Your rabbit has suddenly entered into their big shedding season. There is fur flying everywhere, and thick tufts sticking out of your rabbit’s lovely coat, making them look like a little raggedy rabbit. As you may have figured out already, brushing a rabbit to get rid of all that extra fur is not always as easy as it looks.
Pet rabbits need to be brushed weekly (or daily for some) during their seasonal shedding cycles. Most can be groomed using a fur-buster or a fine toothed comb, but the tool you use will depend on what your rabbit will tolerate.
The problem is that many rabbits absolutely hate to be groomed. The feeling of the brush pulling their fur is very uncomfortable to a rabbit’s delicate skin. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to how you are brushing your rabbit. If your rabbit won’t let you brush them no matter what, then there are other techniques you can use to help your rabbit shed all that fur.
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How often should you brush your rabbit
Most rabbits only need to be brushed during their shedding seasons. At these times, they will be shedding their old fur coat and growing in a new one. When they are shedding, you’ll need to brush your rabbit anywhere from once a day to once a week. The frequency of brushing sessions depends on your particular rabbit and how much fur they’re losing at once.
Some rabbits will have a short shedding season of only one or two weeks. They’ll be losing so much fur at once that they need to be brushed every day, or even multiple times a day. Other rabbits will have a longer shedding season of four or more weeks. This usually means that they don’t lose as much fur at once. You can probably stick to brushing them two or three times per week.
You don’t usually have to brush your rabbit when they’re not shedding, but many people will recommend that you do. Rabbits will still be losing a small amount of fur even when they aren’t shedding their coat, so brushing them once a week or so can prevent large tufts from building up.
Personally, I find that frequent petting does a good enough job during these off seasons. Petting and massaging a rabbit removes loose surface fur and is generally much more pleasant to a rabbit than the feeling of a brush.
Rabbits that need year-round brushing
Some rabbits do need to be brushed year-round. Long haired rabbits, such as the angora and lionhead breeds, tend to get tangled and matted fur if you don’t help to upkeep their coat. You’ll need to make brushing a weekly task with these rabbits. Then when they are in their big shedding seasons, you need to brush them daily or sometimes multiple times a day.
Other rabbits, especially indoor rabbits who see mostly artificial light, will end up shedding a little all year round and therefore may need to be brushed more frequently to keep their coats smooth and shiny. Usually brushing once a week is still enough for these rabbits unless they shed heavily, but use your judgement to decide if they need more frequent brushing.
Normal rabbit shedding patterns
Generally rabbits will have four shedding seasons throughout the year, one every three months. Two of these will be major shedding seasons where your rabbit is switching from their summer to winter coat or vice versa. These heavy shedding seasons will require pretty frequent brushing, but the lighter seasons may not need much brushing at all. Learn more about normal shedding patterns in rabbits.
Why is it important to brush your rabbit?
Rabbits need to be brushed for their own health and comfort. Brushing can prevent the buildup of hairballs and it can help your rabbit stay more comfortable during the changing seasons.
Since rabbits lick themselves in order to stay clean, that means they end up eating a lot of their own fur. Normally this is not a problem. The fur that rabbits ingest will end up going through their system just like any other food.
However this means that when they are shedding, rabbits eat a lot of their fur. If the rabbit’s health remains good, then it will still be okay. The fur will continue to pass through your rabbit’s digestive system (but you might find it showing up in strung together poop). However, if your rabbit experiences a lot of stress or an illness that causes their digestion to slow down, the extra fur can cause their system to clog up and get stuck in their stomach as a hairball. Since rabbits can’t vomit like cats can, this can quickly turn into a dangerous situation for rabbits.
Brushing your rabbit during their big shedding seasons will prevent hairballs from becoming a problem. Even if your rabbit gets sick or stressed, there won’t be enough fur in their system to cause a complete blockage.
Other benefits of brushing your rabbit
Brushing your rabbit will also keep them more comfortable during the change of seasons. This will help your rabbit lose their excess fur more quickly and be better prepared for the current weather. For example when the weather is heating up, brushing your rabbit will help them shed their thick fur coat more quickly so they’ll be more comfortable in the hot weather.
