Believe it or not, it’s normal for rabbits to lose a lot of fur during normal and healthy shedding seasons. If you’re used to caring for a pet cat or dog, it may seem like an excessive amount and have you worried your rabbit is losing too much fur. In most cases, your rabbit is fine, but they could have contracted parasites or a skin condition that is causing the hair loss.
Fur loss in rabbits is normal when it’s part of their regular shedding seasons. However, it can be an indication of mites, fleas, ringworm, anxiety, an infection, or other skin conditions if the hair loss occurs as balding patches or with inflamed skin.
Rabbits do shed a lot during normal molting seasons. So if you’re reading this because you’re worried about the amount of fur your rabbit is losing, my guess is that you have nothing to worry about. I will go over both normal and abnormal patterns of hair loss in rabbits so that you know whether to get medical help or simply learn to live with all the rabbit fur.
Normal rabbit shedding patterns
Rabbits will normally shed four times a year. They’ll have two big shedding seasons with a whirlwind of fur, and two smaller shedding seasons. This will typically last for a couple of weeks each time. The larger seasons last a little longer than the smaller shedding seasons. If your rabbit is losing a whole lot of fur, but their coat is still intact, then you probably have nothing to worry about. It really is expected for rabbits to lose a lot of fur during their molting seasons.
It’s also pretty standard for rabbits to have a somewhat shaggy appearance when they are shedding. They’ll have tufts of fur standing out with some areas at an uneven length. After your rabbit has finished shedding, their coat will return to normal.
What is a coat blow?
It’s unusual, but occasionally you’ll find a rabbit who sheds large patches of fur before their new coat starts to grow. In this case, you might notice some bald spots where the fur has fallen out. The skin underneath should not be red or inflamed, and the new fur should start to grow back within a couple of days. If it doesn’t start to grow back, then there may be an abnormal loss of fur.
Old age and hair loss
Rabbits will also begin to lose fur in their old age (starting at around 6-8 years). As rabbits reach elderly status, their fur will start to thin, especially around the eyes, nose, and ears. Eventually, the fur might become so thin that it gives way to bald patches. It’s a good idea to get your rabbit checked for any other health concerns, but often this is just a symptom of age in rabbits.
- Read more: What changes to expect as your rabbit ages
When to be concerned with rabbit fur loss
Abnormal hair or fur loss (also called alopecia), looks a little different than seasonal shedding. Typically the hair loss will be accompanied by other symptoms that will help you figure out the underlying cause. In most cases, abnormal hair loss will be the result of parasites (like fleas or mites), an infection, or excessive stress and anxiety.
If you notice these symptoms when your rabbit is losing excessive fur or has bald patches, it’s best to see a rabbit veterinarian for more guidance:
- If it’s combined with weight loss. Fur loss combined with a significant weight loss can be a sign of a more serious disease.
- If the fur does not start growing back quickly. If your rabbit has a bald spot and the fur does not start growing back, they may be overgrooming themselves because of anxiety (learn how to reduce stress in your rabbit’s environment)
- If the skin underneath is red, inflamed, or scabbed. If the skin near the hair loss does not look healthy, it may be due to an infection, parasites, or excessive itching behaviors.
- If there are other signs of illness, such as a loss of appetite. Learn more about common but subtle symptoms of illness in rabbits.
Causes of abnormal hair loss in rabbits
Sometimes the reason your rabbit is losing fur will be obvious. Other times it may seem like a strange or random behavior that is not connected to any obvious health problems. In some cases, increasing your rabbit’s quality of life will help them recover and regrow their fur quickly, but in other cases, it will require professional diagnosis and medication.
1. Flea or mite infestation
Parasites such as fleas and ear canker mites can cause some fur loss. For ear mites, you will typically see this fur loss around the base of the ears, and it can also be a result of itching. So you might also see scratch marks on the skin, typically around the ears. Mange mites will also cause fur loss around the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and forepaws. Mites will also cause crusts to form around these same areas.
By themselves, fleas don’t cause much fur loss, but they can cause your rabbit to itch excessively, eventually causing bald patches. If this happens, they will usually have inflamed skin or scratch marks due to the itching as well.
Though less common, rabbits can also be infested with other parasites, such as lice, rat mites, and feather mites.
2. Urine scalding
Urine scalding is a condition that occurs when urine gets onto a rabbit’s fur and skin and sits there for long periods of time. Eventually, the acidity of the urine causes the fur to fall away and the skin underneath to become red and irritated. If the condition is not addressed, it can cause an infection on the skin.
Urine scalding will often happen as a result of an unclean living environment. Make sure to keep your rabbit’s habitat clean and scoop out their litter box every day. The condition can also occur as a result of incontinence or urine dribbling (due to a urinary tract infection), or an inability to effectively groom themselves (due to obesity, arthritis, etc.).
Ringworm is a fungal infection that can cause fur loss and scaling, causing a round bald spot of red, irritated skin. Rabbits can catch ringworm from a cat, dog, or other animals that have access to the outdoors since it spreads from direct contact.
