“Dogs have their masters. Cats have their owners. Rabbits have their staff.”
Rabbits, by nature are meticulous cleaners. Much like cats, they keep themselves clean by using their tongue. You can see them clean their face using their paws as washcloths moisten by their saliva. As social creatures, rabbits help groom each other’s hard-to-reach areas.
While rabbits pretty much clean themselves, a good grooming from their person wouldn’t hurt. In fact, it can help prevent health problems often gone unnoticed. It’s a great bonding activity for you and your bun.
Grooming frequency depends on how furry your rabbit is. For short-haired rabbits, brushing every 2 weeks would be fine. For full-furred ones, daily grooming may be a good idea to prevent fur matting. Although rabbits may become difficult to deal with while grooming, they can eventually learn to enjoy it if done in a regular basis. Some experts say mid-day is a good time to groom rabbits because they are most calm during that time. Rabbits are more active at night; hence, it would make sense that they treat daytime as “down time”.
Setting the mood
New pet rabbits will always struggle against your attempts to groom them. Always remember that in the wild, they are a predator’s prey. It’s their instinct to flee from any suspicious or unusual situation. They may even try to scratch or bite, and even risk breaking their spine by twisting frantically just to get away.
Place yourself in the rabbit’s perspective: to them you are a frightening giant trying to mangle their fragile body. Try creating a non-threatening atmosphere by going down on their level, or placing them in a bunny burrito — wrapping them in a soft towel with head exposed. Always speak in soft reassuring tones while lightly scratching their cheeks.
Once your buns become relaxed (yielding to your strokes, no struggling, and eyes less tensed) start the grooming session.
Have the rabbit lay on a slip-free surface while running your hand though their body to coax them to lay flat. Lightly brush through the rabbit’s fur with a soft-bristly brush. Do not tug or force the brush through tangled or matted hair. The key is to be gentle. Brushing will prevent rabbits from ingesting too much loose fur that may cause GI stasis, a top killer of rabbits.
You can also use your hands to remove loose fur. Wet your hands with water and give your rabbit a light full-body massage.
Domesticated rabbits are not given much opportunity to practice digging, which helps them file their nails short in the wild. Nail trimming should be done at least every month to prevent your bun’s nail for growing too long, which can be a hazard for you and the rabbit. Secure a small pet nail clipper and firmly hold on the rabbit’s paw exposing its nails. Always cut a half-centimetre away from the nail quick to avoid hurting your bun and a bloody mess.
Check for telltale signs of health conditions:
- Mass growths – Rabbits, especially does (female), are prone to having cysts. Apply light pressure while massaging and get familiar with your bun’s body. Any mass growth may need veterinary attention.
- Sores and inflammation – Sore hocks may be caused by poor choice of rabbit housing. Their hocks or thumpers bear most of their weight; it is calloused and inflamed if a rabbit is confined in a small unhygienic space with limited movement.
- Eye gunk – Eyes should be clear of any discharge. Excessive eye gunk can be a sign of poor health and even depression.
- Teeth – Check for malocclusions and misalignment. Bad teeth will cause decline in appetite and gum infections.
- Ear infections – Ears should smell clean and free of any flakes and discharges. Any irregularity may be caused by ear mites and ticks.
- Scent glands – Rabbits regularly clean their scent glands that are located near their genitals. However, obese or injured rabbits will have a hard time cleaning that area which will cause severely bad odour and infection.