When the weather warms up, rabbits need some extra attention – not least in the grooming department! Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner explains how to take care of rabbits in summer.
While some bunnies like to bask in the sunlight, others prefer to hide away in a shady spot and snooze through warmer days. Meanwhile, we rabbit owners have our work cut out for us. As the weather heats up, so do our rabbits, which is why in summer they shed their thick winter fur to reveal a shorter coat – but they may need a little extra grooming help to help them beat the heat. Clippers at the ready – it’s time to head to the bunny barbers!
Your rabbit grooming kit
Before we get started, you’ll need to put together an appropriate grooming kit for rabbits:
- A soft rabbit grooming brush for general maintenance
- A wide-toothed comb (particularly for longer-haired rabbits)
- Nail clippers designed for rabbits
- A rubber brush or pimple mitt to remove the build-up of loose fur
Rabbit grooming: the essentials
Rabbits are sociable animals, and will generally groom each other – but that doesn’t let you off the hook entirely. Petplan vet expert Brian Faulkner says the goals of rabbit grooming are to remove dead fur by brushing, deal with any matted hair and clear any debris around their bottoms. Clean faces and eyes and check their ears for signs of mites such as crusts or scabs. Finally, clip their nails regularly to prevent curling.
How to groom a rabbit: step by step
It’s best to groom your rabbit with a helper at hand, if possible. Here’s what to do:
- Gently pick up your rabbit. Get on the floor and, supporting the chest and hindquarters, lift your bunny. Hold them against you as you stand up slowly.
- Place your rabbit on a table or other surface covered by a towel, being careful they don’t bolt.
- Check them over from head to toe, looking for anything out of the ordinary.
- Check the area around your rabbit’s bottom to make sure it’s clean.
- Once you’re happy everything looks normal, take a rabbit grooming brush and stroke in the direction of hair growth. Remember that rabbit skin is very delicate, so be gentle. If there are matted patches of hair, use a wide-toothed comb to gently work these out.
- Gently clean around their eyes using a moistened cotton wool ball.
How often should you groom your rabbits?
‘The number of rabbit grooming sessions you need depends on how long their coat is,’ says Brian. ‘Longer-haired breeds such as Lionheads and Angoras will need brushing every day, and will benefit from a comb that helps to detangle the fur. Shorter coats should be brushed a couple of times a week, more frequently if they’re shedding. Remember, older rabbits will be less flexible than they used to be, so they need a bit more care and attention.’
How to health-check a rabbit
A rabbit grooming session is also a good opportunity to carry out a quick top-to-tail health check on your furry friend.
Check their teethRabbit's teeth grow continuously as they are constantly being worn down when they grind their food. Both the front teeth and the less visible molars inside the mouth grow by as much as 3mm every week! Eating a healthy diet full of natural long fibre such as grass or hay can help keep their teeth in check. Rabbits with dental problems often stop eating their food or have runny eyes, as misaligned teeth can put pressure on their tear ducts.
Check their nails
Rabbit nails can become curled and cause painful sores if they don’t wear down naturally. In the wild, burrowing helps keep nails short, but domestic rabbits require help. When clipping your bunny’s nails you’ll need a quiet place, and an extra pair of hands to hold them still. Rabbits have a vein and a nerve in each nail called a ‘quick’, so if you’re nervous about using the clippers and trimming off too much, it’s best to get your vet or vet nurse to show you how to do it properly.
Check their droppingsRabbit poo holds clues to their general health, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on their daily output. There are two types of rabbit droppings: small solid pellets, and softer poos called caecotrophs, which it’s important rabbits eat as soon as they’re passed (they contain many unabsorbed nutrients). If you notice caecotrophs lying around the hutch – or as soiling around their rear end – this could be a sign your rabbit is unwell, while a decrease in pellet production could be a sign of gastrointestinal stasis.
Check their skinRabbits' skin is delicate, and there are a number of issues that can affect it, from abscesses to skin infections. It’s also important to check wet or soiled areas for fly strike, a serious condition where fly eggs laid on rabbits hatch into maggots that burrow into the skin. Your vet can provide ointment to help protect against this in the summer, when flies are most active – and it’s also a good idea to use nets and cloths to protect your rabbit enclosure from exposure to flies.
Keeping rabbits cool in summer
Good grooming alone isn’t enough to stop your bunnies overheating during the warmer months. ‘In the wild, rabbits burrow to keep cool, so make sure pet rabbits have plenty of shelter and shade in summer,’ says Brian. Electric fans placed near their enclosure can be useful, as can a bottle of ice-cold water wrapped in a towel or sock. And although rabbits don’t like getting wet, a gentle spray of water in their vicinity can help keep them cool, too.