Last Updated: 1/22/07
How to Bathe and Clean up a Bunny
All rabbits should be brushed at least weekly. A slicker brush for rabbits, cats, or poodles works well. All rabbits shed regularly. Brushing out the loose hair not only removes potential knots but also prevents the rabbit from digesting them. Angora and other long haired rabbits must be thoroughly brushed and knots cut out regularly. The more often they are groomed, the easier it is.
In the spring and fall, rabbits will molt or lose more of their coat at once. This is more pronounced in outdoor rabbits. During this shedding period, they should be groomed more often.
If a rabbit is losing a lot of fur, especially in patches, it may have fur mites. The rabbit should go to a vet who can put a scraping of skin under a microscope to look for parasites.
All rabbits' nails should be trimmed every two months or so. I check them monthly and only cut the nails that need it. Be sure to cut beyond (further out on the nail, not further in) the quick where the blood is. If you cut the quick, the rabbit will bleed, sometimes a lot. This happens by accident sometimes since rabbits tend to wiggle, and dark nails are hard to see. If you cut the quick, press a towel against it for a minute and then apply some styptic stuff if it is still bleeding.
If you do not trim the nails, they can get caught on something, get torn off, and/or grow into the foot. Even so, a missing nail and some blood are common and usually no cause for alarm (but they should be avoided). My rabbits have torn off nails a few times. Deformed nails that do not sit just right may require more frequent trimming.
The rabbits' ears should also be cleaned with a kleenex or something soft every few months to remove wax and debris. This is especially true for lop-eared rabbits. Drs. Foster & Smith (see contact information on my rabbit links page) sells ear wipes that worked well to get wax out of my big mini lop's ears.
Debris from whatever litter or substrate is being used can accumulate in the rabbit's ears if not cleaned often or if the litter is not appropriate.
Rabbits do not require bathing unless they are severely soiled. For example, my rabbits, Loppy and later Jimmy and Sweetie, would not eat hay, had constant diarrhea (really most likely night feces), and got huge lumps of feces stuck to their rears. It was so bad that their penis, testes, and anus were all embedded and each additional excretion added to the ball of yuck. They would not come off without soap and water for lubrication. I bathed them every five weeks in the warm months. My sick lops and often other old and/or fat rabbits cannot bathe themselves. Obesity and digestive problems occurred in my Holland and mini lops but not my other rabbits so it may be common for lops. Most rabbits will never need a bath since they can clean themselves.
As of 11/1/05, I have a disabled rabbit, Isabella, who cannot move and a rabbit Sweetie who will not groom herself (fur or cecal night feces) so they both get weekly butt baths only. If I do not keep up with it, Sweetie will get maggots (Isabella is indoors).
Buns may need to be bathed if they become really dirty, get poo stuck on their rears, or have parasites like fleas, mites, or lice.
It is actually easier to give your bun a shower than a bath. I bought a shower head attachment for my laundry tub which is sold to wash dogs. One place that sell it is That Pet Place but many pet stores sell something similar. If you are doing a bath and not shower, the rabbit will probably put up much more of a fight. Rabbits do not like to be submerged in water. So, if you have to do a bath, keep the water only a few inches deep and use your hands to bring water up and over his back.
The following are directions for a shower. First, collect your supplies which may include at least two towels, the tub or tub with a shower attachment on it, bunny shampoo, rabbit comb and/or brush, scissors (I use poodle scissors), nail trimmers, wet facial tissues or small animal eye and ear wipe cloths, and of course, the rabbit. For shampoo, you can buy bunny shampoo sold at That Pet Place (actually, they no longer carry it now), Petco, or most pet stores. If you cannot get this, then it is probably okay to use no-tears baby shampoos or shampoo for kittens. I have also used dog oatmeal shampoos. The eye and ear wipes are also sold at the same places.
Now go get the rabbit. Cut off any large lumps of whatever if you can. Then, set the bun into the tub. Adjust the shower head away from the bun to get it lukewarm. You will see how the bun responds. Many will do nothing. If the rabbit freaks when you have not even done anything yet, then it is time to find a human helper who can hold him down while you work. I have found that trying to get someone to help makes things worse but it varies with people and rabbit. Then, squirt down the rabbit and soak him. If only one area is soiled like the rear, you do not have to wet down the rest of the body unless you think he needs a full body cleaning. After he is wet, then squirt some shampoo into your hand and then onto the rabbit's most dirty spot. Rub it around. If there are lumps of poo or whatever, try to gently pull them off now that it is wet and soapy. If you can cut a clump off, then do that. Be careful not to cut the rabbit, especially its privates. It is better to tug off debris in that area than risk cutting there. If it is still too tough, then rinse, re-lather, and try again. Wash away the dirt, poo, etc. With Jimmy, it may have taken me 5 times of repeating this to get the poo clumps off. Then, soap up the rest of the bun and avoid the ears and eyes. Massage the soap in well. Rinse. If he is still dirty, repeat as many times as needed. Continue to pull out and cut out clumps, etc. Rinse well. Squeeze dry the longer areas of fur and gently squeeze the legs to remove the bulk of the water.
Take the bun out of the tub and set onto a towel. Use another towel to rub the bun vigorously. Continue until mostly dry. You may need more than one towel as rabbit fur is dense is really retains water. If it is cold where the bun lives, then you may need to blow dry him so he does not catch cold or keep him in a warm room until dry. Brush and/or comb out the bun so he looks nice. At this point, my bun Jimmy always seemed invigorated and smelled nice. You can take the opportunity to clean out his ears with wipes or a wet facial tissue (do not use paper towels or Q-tips), gently wipe his eyes to remove goop with wipes or a wet facial tissue (avoid contacting the lense of the eye), clean out his anal glands (gently pull the genitalia to either side, and you will find a stinking pit on each side with yellow/brown goo; found in both sexes) with wipes (I use the ear wipes) or a wet facial tissue, and trim his nails.
A note about using scissors on rabbits:
Dorothy e-mailed me on 12/30/04 with grave concern about my mention of using scissors to cut mats off of rabbits and for grooming them. Rabbits have paper thin skin. If you do not know what you are doing, it is very easy to cut off a part of the rabbit aside from the fur. It takes practice to use scissors without harm. Never cut fur off if you do not know where the rabbit's body parts and skin are in relation to the scissors. It is very easy to accidently cut the skin especially when cutting around the private region which I have had to do a lot due to night feces being stuck down there. Dorothy suggests instead of ever using scissors that you use electric clippers. I have tried them without luck but I am sure other people are better at using them than I. Also, if groomed regularly, mats are less likely. On the rare occasions that I have accidently minorly cut a rabbit when grooming with scissors, I apply pressure followed by some Neosporin to the area. Rabbit skin is very thin but heals pretty fast. That said, do whatever you can to avoid cutting your sweet bun!
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