Rabbits shed A LOT! There is always so much fur around. For many people, this is one of those unexpected parts of rabbit care. Sometimes there is just so much fur that it makes you wonder, is this normal? Should a rabbit really be shedding this much?
How much shedding is normal in rabbits? Rabbits will go through at least two big shedding seasons every year, when they shed their summer coat and their winter coat. Many rabbits will also have two other small shedding seasons during the year, and indoor rabbits who don’t get as much natural sunlight may seem to shed all year round.
For the most part, excessive shedding is not something to worry about in rabbits. However, when your rabbit is going through their big shedding seasons, you want to make sure you care for them to prevent a hair build-up in their digestive system.
You’ll also want to be aware of what’s NOT normal shedding behavior in rabbits. Rabbits can have parasites or skin conditions that cause them to lose fur in abnormal ways. You can learn what signs to look out for so you can tell the difference between normal shedding and hair loss that indicates a health problem.
Seasonal shedding patterns
Most rabbits will have seasonal shedding (also called molting). They shed their coat as a way to adjust to warmer and cooler temperatures. This results in rabbits growing a nice, thick fur coat to keep warm in the winter, and then shedding it for a thinner coat in the summer. It means the rabbit can regulate their body temperature to keep from developing hypothermia or heat stroke.
In addition, rabbits will usually have two smaller molting seasons in between the two larger ones. This means that a rabbit will alternately have a big shedding season followed by a small shedding at about three month intervals. The big shedding seasons will inevitably result in a tornado of rabbit fur making its way around your house, but many times the smaller seasons are less perceptible.
Rabbit molting seasons can last anywhere from 2-6 weeks. On the shorter end of this spectrum, you will be dealing with a whirlwind of fluff as your rabbit sheds their entire coat in a very short period of time. If the season last for 6 weeks, then you are more likely to be dealing with a steady stream of fur, but not quite as much all at once. It will start off slow, then ramp up around the middle of the shedding period. The last couple of weeks should see a steady decrease in fur as the rabbit finishes losing their old coat.
In what months do rabbits shed?
Typically the shedding seasons will happen three months apart, but the exact timing will vary a lot depending on where you live. Many factors, such as temperature and amount of sunlight, can let a rabbit’s body know when it’s time to shed their coat.
To know which months would be most normal for your rabbit to shed, think about the weather. What time of year does it start to warm up in your area?
Where I live, the temperature starts to get warmer right around March to April, so that’s when I can expect my rabbit to start shedding her thick winter coat. Then the weather starts to cool down around October to November. So, again, that’s when I would expect my bun to shed her summer coat.
Rabbit appearance during shedding seasons
While most of the time rabbits will have a nice, shiny and sleek coat, rabbits can all of a sudden start to look pretty shaggy during shedding seasons. There will be fur flying with tufts of fur sticking out of the rabbit’s coat, and they will often have an uneven coat color as well. They’ll look so raggedy that if this is your first time experiencing a rabbit molting season, you might wonder if your rabbit is having some sort of health problem.
But after a while, you start to notice a pattern in your rabbit’s shedding. Usually it will start along their forehead and jaw. Your hand will come away with a little bit of fur on it, but not all that much. You may even see a fur line on their forehead that marks the difference between the new and old coats.
As the shedding season continues, the shed line will continue down their back, and then down their sides. This is when you will see the most fur flying around the room. Every time you pet your rabbit, you will see little clumps of fur fall away from your hands.
Sometimes the shedding cycle will get stuck at this point. Their face and back will have changed to the new coat, but the rabbit’s butt and sides will still have thick tufts of fur. If this happens, try to help your rabbit finish shedding their coat by using a fine-toothed comb or flea brush.
Some rabbits really dislike the sensation of being brushed, so you may also have to resort to “butt-plucking.” This is when you sneakily pluck out loose pieces of your rabbits fur while you’re petting them, to help them finish shedding their coat.
Instead of having a normal shedding pattern where they lose their coats in a predictable line down their body, some rabbits lose it all at once. This is referred to as a coat blow. It’s not very common, but it happens often enough that it’s worth mentioning.
If a rabbit is losing their coat like this, they will shed big chunks of their fur at a time. It can result in rabbits having temporary bald patches in their coats. If the the fur in the bald patches starts to grow back within a few days (usually a little darker than the fur that was lost), then this is perfectly fine and your rabbit will regrow their coat.