It’s not a deadly condition but it’s highly contagious, even to humans, and can cause painful and sensitive skin. It’s best to get medication and instructions from your veterinarian so you can help your rabbit get rid of the infection.
Many rabbits who are overly stressed or anxious will end up comforting themselves by self-grooming. Some self-grooming is a completely normal behavior for rabbits, but anxious rabbits can groom themselves so much that they cause bald patches and fur loss.
- Read more: How to help your rabbit overcome anxiety
5. Skin diseases
While not very common, rabbits can develop a skin disease that causes them to lose patches of fur. Something like warts or rabbit syphilis can be the cause of your rabbit’s fur loss, especially when accompanied by bumps or areas that look infected. Another uncommon cause of skin disease or hair loss could be a thyroid malfunction causing a hormone imbalance.
When female rabbits are pregnant, they will pluck their fur from their dewlap, chest, and forelegs to use as a lining for a nest. This will cause bald spots in these areas. Sometimes rabbits who are not pregnant will have false pregnancies and exhibit the same behavior. So you might notice this even if you have a single female rabbit who could not possibly be having babies. Getting your rabbit spayed should solve this behavior.
If your rabbit gets into an accident and gets scrapped or injured, this can also cause patches of hair loss around the affected area. In these cases, you will notice cuts or scabs where the injury occurred. Keep an eye on the area over the next few days to be sure the wound is healing and doesn’t become infected. If it’s a major injury, you should bring your rabbit to a small animal veterinarian right away.
8. Overgrooming in rabbit pairs
When you have more than one rabbit living together as a pair, one of them might be overgrooming the other rabbit, causing patches of hair loss (especially around the ears and eyes). This can mean that one rabbit is anxious in the pair and trying to appease the other, more dominant rabbit, but it’s not necessarily indicative of any behavioral or health problems.
9. Fighting in rabbit pairs
Alternatively, bald patches could be a sign that the two rabbits are fighting when you’re not looking. In most cases, you will see other evidence of fighting long before you notice bald patches. There will be tufts of fur strewn about the room and the rabbits’ behavior toward each other will likely change as they become warier of each other.
10. Dental problems
Dental issues can cause fur loss because it prevents the rabbit from being able to clean themselves properly. With their teeth in the way, they may end up developing urine scalding. Overgrown teeth can also cause drooling and teary eyes in rabbits. This will eventually cause saliva burn, where the wet fur around their mouth, chin, and eyes can eventually wear away the fur and cause irritated, bald patches.
Abscesses are large, bald bumps on a rabbit’s skin. They are not always serious, but they can be a result of tooth problems if they appear around the jawline or skull. Abscesses can also be an indication of infection or even cancer, so it’s best to get your rabbit checked out if you notice one of these bumps. Your veterinarian may need to test the abscess to see what kind of antibiotic will be best to use to reduce swelling and chances of a serious infection.
Flystrike is a deadly illness that is caused when flies lay eggs on a rabbit’s hindquarters. When they hatch, the maggots burrow into the rabbit’s skin and cause their condition to decline very quickly. Sometimes, an early symptom of flystrike is a small bald patch where the fly laid the eggs. Often this will be right above or below the tail.
13. Wet fur
Fur that is wet for long periods of time can eventually lead to hair loss. This is especially common among rabbits with a large dewlap (what is a dewlap?). As they drink, the water can collect on their dewlap, eventually causing fur loss and skin irritation. However, this can also happen if rabbits get wet in other areas too.
14. Sore hocks
The hocks are the heel of a rabbit’s foot. It’s an area that tends to get worn away and causes inflammation, especially as rabbits age. It’s much more likely that rabbits will develop sore hocks if they have improper flooring (wire cage floors are bad for rabbit feet), toenails that are too long, or they are obese and putting extra weight on their feet. Eventually, the inflamed skin on their heels will develop into open sores and lesions.
15. Bacterial infections
Like people, rabbits can occasionally contract a bacterial infection that causes irritated skin and fur loss. Fur loss around the eyes and nose is often the result of an upper respiratory infection, such as snuffles, but other skin infections can occur, especially around cuts and scrapes.
What to do if you notice abnormal fur loss on your rabbit
If you believe your rabbit is suffering from abnormal fur loss, the first step you should take is visiting your rabbit’s veterinarian. The treatment will be vastly different depending on the ultimate cause of the hair loss, so it’s best to see someone who will help you make the right treatment decisions. Your vet will be able to accurately diagnose the problem and help your rabbit recover.
- Jenkins, Jeffrey DVM. “Skin Disorders of the Rabbit.” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice Vol. 4 Iss. 2. ScienceDirect. May 2001. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1094919417300427
- Krempels, Dana Ph.D. “Fur Loss and Skin Problems in Rabbits: Common Causes and Treatments.” University of Miami. http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/furloss.html
- Wilsbach, Kathleen PhD. “Skin Diseases in Rabbits: Common Causes, Common Treatments.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/journal/4-9/skin.html
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