What to Do If Your Rabbit Hates Being Brushed

My rabbits HATE being brushed! Whenever I try to groom them, they jump and run away (or even growl at me) and act like I just tried to murder them. But, hairballs can be a real problem with rabbits (see my previous post going through my experience with a hairball obstruction), so grooming is necessary.

Because my rabbits hate it so much, I’ve never been the best at grooming my rabbits. But with that scary hairball stomach obstruction experience, I know I need to take grooming more seriously. These are some of the things I’m trying to do a better job with brushing and removing excess fur so my rabbits don’t ingest it all.

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1. Bring your rabbit to a space where they can’t escape

When it’s time to groom your rabbit, choose an enclosed area where they won’t be able to hop away. An exercise pen, a bathroom with a closed door, or a countertop can serve as an ideal space. Bring your rabbit to the area, use your best grooming tools (I’ve found the most effective for most rabbits is the Hair Buster), and brush your rabbit as thoroughly as possible.

This isn’t my favorite method since my rabbits don’t like it when I force them to be groomed. However, it’s what I expect I’ll have to do during heavy shedding seasons when there is just too much fur to deal with little-by-little.

For this method, it’s important to have all your grooming tools at hand before you begin. This ensures a smooth, uninterrupted brushing session. Padding such as a non-slip mat can give your rabbit traction and contribute to a more comfortable experience.

Also, Consider rewarding your rabbit with their favorite treat both before and after the grooming session to give them some positive reinforcement. Over time, the hope is that they will associate grooming sessions with positive experiences, reducing any anxiety they may feel.

A deshedding blade seems like it would be sharp, but it doesn’t actually touch the rabbit’s skin, making it gentler than it looks.
grooming glove
A grooming glove is gentler than fine-toothed combs, making it a better choice for rabbits with highly sensitive skin.

2. Try a less aggressive brush

If your rabbit is not fond of being brushed, the type of brush you’re using could be a little too pointy, grating against your rabbit’s sensitive skin. While many rabbits will hate pretty much any kind of brush or comb, some rabbits are okay with types that are gentler.

  1. First and foremost, choose brushes with blunted tips to avoid hurting your pet. These rounded ends are kinder to the skin and less likely to cause irritation. 
  2. The vet tech at my rabbits’ clinic recommended a deshedding blade which I’m currently trying out. Since rabbits have fairly thick fur, this never goes directly against the skin, but works great at removing surface hairs. Use this in short back and forth strokes all along your rabbit’s back and sides. One of my rabbits seems to be putting up with this, but the other still won’t have any of it.
  3. I haven’t tried this one yet, but I’ve heard some rabbit caretakers find that a baby brush, with its soft bristles, is gentle enough for a rabbit. Not only are these brushes typically inexpensive, but they are also widely available and can be a good place to start if you’re experimenting with grooming tools.
  4. Glove brushes I’ve found are gentler than flea combs, but are still a bit too pointy for my rabbits even though they are just rubber tips. I haven’t had much luck with this in the past, but it’s worth trying.
  5. Lint rollers are great for removing surface fur. These are quick and sneaky, so even if your rabbit runs away immediately, you will still catch a lot of the loose fur. This method doesn’t work well for the undercoat though.
lint roller on a rabbit
You can use a lint roller to help groom a rabbit who hates all other types of brushes.

Unfortunately, all I can give you are different options to try. Every rabbit is unique in their tolerance to grooming. So, your patience and willingness to try different brushes will go a long way in maintaining your rabbit’s coat and figuring out how to groom them without causing too much stress.

Petting your rabbit frequently and sneakily plucking tufts of fur is also part of the grooming process.

3. Petting and butt plucking

When your rabbit dislikes brushing, petting is a gentle alternative. It’s much slower, but most rabbits love being pet and will sit for long sessions while you groom them. The simple and calming act of petting your rabbit will help to remove a lot of loose fur from their coat. So don’t be afraid to plan some long petting sessions every day.

The other thing you can do while petting is something I call “butt plucking.” You know what I’m talking about. Those loose tufts of fur (that are usually around the butt) that you just want to pluck off. 

You have to be sneaky about this though; rabbits can be sensitive around their hindquarters. If you pluck too much at once, your rabbit will notice and hop away. Pet your rabbit and keep them comfortable, then sneakily remove a tuft of fur, and repeat the process during the entire petting/grooming session.

This patience-rewarding method minimizes stress while ensuring that excess fur doesn’t become a digestive issue for your rabbit. It’s also a great bonding time between you and your rabbit.

4. Pet your rabbits with wet hands

Petting your rabbit with wet hands can be even more effective to help remove loose fur. To ensure comfort and effectiveness, your hands should be damp, not soaking wet (I get sweaty palms sometimes, and that amount of dampness works really well).

This method is even more effective if you try back-petting your rabbit, by stroking them in the reverse direction. It can catch a lot of the loose fur from the undercoat. Of course, you can only get so much fur on your hands before you need to wipe it off, re-wet your hands and try again for more fur.

5. Try distracting them with treats (or greens)

The other thing you can do is use your rabbit’s leafy greens, pellets, or treats, as a distraction. By timing your grooming sessions with their usual feeding, especially when you offer pellets or leafy greens and brush while they munch. You create a positive association and divert their attention at the same time. They’ll be more likely to stay put so they can keep eating.

This method seems to work best for highly food motivated rabbits. I also use it a lot with the butt plucking method. While my buns are eating, I’ll try to get any loose tufts of fur that are sticking out.

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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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