Rabbits are fastidious groomers. They insist on being clean & tidy and will lick themselves like cats, and like cats, they can get hairballs if they ingest too much hair. Unlike cats however, rabbits cannot vomit. If hairballs are allowed to form they can become gigantic masses of tangled hair & food and will block the stomach exit, causing the rabbit to starve to death while his stomach appears to be very fat.
Rabbits need to be brushed at least weekly. In addition to removing any loose hair, this weekly brushing session helps prepare them for the multiple daily brushings that they must undergo when their heavy shedding begins. Rabbits will shed in different ways. Some rabbits will take a couple of weeks or more to loose their old coat of fur. Other rabbits will be ready to get rid of their old coats all in one day and these rabbits are the ones that cannot be neglected once they start shedding. You can often remove a very large percentage of hair by just pulling it out with your hand. But, however you remove it, remove it as soon as possible or your rabbit will do it during grooming.
Bald spots on rabbits are quite common when they are shedding. I have one Angora rabbit for instance, that gets totally naked except for her face and feet. But, short haired rabbits can do the same thing. If these bald spots occur from shedding, they will begin to grow back within a week or two.
EXPERT HELP: If you are not comfortable with the above you can have someone, maybe your veterinarian, show you how to do all of the above tasks.
A flea comb is a non-toxic device that takes more patience, but is both physically and psychologically rewarding. Most rabbits learn to love the attention of being flea combed, and it can be used as a supplement to your main flea-control program.
The following products should NOT be used on rabbits:
NEVER--unless your veterinarian advises it to bring down a fever--should you give a sick rabbit a bath. Because seemingly healthy rabbits can have undiagnosed problems, it's best not to subject them to the stress of a bath. If your rabbit is very badly infested with fleas, there's a good chance that he is already compromised and may go into shock when bathed. There are many safe alternatives to flea control (see these under "Fleas," above). Also, a thoroughly wet rabbit takes a very long time to dry, so spot cleaning the dirty area with an application of baby cornstarch (available at any supermarket in the baby section) (do not use talcum, as it is carcinogenic) and then gently combing out the dirt with a fine flea comb is better than a wet bath.
A wet rabbit can quickly become hypothermic. If your rabbit is wet to the skin for any reason, be sure to thoroughly blow dry the bunny until even the undercoat is dry and fluffy. Normal rabbit body temperature ranges from 101oF - 103oF. Because rabbit skin is very delicate, and rabbits are sensitive to heat, never use a blow dryer on a setting higher than "warm," and constantly monitor the temperature of the air on the bunny's skin by placing your hand in its path.
"Fleas" will usually clear up such problems. A veterinarian should be consulted for such conditions as open sores, or chronic skin inflammation.
Because of risk of infection, declawing is definitely NOT recommended for rabbits.
If excessive digging or scratching is a problem, then a large box of hay or straw, where bunny can pursue these activities, may help.
If the padding (fur) on the feet is worn down, exposing inflamed or callused skin, then soft dry resting pads (rugs) should be provided. Exposed skin that becomes urine burned or broken is very likely to infect. Take extra care that rugs and litterboxes are kept clean and dry.
Bunnies with straight teeth will keep them worn down with everyday gnawing and chewing. Buns with malocclusions, or crooked teeth, will need to have their teeth kept trimmed with guillotine-type clippers. If this occurs and is left untreated, the rabbit will not be able to eat and could starve to death. Your veterinarian can show you how to clip a rabbits teeth or they can clip them for you.
People are often afraid to clip nails for fear that they will cause the rabbit to bleed. You can purchase a product called Kwik Stop to keep on hand for this problem, but I've found that just holding pressure with a cotton ball works better for me. Your veterinarian will also clip nails for you. They should be checked every 6-8 weeks.
Compiled with the assistance of Dr. Carolynn Harvey, DVM