However if the bald patch does not start to regrow fur or looks red and irritated, then this is likely a sign of illness in your rabbit. If you have any doubt, contact your vet for an appointment to make sure your rabbit does not have any underlying health conditions.
Can you stop your rabbit from shedding?
Shedding in rabbits can be annoying at times, but it’s important to remember that this is a natural process in rabbits that cannot be stopped.
You can help keep the fur in your home under control by brushing your rabbit regularly during their shedding season. This will help your rabbit lose their coat more quickly. Otherwise, there is the option of adopting a short haired rabbit, such as a rex rabbit. These rabbits still shed, but it will likely not be as disruptive as the fur from other rabbits.
Young rabbit molting
Young rabbits will have a slightly different shedding pattern since they have not grown their adult coats yet. Baby rabbits have a very soft fluffy coat that will be replaced by a transitional coat when they are around 5-6 months old. You generally won’t notice a whole lot of shedding during this time though, since the bunnies are still growing and won’t need to completely shed their baby coat to grow their transitional coat.
During the next six months to a year, as the rabbit reaches adulthood, the transitional coat will develop into an adult coat. Only after this point will the rabbit start to have their normal seasonal moltings.
This is why rabbit caretakers can often be taken by surprise from how much fur is lost during shedding. Even though they’ve been living with their rabbit for a year, they did not experience the full extent of a rabbit fur hurricane until their rabbit had a full adult coat.
Nesting in female rabbits
Female rabbits who have not been spayed may exhibit nesting behaviors. They will pluck fur from their dewlap, chest and abdomen so that they can line their nest. If you notice bald patches in these areas, pregnancy is the likely cause (or a false pregnancy).
While this is a normal behavior in female rabbits, it should not be seen in rabbits who have been spayed. It is always best to get your rabbits fixed! This will solve a number of behavioral and health problems. Female rabbits, in particular, have an incredibly high chance of developing a reproductive cancer if they are not spayed.
Why does my rabbit seem to be shedding all the time?
Some rabbits will seem to shed all year round instead of in normal seasons. Sometimes this occurs because of either too much artificial light, or not enough natural sunlight. If you keep your rabbit in a room that doesn’t get very much natural sunlight or you keep a fluorescent room light on until late in the night, it can confuse your rabbit’s sense of what time of year it is. This combined with a relatively constant indoor temperature results in a rabbit shedding pretty much year round.
The other reason rabbits might shed all year has to do with genetics. Rabbits born as the result of too much inbreeding can have a problem with their body’s ability to sense the amount of light in a day. This causes the rabbit to shed all year round, since they can’t sense when the right time of year should be.
Shedding all the time is generally not a significant health risk to rabbits, but it may be a little more frustrating for you, the caregiver. Your rabbit will always be shedding, so there will always be fur flying around. There’s not much you can do if your rabbit has a genetic problem, but you may be able to help your rabbit regain a natural seasonal molting if you place them in a room that gets natural light and reduce the amount of artificial light they receive.
When is fur loss in rabbits a problem?
Not all fur loss is the result of a shedding rabbit. Sometimes it can be the result of a much bigger health concern. Many of these health problems will involve bald patches. However since rabbits can sometimes lose fur in big clumps, bald patches are not always the most accurate symptom to look out for.
Symptoms that will likely be occurring along with fur loss and bald patches include:
- Crusty skin
- Open sores
- Excessive itching
Fleas and mites and ringworm
Parasites like fleas and mites, or fungal infections like ringworm are a possible culprit for abnormal fur loss in rabbits. The good news is that most of these infestations are easily treatable with some simple medications. Talk to your veterinarian to diagnose the problem and for instructions on which medications to use that are safe for rabbits.
There are a few different types of mites that can infest a rabbit. Ear mites and mange will cause fur loss and painful crusting skin around the rabbits eyes, nose and ears. The skin will also be inflamed and more prone to infection.
