As a rabbit owner, there are several tasks that you may need to regularly do for your rabbit in order to keep them healthy and safe.
Rabbits love to be clean and will constantly lick themselves like cats. They can get hairballs if they ingest too much fur. Unlike cats, rabbits cannot vomit. If hairballs are allowed to form, they can become tangled masses of fur and food and may consequently block their digestion. Regular brushing along with plenty of hay helps to reduce this danger as well as keep fur from building up when vacuuming.
- slicker brush - Look for one with safety balls on the end of metal (not plastic) bristles to prevent scratches to the skin with over-use. Works best for long-haired rabbits.
- FURminator - example video 1, example video 2 Please be careful when using a FURminator as it can tear the skin when used too harshly and cause skin infections as seen here. Do not use on Rex-type coats as they will scratch the skin.
- SleekEZ deshedding tool, EquiGroomer Deshedding Brush - example video - These brushes are basically very fine hacksaws.
- Rubber brushes and gloves like Zoom Groom, SwiPets Pet Hair Cleaning Glove, or a Love Glove Grooming Mitt.
Most can be found in B&M stores such as PetSmart, Target, and Walmart. Others use more powerful tools like vacuum cleaner hoses to suck up loose fur. Be aware that rabbits may have differing opinions on each type of grooming tool. Regular short-haired rabbits should be brushed 1-2 times a week or as needed. See Angora and Other Long Haired Rabbits for more information on proper grooming for long-haired bunnies.
In the case that your bunny does not like brushes at all, you may also try dampening your hands with water and wipe them over your rabbit to catch all the loose fur. Rub your hands to get the fur off, and rinse and repeat. You can also try using a damp hand towel instead, if you do not like the feeling of fur clinging to your hand.
During the severe molting season when your rabbit grows a new coat of fur, you can also just use your fingers to gently tug and pluck out his loose fur. It should come out easily without too much force and should not bother the rabbit much. See The Well Kept Rabbit's video for an example of gently hand plucking while distracting the rabbit with head pets.
The following are some resources with more information on rabbit grooming.
Rabbits should have their nails trimmed every month or two. If you can see your rabbit's nails past their fur on their foot (for rabbits without short Rex fur), it is a good indicator that the nails are too long and needs a nail trim urgently. Rex rabbits will normally have nails showing even after they are regularly trimmed due to their shorter fur.
When a rabbit's toenails grow too long, they can catch in carpeting or cage wire. Broken bleeding toenails are prone to infection that can invade bony tissue and cause serious damage. Long toenails may also cause a serious issue called sore hocks.
Most vets, shelters, and rescue centers that deal with rabbits will offer this service for a small fee. If you would like to trim your rabbit's nails yourself, you may use small animal clippers. There are a couple of varieties available: small scissors, larger professional scissors, and guillotine-style. Normal human nail clippers are not recommended as they are meant to be used on flat nails while a rabbit's nails are more round.
Be careful to only cut the nail and not the quick (the blood inside the nail). Remember, there are five claws on each of the front paws and four claws on each of the back paws. The quick should be easily located on a white or light-colored nail. If your bunny has black nails, shining a bright flashlight from underneath the nail will help you locate the quick.
If you do accidentally hit the quick, the rabbit's nail will start bleeding profusely. Use a little styptic powder, cornstarch, or baking flour with a moistened cotton swab or cotton ball to the area and apply moderate pressure for 5 to 10 seconds to stop the bleeding.
If your rabbit is fussy about your touching its feet, see the Difficulties and solutions section for suggestions to handle your squirmy bunny.
If your rabbit has a lot of fur around his nails making them hard to see, mist the area lightly with water or lubricant gel and move the fur out of the way.
Here are some links with more information and pictures on trimming rabbit nails.
- House Rabbit Network. (2007). Calvin's Care Corner -- Nail Trimming 101
- Susan Smith. (2012). Trimming Toenails
- Lianne McLeod, DVM. (2019). Nail Trims
- Happy Hoppers Rabbit Forum. (2008). Claw Clipping: How To Guide
- Bandoliers and Bunnies. (2013). Rabbit Care – Nail Trims
The following are some relevant discussions of different techniques to clip a rabbit's nails.
- u/feline256. (2013). Nail trimming tips for a fussy bun?
Below are some videos with demonstrations of the above method as well as more innovative ones.
Cleaning scent glands
Rabbits have scent glands around their vent and anus. Sometimes rabbits will be unable to groom the area and will cause odor and possible infections. The discharge should look like wax with a very strong odor. Use a cotton swab that has been dipped in warm water, diluted hydrogen peroxide, or mineral oil and gently swipe out any residue that might be present in the scent glands. This should be done as necessary, which is usually around once a month.
Below are videos of the process of cleaning scent glands on rabbit.
