The Hidden Dangers Of Giving Your Pet Rabbit a Bath


should you give your rabbit a bath?

It’s common knowledge that pet dogs need baths on occasion. And even cats could sometimes use a washing up, even though they do a good job of grooming themselves. But what about rabbits? They don’t usually smell bad, and seem to do a good job during their cute cleaning routines. 

Giving a rabbit a bath can be a serious health risk. In worst case scenarios it can put a rabbit into shock, but it can also lead to hypothermia and cuts and severe skin irritation. If rabbits are dirty and unable to clean themselves, you can spot clean them with a wet rag or give them a dry bath with corn starch.

Unlike dogs, rabbit’s spend a good portion of their day cleaning themselves. They do a much better job than we could at keeping themselves clean. It’s much better to assist rabbits by making sure their enclosures are clean and their litter boxes are emptied daily. They’ll take care of the rest themselves.

Why rabbit baths are dangerous

Baths can have a seriously negative effect on a rabbit’s health. Most rabbits are not used to water, and suddenly being put into a bath can be really scary. It can cause a lot of stress for the poor bunny. But even those rabbits that do okay in water have the potential to get sick or develop an infection as the result of a bath. Since rabbits keep themselves so clean, there is no reason to put them at risk by making them take a bath.

Shock

Rabbits are pretty fragile animals. Any number of unexpected things can cause a rabbit to go into shock or even have a heart attack from fear. Rabbits can be literally scared to death, especially in new or unusual situations, so you have to be cautious. 

When a rabbit goes into shock from fear, their temperature will start to drop and their body will start to shut down. The symptoms of shock include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Pale, white gums
  • Limp body
  • Cold ears
  • Glazed eyes

If this ever happens, whether it be from trying to give your rabbit a bath or otherwise, you should immediately wrap your rabbit in a towel to keep them warm and pet them to comfort them as much as possible. Dry them off and get the rabbit away from any loud noise or distractions.

If your rabbit’s vet is nearby try to make an appointment as soon as possible. But if the doctor is a long drive away, call and ask for advice. Car rides are very stressful for rabbits, so a long drive could end up worsening your rabbit’s condition.

With luck, the rabbit will start to recover over the next few hours and days. But unfortunately, shock is very often fatal for rabbits. 

Rabbit in towel
If your rabbits has hypothermia and can’t keep their body temperature up, wrap them in a towel to keep them warm.

Hypothermia

Rabbits have very thick fur. When it gets wet it takes a very long time to dry. Even if you try to dry your rabbit after the bath, it’s difficult to be completely thorough. A rabbit usually has their thick fur to cover and keep them warm, they mainly use their ears to regulate their temperature. Having wet fur for any long period of time disrupts their ability to self regulate their body temperature and they become at risk of developing hypothermia.

If your rabbit has hypothermia their whole body will slow down. If you ignore the signs, hypothermia can be fatal in rabbits. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Sitting without moving, or moving very slowly.
  • Ears and feet feel cold to the touch and look pale in color.
  • Shallow breathing.
  • Weak heartbeat.
  • Non-responsive, or doesn’t move around or respond to you when yo try to interact with them.

If you believe your rabbit has developed hypothermia, it’s important to contact your rabbit’s vet to set up an emergency appointment. In the meantime, you don’t want to wait before you start getting your rabbit’s body temperature back to normal. At this point you will want to start warming the rabbit up externally:

  • Wrapping them in a towel.
  • Bringing your rabbit to a warmer area of the house. 
  • Make sure your rabbit is completely dry.
  • Place your rabbit on a heating pad (at the lowest setting) or next to a hot water bottle.
  • Providing luke warm water for your rabbit to drink.

Injuries

Rabbits also have the potential to injure themselves during a bath. Sometimes this is because they could very easily slip and fall. Rabbit feet don’t do well on slick surfaces. The bottom of a tub or sink isn’t easy for your rabbit to get their footing, and they may injure themselves if they slip trying to hop around.

Rabbits could also injure themselves if they get scared and start thrashing around. They could accidentally injure themselves (or you). Rabbits also have very strong hind legs paired with a weak back. If they are very afraid, they could kick strong enough that they twist or fracture their spine causing paralysis.

Skin irritation

Rabbit skin is very delicate and sensitive. Bathing can easily irritate a rabbits skin and cause a rash or infection. The water strips away the natural oils on your rabbits body and leaves them with dry, unprotected skin.

A rabbit’s skin is also more easily damaged when it is wet. So a small cut on wet skin could result in a much more serious and painful wound. If anything like this happens to your bunny, you should immediately seek help and advice from your vet.

Water could get into the rabbit’s ears or nose

If a rabbit gets water in their ears, it could potentially lead to an ear infection later on. Similarly, if a rabbit get’s water up their nose, they are in danger of developing a respiratory infection. Rabbits can recover from from these infections if they receive medical attention soon enough. But rabbits are experts at hiding when they feel sick, so you’ll need to watch to make sure their behavior and appetite are normal.

