Hair necessities: what you need to know about rabbits and moulting
You may have noticed that your fluffy friends have begun shedding their winter coats already, or perhaps they drop their fur all year round. Whatever the season, the amount of fur your rabbits lose can provide an insight into their overall wellbeing. Kim Sullivan lists a few things to look out for.
Hair we go
In the wild, rabbits moult – often called ‘throwing their coats’ – in spring and summer, but our domestic bunnies tend to live more sheltered lives and may establish their own moulting pattern or shed continuously throughout the year. Shedding usually starts from the head, spreading down the neck and back to the rump, and can often be quite heavy. You might also notice the skin is a little darker where new fur is growing through.
Rabbits are expert self-groomers, but they still need help to keep their coats in good condition, especially when they are moulting. Long-haired breeds may require brushing more than once a day to prevent them ingesting too much hair – ask your vet or veterinary nurse about your rabbits’ specific needs, and also about what kind of brush and comb would suit them best.
To ensure that grooming sessions don’t cause stress to your pets, aim to keep them short. Sit on the ground with one bunny at a time, and brush down to the skin, parting the hair to ensure you remove all the loose undercoat and prevent mats within the fur. Bunnies have very delicate, sensitive skin, so never attempt to cut out hair mats yourself.
Too little – or too much?
Occasionally, rabbits can get ‘stuck in the moult’. Changes in temperature, day length and daylight can all have an effect on your rabbits’ moulting patterns. So, too, can your rabbits’ ability to groom themselves – older bunnies may struggle to reach all parts of their body, so watch to see if they need a little more help.
If you notice that the hair on your rabbits’ flanks, belly and just above the tail isn’t falling away easily, it’s important to help remove dead hair with daily brushing. Offering your bunnies plenty of fibre to eat, such as fresh grass in summer and hay in winter, may help prevent the condition.
If your rabbits show little or no sign of grooming, it could indicate an underlying health problem such as dental pain, a sore mouth or arthritis. The stress of moving house, a sudden change of temperature or the loss of a companion can also interrupt grooming habits.
At the other end of the scale, if your rabbits are excessively grooming and shedding, they may have mites, which can irritate the skin, causing scaling and dandruff. Always consult your vet if you notice any significant changes in your rabbits’ grooming or moulting habits.
Ingesting too much hair as they groom can cause rabbits real problems. An uncomfortable hairball may build up in the stomach, slowing the digestive system and causing gastro-intestinal (GI) stasis. Rabbits suffering from GI stasis often show symptoms of colic, including a reluctance to move or pressing their belly on the floor. They may also produce smaller, drier, hair-filled droppings.
The best way to prevent gut problems is to give your rabbits constant access to hay or grass and plenty of water to drink. Helping them groom will also prevent them ingesting large amounts of fur – and it means you get to spend quality time bonding with your fluffy friends, too.