We all know when it’s time to give the dog a bath. And everyone knows better than to try it on with a cat. But can you bath rabbits? Should a bath be part of your rabbit care regimen? Generally speaking, no, rabbits groom themselves. However, there are some circumstances where you might need to help them.
Rabbits are Self Cleaning Animals
Rabbit welfare organisations agree: most rabbits can clean themselves just fine without our assistance. The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund says that routine bathing can be harmful for a variety of reasons. According to the House Rabbit Society, bathing can be quite stressful for a rabbit, and should be avoided.
Most rabbits can and do groom themselves. In fact, they spend a large part of their days doing so. Bonded bunnies may even groom each other. Some conditions, for example arthritis or obesity, may make self grooming more difficult. In these cases you can and should definitely help.
However, that help almost never means immersing your bunny in a bath.
Bathing Rabbits Can be Dangerous
The Rabbit Welfare Association lists numerous reasons why bathing your pet rabbit can cause more harm than good.
Rabbits Don’t Like Getting Wet
Rabbits are prey animals, which means that they’re always on the lookout for danger. As rabbits generally don’t go into the water voluntarily, your bunny may see a bath as an attack. Many people find a bath relaxing, but it may cause your rabbit to panic.
Panic Can Lead to Injury
Yes, rabbits can go into shock and die of fright. In addition, a panicking rabbit with slippery, wet fur, can injure itself trying to escape from the bath. Rabbits’ bones break easily, and it’s not uncommon for a rabbit to break a limb, or even its spine trying to get away from a frightening situation.
You might also find yourself on the receiving end of claws or a nasty bite.
Bathing is Bad for Rabbits’ Fur
Rabbit fur contains natural oils that keep the coat in good condition. Wetting your rabbit washes these oils from your rabbit’s fur, rendering your rabbit’s fur less water resistant and vulnerable to other problems, as well.
Wet rabbit fur also clumps, which means that it can be very difficult to get your rabbit’s coat completely dry following a bath. Moisture can also cause rabbit fur to dry into mats.
Bathing Can Harm a Rabbit’s Delicate Skin
A rabbit’s skin is fragile. Rough treatment can cause tears and other damage.
Moreover, soap and water can upset the skin’s natural moisture balance, causing dry, irritated skin and other problems.
Damp Bunnies Can Become Ill
In addition, if water gets into your rabbit’s nose or ears, it can cause an ear infection, which can be both painful and serious. Flushing the ears can also cause irritated skin and lead to a bacterial infection.
How and When to Clean Your Rabbit
There are times when your rabbit may need your help keeping clean. There are safe ways to assist your rabbit in grooming that don’t involve getting your bunny wet all over.
A dirty rear end can result in urine scald or even flystrike. If your rabbit is unable to clean its rear end, you will have to do it. Certain types of bunnies may have trouble reaching this area during grooming, including:
- Obese rabbits
- Elderly rabbits
- Arthritic rabbits
Other conditions which may cause your rabbit to neglect its grooming include infections like E.Cuniculi, dental problems, and bladder stones.
To prevent digestive problems, make sure your rabbit is eating properly and has plenty of Timothy hay available at all times.
Rabbits can get fleas, mites, and other parasites. Unlike a dog, however, rabbits should not have an insecticidal bath. Instead, your vet may prescribe an oral, injectable, or topical treatment. You might also ask your vet about preventative treatments for your rabbit.
Your rabbit may develop different types of skin infections, including bacterial infections, fungal infections, dermatitis, and so forth. A bath will make things worse. Moreover, different types of infections require different treatments.
If your rabbit develops symptoms of skin problems, such as:
- Red skin
- Flaky skin
- Fur loss
and so forth, consult your vet for the appropriate treatment.
If you notice maggots on your rabbit, a bath will not help. Maggots mean flystrike, and that means getting to the vet as soon as possible.
How to Get Your Rabbit Clean
So, if you can’t give your rabbit a bath, how do you keep them clean?
Remove Mats and Dried Poop
Gently remove any dried poop from around your rabbit’s bottom. To remove matted hair, use a mat splitter or cut the mat with blunt tipped scissors. Be careful, though. Don’t pull the hair, as it can cause delicate rabbit skin to tear.
You can spot clean the affected area with a wet cloth, damp towel, or small animal pet wipes. Make sure to address the dirty spot completely. Use warm water. Spot cleaning soiled areas with warm water or lukewarm water can be a very effective way to keep your bun clean.