Will a rabbit die if they get wet?

A rabbit will not necessarily die when they get wet, but it is a possibility. Because of this, the House Rabbit Society and other rabbit welfare organizations strongly advise that you avoid bathing your rabbit. Even if your rabbit doesn’t go into shock or get hypothermia, it is still possible that they will develop other complications or infections. You might just not realize that the root cause was the bath that the rabbit had last week.

Can you give your rabbit a flea bath?

You should also not give your rabbit a flea bath. Not only is the bath stressful and unsafe for your rabbit, but flea dips and powders often contain ingredients that are poisonous to rabbits. Flea collars also tend to have a chemical dosage that is too high for rabbits.

If your rabbit does get fleas, the first thing you should do is thoroughly go through your rabbit’s coat with a flea comb. If there are too many fleas and you cannot possibly get them all, then you should consult your vet to get their advice on which flea treatment topical solution is safest for rabbits. You can apply the solution behind the rabbit’s ears, so they won’t be able to lick it off.

What if your rabbit gets dirty?

No matter how clean they are, rabbits can still get dirty on occasion. Maybe they were digging around in the garden and are covered in dirt, or maybe they rubbed up next to your breakfast plate and get a sticky spot of syrup on their fur. But if you can’t give your rabbit a bath, how can you help clean them up? 

Spot cleaning

The first option is to do some simple spot cleaning. If your rabbit is only messy in a couple specific areas. Take a washcloth or towel and wipe down the areas that need a little help. Try to spot clean your rabbit with a dry towel first. If that doesn’t do the trick, use a damp towel (NOT dripping wet), and gently rub the area to wash off the mess. Make sure to dry them thoroughly afterward.

Dry baths

Dry baths are another option to take advantage of. These are especially useful if your rabbit has managed to get themselves thoroughly dirty. All you need for this are:

  • Cornstarch
  • A fine-toothed comb
  • A washcloth or towel

When cleaning your rabbit, you’ll want to make sure you’re in a safe and secure location. You want to avoid the chance of your rabbit struggling to escape and then accidentally falling off a table. The best option for this is often the bathroom floor with a towel or mat so your rabbit’s feet will have some traction. This will make cleaning up the cornstarch afterward a little easier.

How to give your rabbit a dry bath:

  1. Sprinkle some cornstarch on the soiled areas of your rabbit. Be careful, and try to keep your rabbit from inhaling the cornstarch.
  2. Gently massage your rabbit, working the cornstarch through their fur. This will be a little tedious, but after a while the cornstarch will help the dirt and debris in the messy spots clump up.
  3. Use the comb to remove the clumps of debris as they start to form in the rabbit’s fur. You may need to add more cornstarch if the dirt on your rabbit’s fur is being particularly stubborn.
  4. Use the cloth to pat down and wipe off any excess cornstarch. Using the comb can also help remove the cornstarch from the rabbit’s fur.
  5. And you’re done. Now you just have to wipe down and clean up all the cornstarch from the bathroom floor.

Obese, elderly or disabled rabbits

Every rule has an exception, and that includes the no wet bath rule. Sometimes obese, elderly, and disabled rabbits are not able to clean themselves properly. Elderly rabbits often get arthritis, making it painful to move and bend in they ways they need to clean themselves. Obese rabbits sometimes just can’t reach around their belly to clean their butt. And disabled rabbits often don’t have the mobility to keep clean.

In these cases, the rabbit might develop what is called poopy butt (yes, seriously). This is when clumps of poop start to cling to the rabbits fur around their butt and begin forming into a ball. It’s very uncomfortable for rabbits, and can smell pretty bad.

rabbit butt bath
If your rabbit has poopy butt, you might need to give them a butt bath. Make sure you hold your rabbit securely so only their back legs and butt get wet.

How to give a rabbit a butt bath

If this is the situation you are in, then you might need to give your rabbit a butt bath. If at all possible, you should try to find a partner to help you with this. This way one of you can keep the rabbit still and calm, while the other focuses on cleaning their butt:

  1. Get a small bin and put a folded towel along the bottom. The bin can be the size of a cat litter box. The towel is there to give your rabbit some traction, so they don’t get scared and feel like they are slipping around.
  2. Fill the bin with a couple inches with warm water. You don’t want it to be hot, but warm water will be less shocking to a rabbit than cold water.
  3. Gently pick your rabbit up and place their butt in the water. Keep hold of their top half to keep it dry as you rest their bottom against the towel on the bottom of the bin. 
  4. Swirl the water around and soak the soiled area around your rabbit’s butt. The goal is to soak the dried poop that’s stuck to the rabbit’s so that it will become soft and loose.
  5. Use your fingers to gently pull the poop off of your rabbit’s butt. If using your fingers grosses you out too much, you can also use a washcloth to gently pull at the attached poop until you get it all off.

