It is important to keep your bunny well groomed, because any hair they lick off themselves can collect in their GI tract, possibly killing them. Watching out for wounds or illness will also help, because rabbits can get sick so quickly and have such a hard time fighting things off.
Set aside an hour each month for a grooming session with your bunny. You’ll want to have a towel or pad, nail trimmers, styptic powder, comb or brush, penlight, mineral oil, q-tips, Nolvasan-Otic, and Rescue Remedy.
Print out a copy of the grooming documentation form to make any notes you deem necessary: home grooming
Body Condition Score (BCS)
The first thing to do is to check your bunny’s BCS. The BCS is a scale from 1 to 9, with 1 being emaciated; 5 equalling an ideal weight, and 9 being obese. Give the bunny a few drops of Rescue Remedy on a banana or something, as well as a short massage. This will get him relaxed and make it easier to manipulate him. While you’re petting him, note how much fat he has around the various parts of his body. Ideally, you should be able to feel his bones without them protruding excessively. Check out his body shape, tummy shape, and muff fat. Is he bigger or smaller than last month? Estimate his BCS and note it on your grooming form.
Skin and Fur
- Lumps, Wounds, and Injuries
Continue massaging your rabbit, probing gently into the hard to reach parts, so that you touch the entire body. Look for fur loss, redness, itching, scales, or odor. Have you noticed your rabbit licking or scratching a certain spot excessively? Can you see any indication of problems in that area?
- Skin Problems
If you find minor skin problems, you can clean them with diluted hydrogen peroxide or betadine and soothe them with an herbal cream (calendula, aloe,…), Neosporin, or triple antibiotic. (Some vets think triple antibiotic can cause GI upset.) Do not use Neosporin Plus due to its containing lidocaine, and avoid products containing zinc.
Fleas and Mites Every month, you should check your bunny for fleas and mites. Rub up the back from the tail to the head, gently lifting the fur so that you can see skin. Look for flea dirt: dark specks which are actually dried blood. If you see dandruff, usually along the spine or above the tail, you probably have fur mites. Remedies for fleas include flea powder, flea comb, Revolution (Rx) or Advantage (Rx). DO NOT USE FRONTLINE. It will kill your bunny. To kill mites, get a prescription for Ivermectin or Revolution. You can try flea powder, too.
- Ear Mites Ear mites are nasty little things that really hurt your bunny. Look at the inner flap of each ear for what looks like dirt or coffee grounds. If he has ear mites, his ears will be very itchy, and he may shake his head a lot. If you find mites, DO NOT attempt to wipe them out of the ear. The mites have all these little claws that grip the bunny’s skin, and if they are pulled off, the skin will rip, causing your rabbit great pain. Instead, get a prescription of Revolution, Ivermectin or Rx ear meds. Get it taken care of right away. Ear mites are nasty.
- Ear Wax If you see ear wax, squirt in some Nolvasan-Otic and massage the base of the ear so that it makes a squelching sound. You can leave it at this if you’d like; the Nolvasan will soften the wax, and your rabbit will likely shake it out all by himself. However, if there is some wax that isn’t too far down the ear canal, you can gently scoop it out with a q-tip. Do not go further down the canal than you can see with your eye. Note: Squirting liquids into a rabbit’s ears has occasionally been known to stimulate some neurological problems, so it’s not something to take lightly.
Scan the eye with the penlight to look for scrapes, clouds, lines, or dots. Make a note of anything you find, and make a sketch if you feel up to it. Check the corner of the eye for discharge, and lift the lid gently to note the color of the lining of the eyelid.
Nose, Teeth, and Gums
- Nose The nose should be clear of any nasal discharge, and the fur around the nose and mouth should be dry. Look at the inner sides of the front paws for goop that may have been wiped from the nose.
- Teeth If you know how to turn your bunny onto his back, check his front teeth to make sure they are straight and aligned. Note their length and color. Finally, note the color of your rabbit’s gums. It’s good to know what your bunny’s color is when he’s healthy so that you can spot changes more readily.
Rabbits have four toes on each hind foot and five on each front foot, and they need to be trimmed every six to eight weeks, depending on how fast your rabbit’s nails grow. It’s not particularly easy to trim nails, because most rabbits won’t sit still for you, and many don’t like their paws handled. If you don’t want to put yourself through the stress of nail trims, ask your vet or find a groomer who can do it for you. If you are feeling intrepid, though, it will make your cause easier if you have gotten your bunny used to having his paws handled. Whenever you pet your rabbit, slip a hand under one paw and hold it or stroke it gently. Using your thumb, lift back the fur from the nails, too. Your bunny should get used to having a hand hold his paw without pulling away all the time.