For longer haired rabbits, frequent brushing can also prevent uncomfortable dirty or matted fur. Since their fur is more likely to drag against the ground and nearby objects, it also might get dirt stained. Frequent brushing can help prevent these areas from building up and causing clumping or mats in their fur.
What kind of brush should you get?
Rabbits have sensitive skin, so many of them will not stand still or stay calm while you are brushing them. This also makes it difficult to know which kind of brush to get your rabbit because the most effective brushes are often the ones that rabbits like the least. When choosing a brush you’ll need to balance your rabbit’s need for comfort and how good the brush will be at helping your rabbit lose their extra fur.
There are a lot of different tools you can test out when trying to find a brush that your rabbit will tolerate:
- Flea comb: This is a very fine toothed option that will help get the loose fur from the the undercoat. It’s a great option if your rabbit will sit still, but it will often tug a little more on your rabbits fur and cause them to squirm or run away.
- Pet Fur-buster: This is bigger than a typical flea comb, so it can cover a wider area. It’s fine toothed, but not quite as fine as a flea comb, so there is a little less tug from fur pulling. This is generally what I recommend to try first to see if your rabbit will tolerate it.
- Fine-toothed comb: A fine toothed human comb can also work well. These are usually plastic and won’t tug on your rabbit’s fur quite as much, but the bristles are still thin enough that they can get the job done.
- Glove brush: If your rabbit can’t handle a comb, you could try using a glove groomer. While these won’t do a great job of pulling up loose fur from the undercoat, they will still get at the loose fur on the surface. The short rubber bristles aren’t as abrasive, so you might be able to convince your rabbit that you’re just giving them a massage.
- Rubber brush: You can try your hand at using a rubber brush. Usually these have very wide bristles that won’t pull on the rabbit’s fur so much. This type of brush is more for surface brushing, and won’t help much at getting at the loose fur from the undercoat.
- Lint roller: I have used this on a couple of occasions. Most of the time, the rabbit won’t mind a lint roller much, since there are no bristles. You’ll only be able to get at the surface layer of your rabbits fur though. Lint rollers can often work as a last resort (along with some butt plucking) if your rabbit won’t tolerate anything else.
Which types of brushes to avoid
There are a couple common types of brushes that are sold for small animals that I generally don’t recommend for rabbits. The soft bristle brushes I don’t recommend because they are ineffective. They don’t work well at even getting the fur off of the surface of a rabbits coat, and are useless at trying to get at their undercoat.
The metal bristle brushes I don’t recommend because they are usually painful for rabbits. These brushes have many metal bristles that scrape against the rabbit’s sensitive skin. The only time I would use these brushes would be for long haired rabbits. Even then, only use them when brushing the ends of your rabbits fur to prevent mats and tangles and don’t use them to try to get at the fur near your rabbit’s skin.
How to brush a rabbit
To have the most success brushing your rabbit, you’ll want to find a way to keep your rabbit calm during the process. For some of you this may mean holding your rabbit in your lap while you brush them, but for others, you may want to brush them where they feel safe on the floor. I also use a technique where I brush the rabbit with one hand and then immediately pet them with the other in order to keep them calm.
If your rabbit gets startled at any point, then gently pet them to calm them down before starting again. The process should take about 10-15 minutes, but if your rabbit is skittish then you can also break it up into many shorter sessions throughout the day.
- Calm your rabbit. Before you start brushing your rabbit, you want to get them into a calm position, so they will be less likely to suddenly run away or panic during the brushing session. If your rabbit is okay with being handled, you can pick them up to groom them on your lap. I prefer to keep my rabbits calm by letting them stay on the floor while I give them a relaxing massage.
- Gently brush in the direction of the fur. Once your rabbit has calmed down you can start gently brushing them. If you are using a comb, you want to position the comb almost flat against your rabbit to avoid poking their delicate skin with the bristles. If you are using a brush or glove, avoid pressing too hard on your rabbits coat. You want to brush their fur, not their skin. Start by combing in the direction of the fur. If your rabbit will tolerate it, you can try back-combing against the fur, but most won’t like that very much. Continue to pet your rabbit with your free hand to keep them calm.