Rabbits should not require any baths due to their natural cleanliness and should never be entirely submersed in water unless it is an emergency. It may stress the rabbit to the point of shock or heart failure, and if not properly dried, the rabbit may get hypothermia and die. If cleaning is necessary, try using baby cornstarch powder first to spot clean their fur.
In the instance that your rabbit does get soaked to the skin, it is imperative to try to towel dry the rabbit to the best of your ability and use a hair dryer or heating pad to keep the bunny warm to finish off drying. Use a hair dryer only on the lowest heat setting and at a distance of 6 inches or more because rabbit skin is very delicate and can be easily burned.
In general, there is no reason to ever need to trim the fur on your rabbit unless it is a long-haired breed or they need help keeping their bum area clean due to poopy butt, incontinence, or loss of mobility from old age or arthritis. Brushing, not trimming, will rid the bunny of any loose fur. Short and normal-furred rabbits only need their fur trimmed or shaved for a medical procedure, hygiene, or if there is matted fur that cannot be teased apart.
In the case that you do decide to help trim your long-haired rabbit (e.g. Angora, Jersey Wooley), there is no need to trim the fur super short. Be very careful with scissors if you use them and use blunt round-tipped ones if possible. Rabbit skin is very thin and delicate and is easily torn. Clippers are a better choice if you are worried about your manual dexterity.
Some cordless trimmers (electric and manual) you can consider for trimming rabbit fur are the following:
- oneisall Dog Shaver Clippers Low Noise Rechargeable Cordless Electric
- Wahl Professional 8663 Peanut Cordless Clipper/trimmer
- WAHL Professional Animal Vetiva Mini Cordless Veterinary Trimmer
- Wahl Professional Animal Arco Pet, Dog, Cat, and Horse Cordless Clipper Kit
- Wahl WAHL BravMini+ Professional Cordless Pet Trimmer
- Wahl WAHL Professional Animal Mini Figura Pet, Dog, Cat, Horse, and Livestock Pet Trimmer Kit
- Scaredy Cut Silent Pet Clipper
See Angora and other long-haired rabbits for example videos and more care tips.
It is also a good idea to check your rabbit's ears once in a while to make sure that they are not too dirty and there are no mites living in there. A dark crusty material in the ears is usually a sign of ear mite infestation.
To clean the ears out, use a damp cotton swab with a little bit of water, saline solution, or a safe ear-cleaning product such as an otic chlorhexidine solution to gently swab around the inside of your rabbit's ears. Do not use a Q-tip unless you are experienced. Be careful not to push wax further into the ear canal.
Do not stick the cotton swab too deep into your rabbit's ear canal. You may end up puncturing his ear drum. Also, only have your cotton swab slightly damp and not soaking wet. Getting your rabbit's ears too moist can lead to ear infections.
If you are unsure about how to do this procedure yourself, ask your rabbit-savvy vet to demonstrate it to you.
The following are relevant articles about cleaning your rabbit's ears.
- Disabled Rabbit. (n.d.). Ear Care
Here are some relevant videos you can watch with more information.
Difficulties and solutions
Sometimes, rabbits can be very difficult when you are trying to groom them. The following is a list of solutions if you run into any difficulties.
For brushing, you can use a top-loading container like a two-door carrier or a small cardboard box to contain the rabbit so they are unable to escape your grooming. You can also enclose yourself with your rabbit in a small space that they can't escape from like an exercise pen, bathtub, or shower.
If your rabbit is out of control when you attempt to handle them for grooming, stressing them a little bit can make them easier to work with. A few ideas include putting them in a carrier for a few minutes and walking around or using an unfamiliar location.
If you are having problems with squirming when trying to trim nails, you can try to use a bunny burrito. The basic idea is to set the rabbit on a towel and wrap it around them snugly, then hold onto them and only expose the parts you want to work with. A bunny burrito is also great for giving oral medications and syringe feeding stubborn rabbits.
More resources about the bunny burrito can be found below.
- The University of Edinburgh. (2020). Client Support - Bunny Burrito
- MediRabbit. Safe immobilization of a rabbit in a towel (“rabbit burrito”)
- Bunny Wonderland. (2019). Bunny Burrito
- The Unusual Pet Vets. (2018). Facebook video of a technician putting a rabbit in a bunny burrito
For stress-free methods of training tolerance for handling and grooming, see the Behavior section of Training for more details as well at the Handling article. These ways use classical conditioning to desensitize rabbits to behaviors of which they may be anxious or fearful.
- Ontario Rabbit Education Organization, Grooming
Some more videos on examples of overall grooming:
- Reddit.com, /r/rabbits, Suggestions for brush to use while shedding?
- Reddit.com, /r/rabbits, Tips & tools for defuzzing bunnies?
- Reddit.com, /r/rabbits, Question about brushing my rabbit
- Marinell Harriman, House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit, 4th edition, p. 86.
- Marinell Harriman, House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit, 4th edition, p. 87.