- Finding the Quick If you are one of the lucky ones whose bunny has clear nails, this is easy. Can you see the red vein that runs down the nail. That vein is called the quick, and your goal is to trim the clear part of the nail, leaving two or three millimeters in front of the quick. Bunny’s nails bleed like anything, so we prefer to trim conservatively and more often than getting as close as we can. If your rabbit has black nails, trimming is much more difficult. Get a strong penlight and shine it from the back of the nail towards you. Can you see the quick? That should give you an idea of how far to trim.
- The Three Squeeze Method If you’re unsure about how much to trim, it’s ok to make several small cuts, rather than one big one. The three squeeze method can help, too, because most rabbits will pull away if you’re trying to trim too much and are squeezing the quick. When you’ve decided where to make a cut, align your nail trimmers over the spot and squeeze down once, gently. You don’t want to make your cut yet; you just want to tell your rabbit what you’re doing. If he doesn’t flinch, squeeze again, a bit harder, and if he still hasn’t flinched, make the cut. Please note that some rabbits flinch at everything, so this method won’t work for you. There are also a few bunnies who don’t ever flinch, so you’ll want to be careful, regardless.
- Two Person Trims You may prefer to trim with a partner. If one person can hold the rabbit up, the second person can use both hands and have an easier time trimming.
- Upside-down Trims It’s worthwhile to learn how to turn your rabbit upside-down. Put one hand over his bottom, and slip the other hand under his chest. Gently roll his spine up your arm until he is resting on his back. Don’t force him if he struggles, because you might easily hurt him. Let him go, let him calm down a bit, then try again. Once you’ve mastered turning your rabbit on his back, place a towel on your lap and lay the bunny on the towel with his body nestled between your legs. If you let his head drop, he should go into a trance and let you do most anything you like.
- Bleeding Nails If you’ve trimmed nails, and you haven’t ever made one bleed, you are a miracle worker. It happens all the time, so don’t berate yourself too much. Just put a dap of styptic powder over the cut nail and squeeze the sides for a moment or two. The blood should clot quickly.
- Broken Nails Sometimes nails break on their own. If this happens, look for any irritation or tenderness around the break and see your vet if it looks worrisome.
- Nail Trim Video The House Rabbit Society sells a nail trim how-to video that you can buy if you’re interested. Go to rabbit.org or call your local chapter.
- Last Words of Advice Remember that you don’t have to trim all the nails at once. If you can only do one paw, or even one nail at a time, that’s just fine. You can do the others later.
Yuck. Anal glands stink, but you should check your rabbit’s every once in a while. The two glands are slits in the skin, going out at 45 degrees from the genital area. (They aren’t that easy to find…) If they look clean or even have just a small amount of exudate, you can leave them alone. However, you may find hard, dry, black guck stuck to the skin. In this case, drip several drops of mineral oil on the stuck skin and let that loosen things for a minute or two. Gently prod the guck with a q-tip, and add more mineral oil to any areas that are still sticking. Be extremely gentle, because this is very delicate skin, and it can tear easily. Once you’ve got the guck free, lift it off with the q-tip or cotton ball. You’re done!
For various reasons, some rabbits cannot pee without getting it all over themselves, and they get urine scald (diaper rash). You want to keep the skin clean and dry as possible, so you might want to get the area shaved. Gently clean off any stuck poops and pat the skin dry. Apply cornstarch powder (to dry the skin), Vaseline (to coat the skin against further burn), or a cream such as calendula or aloe (to soothe the sore skin).
If your rabbit has a messy butt, you should work at discovering the reason. Causes may be obesity, paralysis, injury, or illness. With luck, you have something that can be fixed, and this will be just a short term problem.
The key to cleaning off poop is to soften it up before you try to remove it. Drip some water onto the dirty areas, then let the bunny loose for a minute or two to let things loosen up. To clean, use a dry shampoo and comb it out. Alternatively, you can use a no-rinse shampoo or like-product; let the area soak, and comb out. You can also rinse the bottom under running water, comb out, and pat dry. You may use a blow dryer on cool heat, too. Rabbit fur dries really slowly, so you’re best off if you keep everything as dry as possible.
** Any dirty, wet, or inflamed skin can be a target for fly strike, which can kill your rabbit within days. Keep your bunny clean, and if he has a dirty bottom, be extra vigilant about keeping flies out of his area. ***
Sore Hocks While you have your rabbit on his back, check his heels for red, swollen, or cracked sores. Most bunnies will have some sort of callous, and that’s fine, but if it’s looking painful, you might find something soft like fleece for your bunny to rest on, and you can put some soothing cream on the area if you’d like.
Know Your Bunny It’s important for you to know what is normal for your rabbit so that you will notice quickly when something is wrong. Use the grooming form to help you keep records on appetite; attitude; weight; temperature; respiration; heart rate; poop consistency, size, and amount; urine output; old injuries; skin color; gum color; and tummy tightness. Bring these records with you to the vet, and they will help the vet to make an accurate assessment of any situation.