- Pluck out some of the loose fur as it gets uncovered. As the fur starts to loosen, you will see some tufts make their way to the surface. Often these will get stuck on your rabbit’s sides or on their butt. You can gently pluck these off as you’re petting your rabbit (I call this butt-plucking).
- Brush off excess fur with your hands. Once you’ve done a thorough brushing, pet your rabbit with a few long strokes down their back. This will remove the loose fur that’s on the surface of your rabbit’s coat.
During those heavy shedding seasons, you’ll notice your rabbit’s coat gets ragged again after only a few hours. This doesn’t mean you did a bad job. It’s just how rabbit shedding season works. You’ll want to brush them again tomorrow, and every day until their fur is under control again. If your rabbit is a really heavy shedder, you’ll probably want to give them multiple grooming sessions per day.
What to do if your rabbit hates being brushed
My rabbit, Elusive, absolutely hates being brushed. No matter what kind of comb or rubber glove I try, she behaves as if I’m trying to torture her. Even the lint roller is usually more than she will tolerate.
What can you do if you’re in a similar situation with your rabbit?
- Lots of petting: Petting works very similarly to brushing. You are calmly sweeping the loose fur off of your rabbit’s coat. After a long petting session, you’ll notice loose piles of fur surrounding your rabbit and covering your hands. By petting them very frequently (multiple times daily) you can help them lose all that excess fur without ever having to use a brush.
- Use damp hands or a damp cloth: A little bit of water can help your rabbit’s fur cling to your hands or a damp hand towel. This can help you get the loose fur off of your rabbit’s coat. You want to make sure that your hands or towel are only damp and not soaking wet. Rabbit fur tends to hold onto moisture and they don’t dry off easily once they are wet.
- Bring your rabbit into a small space: Small spaces, such as inside a box or laundry basket, can prevent your rabbit from struggling or hopping away as soon as you start to brush them. This way you’ll be able to do a better job at brushing your rabbit.
How to handle matted fur
Sometimes a rabbit’s fur will get into a matted mess. This is common with long haired rabbits, who can get matted fur just by being active or sleeping the wrong way, but it’s also possible for rabbits with shorter coats. I see it a lot with rescue rabbits who used to lie in a habitat that wasn’t cleaned very often. They’ll have matted and urine stained fur that is too clumped together to brush out.
If you’re dealing with matted fur you have two choices:
- Detangle the fur. If the section of matted fur is not too bad, then you have the option to detangle it. You can use a fur splitter to gently tease out the knots in your rabbit’s coat. It helps to have two people so one person can keep the rabbit calm while the other person works on de-matting the fur.
- Shave or clip the fur. If the matted area has clumped up so much that the fur has basically formed into a knotted blanket, you will need to get the area shaved. You can bring your rabbit into a professional groomer or rabbit vet to help you with this. You can also choose to shave them at home with a small animal trimmer. This is not an area that I have much experience in, but I will say if you choose to shave your rabbit yourself, always have a partner and remember to be extra careful. Rabbits have very delicate skin, so you don’t want to nick them with the razor.
Special considerations for long haired rabbits
Grooming long haired rabbits, such as lionhead and angora rabbits, is much more work. Because of this, many people choose to keep their long haired rabbit’s fur trimmed to a more manageable length, especially the fur under their belly which can be harder to brush. This will significantly cut down on the amount of grooming that you have to do every day, and it will keep your rabbit cooler during the summer months.
If you let your rabbit’s fur grow out, you will need to keep a daily grooming routine. You’ll need to brush your rabbit in layers. Start at the back, lifting up the top layers of long fur and brush the bottom layer. Let another layer down and brush that one also. Keep going until you’ve brushed the whole rabbit. This method will help you get at the undercoat so you can prevent the build-up of matted fur.
- Harvey, Carolynn PhD DVM. “Grooming.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/faq-grooming.