After you clean the poop off of your rabbit’s butt, you need to dry them thoroughly. As I mentioned earlier, wet fur and wet skin can be dangerous for rabbits, so this is a really important step. To dry your rabbit:

  1. Remove your rabbit from the water and place them onto a towel. Using paper towels can also be helpful because they tend to be more absorptive.
  2. Gently pat the wet areas of your rabbit with the towel. Be very gentle because rabbit skin is especially delicate when it’s wet. Keep pressing and patting the towel against the wet areas on your rabbit until they are as dry as you can make them.
  3. With a hair dryer on the lowest heat setting, start to dry and fluff up the fur on your rabbit’s butt. You want to be very careful not to burn your rabbit. So don’t put the hair dryer right up next to the rabbit, and give your rabbit some breaks to be sure the dryer isn’t getting to hot for them.
  4. Keep going until your rabbit is completely dry. This can take a very long time, so be patient with your bun and do your best to keep them calm and relaxed.

Helping them stay clean

With a disables or elderly rabbit, occasional butt baths might be inevitable. You can help your rabbit out and make these baths less frequent if you do some spot cleaning regularly, to try to prevent the poop from building up.

With obese rabbits, the best thing you can do to help your rabbit stay clean is to get them on a healthy diet. Obesity is actually a very dangerous condition for rabbits because their health depends on a functioning digestive system.

Most of the time the problem is the amount of dry food pellets and treats rabbits are eating. Rabbits should be eating a mostly hay-based diet (such as timothy hay), and fresh leafy greens should make up the second largest portion of their diet. Rabbit’s should really only be having a small amount of pellets every day (about ¼ cup for an average sized rabbit), and sweet treats (including carrots) should only be given sparingly.

If you can get your obese rabbit on a good diet and encourage them to exercise more, they’ll become happy, healthy bunnies in no time. And you won’t have to worry about cleaning their poopy butt ever again.

Grooming your rabbit

Just because we shouldn’t bathe our rabbits, doesn’t mean that there’s nothing we can do to groom them. In fact, taking the time to groom your rabbit is a bonding experience for both of you. It’s how rabbits show each other that they care.

And while you are brushing your rabbit, you can also pay attention and look out for any signs of health problems before they become serious. Here are some of the ways you can look out for your rabbits health while grooming them:

  • Brush your rabbit. This is especially important if you have a long haired rabbit, and when rabbits are in their big shedding seasons (usually they have 2 shorter shedding seasons, and 2 long shedding seasons). Brushing will prevent your rabbit from ingesting too much of their fur. Rabbit’s can’t vomit, so a hairball can be dangerous and end up creating a blockage in their stomach.
  • Trim rabbit nails. Trimming your rabbits nails regularly will help keep them from growing too long or sharp. Long rabbit nails can easily be broken if they get caught on the carpet. While this is not dangerous for rabbits, there is a surprising amount of blood that comes from a broken nail, and it can be very alarming when this happens.
  • Check their teeth. Rabbit teeth (both their front teeth and their cheek teeth) are constantly growing, like fingernails. If they become overgrown they can cause serious infections or prevent the rabbit from eating properly.
  • Check their ears. There can sometimes be a buildup of earwax in a rabbit’s ears. This is especially common with lop eared rabbits, and if allowed to continuously build up this can cause an infection. If you notice clumps of earwax when you look into your rabbit’s ears, contact your vet for instructions on how to clean them.
  • Check their eyes. Rabbit eyes should not be teary or watering. If you notice some debris or eye boogers, this is normal and you can help your rabbit remove them. 
  • Keep their enclosure clean. Keeping your rabbit’s enclosure and litter box clean is the best way to help your rabbit stay clean. Sitting in a dirty cage or litter box can cause your rabbit’s fur to become matted or even cause urine scalding on your rabbit’s skin.

Related questions

Is it okay to spritzing your rabbit’s ears with water in the summer?

It is common advice to help keep a rabbit cool in the summer by giving them a spritz of water behind their ears. Since you are not soaking your rabbits fur, this is completely okay. Just be careful not to get any water inside the rabbit’s ears.

Is it okay for rabbits to play in the snow?

If your rabbit enjoys the snow, it can be a fun activity to let them out to dig during a snow day. Make sure your rabbit always has a place they can go to get away from the cold, and dry them off completely when they come back inside.

Sources:

  1. “Bathing Bunnies.” Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-health/bathing-bunnies.
  2. “Baths & Cleaning.” Disabledrabbits.com, www.disabledrabbits.com/baths–cleaning.html.
  3. “Dislocation and Paralysis in Rabbits.” PetMD, www.petmd.com/rabbit/conditions/musculoskeletal/c_rb_vertebral_fracture_luxation.
  4. “Grooming.” House Rabbit Society, rabbit.org/faq-grooming.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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