1. To build a nest
If you’ve noticed your female rabbit pulling out her fur, it’s likely she is pregnant. In this case, rabbit fur pulling is hormonally driven. The rabbit wants to line the nest for her kits (baby rabbits), using her own soft fur. She will routinely pluck fur from her chest, belly and flanks.
If you know your rabbit is pregnant, you can treat this behaviour as normal and nothing to worry about. It usually occurs towards the end of the rabbit’s pregnancy, so it is a sign that the kits will be born soon.
If you do not believe your rabbit is pregnant, she could be suffering from a false pregnancy, also known as a phantom pregnancy, in which your rabbit thinks she is pregnant but is not. During a phantom pregnancy, the rabbit can experience the hormonal changes that are normal in pregnancy, even though she is not actually pregnant. This means she will exhibit the same natural behaviours as a genuinely pregnant rabbit, including nesting and fur pulling. You should seek your vet’s advice if you are concerned about your rabbit experiencing false pregnancies. The solution to this kind of fur pulling is getting your rabbit neutered.
Both male and female rabbits can suffer from fleas and mites, which may cause discomfort. If your rabbit is being bitten by insects, they’re likely to scratch and bite at their skin, and pull at their fur, in order to seek relief. If your rabbit has mites, they may spend lots of time rubbing themselves against rough surfaces, further affecting their fur.
There are a number of fur mites that can affect rabbits. Most mites remain on the surface of rabbits’ skin, where they feed on skin cells and lay eggs among their fur. Some mites can burrow into your rabbit’s skin, causing an infection. In this case, the fur can fall out and look patchy.
Another kind of rabbit parasite is the ear mite. Ear mites will make your rabbit shake their head and rub their ears, causing fur loss in their head area.
If you suspect your rabbit has any kind of flea, mite or parasite, do not try to treat the problem yourself, but seek expert help from your vet.
3. Irritated skin
Rabbits’ skin is delicate and can easily be irritated by skin conditions. Dry skin can cause your rabbit to overgroom, scratch their skin and pull out their fur. There are a number of causes of dry skin in rabbits, and these include dehydration, poor diet and nutrition, dusty habitats and unclean toilet areas.
Alternatively, dry or irritated skin can be caused by allergies. Again, seek help from your vet to uncover the possible causes.
4. Grooming problems
Tangled fur can lead to fur pulling in your rabbit, and it tends to occur more in the long-haired breeds. It is important to stroke your rabbit regularly to check everything is OK. You should also groom your rabbit weekly if they are short-haired, or daily if they are long-haired. This is a good way to prevent mats forming and avoid fur pulling. Grooming also helps to strengthen your relationship with your rabbit.
Rabbits have sensitive skin, so don’t use hard metal brushes or combs when you are grooming them. A rubber brush is ideal.
5. Boredom or stress
Rabbits should be kept in bonded pairs, so spending long stretches of time alone can lead to them suffering from anxiety. A noisy or busy environment can also cause them to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Equally, being in a small cage without much entertainment will leave your rabbit feeling bored. In situations where they feel bored or stressed, fur pulling could be soothing to your rabbit.
If you have a lone rabbit, consider adopting another rabbit for company. Be aware, however, that rabbits can be very territorial and it can be difficult to bond a pair of rabbits who aren’t already familiar with each other. Also, consider how you can make your rabbits’ lives more interesting by giving them a larger shelter, more toys and space outside to dig, sunbathe, jump and nibble on grass.
Next steps for rabbit fur pulling
If you have noticed your rabbit is fur pulling, monitor the situation and see what solutions you can provide for your rabbit. If your rabbit continues fur pulling, it is time to take your rabbit for a check-up with your vet to get an expert opinion. This behaviour should never be ignored, and you should use your best judgement to ensure that you’re giving the highest level of care to your rabbit.