How to Butt Bathe a Rabbit
You can give your bunny a butt bath in a small sink or tub. Simply put a towel on the bottom of the tub, then add an inch or two of luke warm water. Cradle your rabbit’s front end in one arm while using the opposite hand to swish water around your rabbit’s bum. Gently work free any matter from your rabbit’s rear end. Many rabbits actually enjoy this process.
This video will show you how to give your rabbit a butt bath.
One alternative to a wet bath is a dry butt bath. See dry bathing instructions below.
Dry Your Rabbit
After a wet bath, dry your rabbit thoroughly, even after spot cleaning. Use a dry towel to gently massage the wet areas.
Some people also use a blow dryer. It’s important, however, never to set the hair dryer higher than a low to medium heat (but not the cold setting!). Be mindful that many rabbits are frightened by loud noises, so your rabbit may not like the hair dryer.
Also, if you do use a hair dryer to blow dry your bun, constantly monitor the temperature of your rabbit’s skin to make sure your rabbit doesn’t suffer a nasty burn.
You can also give your rabbit a dry bath using cornstarch. Cornstarch absorbs moisture. It also gathers dirt together for easy removal. And many bunnies find cornstarch a soothing powder for their skin. Dry baths can be an excellent way to help your bunny to get clean. If your dry baths are done gently, your rabbit may even enjoy them.
First, approach dry baths in terms of spot cleaning. Don’t dump cornstarch over the whole rabbit, and avoid your rabbit’s head, as the cornstarch can irritate pet rabbits’ eyes and nose. Sprinkle a small amount of cornstarch onto the soiled area and gently work it through. Then use a flea comb to remove the cornstarch and dirt.
Make sure your rabbit doesn’t inhale any loose powder. You can use baby powder for this job, provided it is 100 percent corn starch, and not talc.
Develop a Grooming Routine
Instead of bathing, develop a daily and weekly grooming routine with your rabbit. A lot of rabbits enjoy being groomed. It can also help you to bond with your bunny.
First, use a soft brush to remove loose fur and loose hair. Run the soft brush all over your rabbit’s body.
Pay attention to areas where mats may form, including your rabbit’s feet and backside. Remove mats with a mat splitter or blunt-nosed scissors.
Use a flea comb to check for parasites, as well as to examine the condition of the skin.
Regular grooming can help to stave off certain problems, and can alert you to the development of others.
When Should You Bathe Your Rabbit?
Short answer: only when your vet says that it’s absolutely necessary.
If your vet recommends bathing your rabbit, it’s important to prepare for the event. Preparation will make it easier for you to remain calm and in control, even if your rabbit becomes upset.
First, make sure you have someone on hand to help you. If one person gently holds the rabbit still while the other person bathes the bunny, then things will go a lot more smoothly for everyone.
Next, have your bathing supplies ready before you bring out your bun. You will need:
- A small wash basin
- A non-slip rubber mat or a towel
- The medicated or non medicated shampoo prescribed by your vet
Place the mat or towel at the bottom of the basin. It’s important that your rabbit has a non-slip surface to hold on to. A non-slip surface will help your rabbit to feel more in control, which will mean it will be less likely to panic or thrash around.
Place a small amount of warm water in the basin. Use a jug to add water, instead of the faucet, as it’s less noisy and therefore less likely to frighten your bunny.
Start at your rabbit’s rear end and work your way forward, wetting the fur and working the water down to the skin. Avoid getting your rabbit’s head wet, and avoid getting water inside your rabbit’s ears.
If you’re using shampoo, shampoo your rabbit as you would yourself: lather and then rinse. Make sure to scoop out excess water often, as rabbits don’t like sitting in deep water. Also, don’t force your rabbit to spend too much time in the water. Finish the job quickly so your poor bunny doesn’t get cold.
Finally, when you’re finished, wrap your rabbit in a warm towel. It’s important to dry your rabbit thoroughly, whether with towels or a blow dryer. Some rabbit owners also like to use paper towels to dab their bunnies dry.
In general, it’s a bad idea to give your rabbit a bath. The process can be frightening, and your rabbit can easily injure itself trying to escape the situation, especially if it’s soapy and wet. Moreover, immersing your rabbit in water can damage your bunny’s skin and coat, and can lead to bacterial infections if it gets in your rabbit’s ears.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t help your rabbit to clean itself if necessary.
Rabbits who have a hard time grooming themselves can benefit from regular spot cleaning and dry baths. And a regular grooming ritual with brushes and combs can help you to bond with your bunny.
Rarely, your vet may recommend giving your bunny a wet bath. In this case, it’s important to follow your vet’s instructions to the letter.
How do you help your bunny stay clean? We’d love to hear your tips!