Another type of mites, known as fur mites, has a much more subtle effect. These will cause a condition that will look like flakes or dandruff on the skin. It may also cause bald patches and excessive itching in rabbits. (Learn more about ear mites in rabbits)
Fleas are usually not as obvious a problem as mites. In small amounts, fleas will be difficult to detect at all. However, a severe flea infection will cause significant itching and scratching, which will eventually lead to fur loss in the rabbit. (Learn how to prevent and treat fleas)
Ringworm is a fungal infection that affects many different species, not just rabbits. It looks like a round bald patch in the fur with slightly irritated skin. Ringworm in rabbits can also cause some small red bumps. It’s important to talk to your veterinarian to get a medication to use for your rabbit. The creams that humans can use to help with ringworm are not safe for rabbits.
If your rabbit is losing fur only on the area under their chin and on their chest, it may be the result of saliva burn. This is when a rabbit is drooling, causing the area under their chin to be wet all the time. Wet fur and skin can cause a lot of irritation and itchiness, which will result in fur loss, rashes, or sores.
Saliva burn is caused by dental problems in rabbits. Ordinarily, healthy rabbits do not drool at all. But when they have health problems, such as overgrown teeth, then the rabbit will not be able to close their mouth correctly. This ends up leading to a lot of drool, which irritates the skin under their chin.
Other symptoms of saliva burn include a change in eating habits. Since the rabbit is experiencing some dental issues, they will struggle to eat as they usually do. You may find that your rabbit refuses to eat any hay at all, or is constantly dropping food out of their mouth.
Urine scald occurs on the underside of a rabbit and around their hind legs when rabbit pee collects on the fur and skin. Like with saliva burn, this will eventually cause irritation and rashes to occur on the skin in that area. This is usually caused by a urinary tract infection or similar conditions that cause the rabbit to dribble urine down their legs.
Urine scalding can also be the result of rabbits who are unable to clean themselves properly. Rabbits who are disabled, obese or elderly, may not be able to reach to clean their backside after they urinate.
This condition can also be the result of a rabbit spending too long in an unclean environment. Rabbits who live in enclosures that are never cleaned, will end up being forced to sit in their own waste, eventually causing painful scalding on their whole underside. I’ve seen this a lot in rabbits who end up at an animal shelter after months of neglect.
Rabbits can also contract a bacterial skin infection that will cause fur loss. This is more likely to occur in rabbits that live in humid climates, since excess water on a rabbit’s fur can lead to irritation and infection. An infection can also result from a minor injury or cut, so it’s best to keep an eye on any damaged skin closely to make sure there aren’t any further health complications.
Sometimes fur loss will be the result of overgrooming. This can be a rabbit grooming themself too much, or a rabbit grooming their bonded partner too much. Whichever case, overgrooming is not a normal behavior. It is usually a sign of boredom or stress in rabbits. Other than fur loss, there are usually not many other symptoms present, so unless you can watch your rabbit’s behavior very closely, it may be difficult to diagnose.
If you believe your rabbit is too stressed, try moving them to a quiet and calm environment so they won’t be scared all the time. If your rabbit is bored, try to make sure they get more time out to explore and exercise. You’ll also want to make sure their enclosure is big enough, since many rabbit cages sold in pet stores are too small for rabbits.
Giving your rabbit a variety of toys will also help keep them occupied during the day. Buy some wooden and natural toys, or try your hand at some DIY rabbit toys.
Rabbits that live together can potentially fight each other. Even rabbits that used to get along, can turn on each other or have a short scuffle. When that happens, fur will go flying. But if it happens while you’re not looking, you may only see the resulting bald patch on one of the rabbits.
If you believe your rabbits may have gotten into a scuffle, check them over for any cuts or scabs. Often this in-fighting can occur as young rabbits reach maturity. It’s important to spay or neuter your rabbit to prevent any future violent behavior.
How to prevent hairballs
Rabbits will lick themselves to stay clean. This means that during a heavy shedding season, your rabbit will inevitably be ingesting a lot of fur. For a healthy rabbit, this is okay because the fur will be able to make its way all the way through the rabbits digestive system.
However, if your rabbit is ill or does not have a healthy diet, all that fur could end up forming a blockage in your rabbits stomach or digestive tract. Since rabbits cannot vomit to get the hairball out of their system, this can quickly become a very dangerous condition for the rabbit.
To help your rabbit’s digestion run smoothly and prevent hairballs:
- Provide fresh water: Your rabbit should have plenty of fresh water every day. It’s a good idea to use a water bowl instead of a water bottle because it’s more natural for rabbits to drink from a bowl. This will encourage them to drink more.
- Provide fresh hay: Rabbits should always have access to unlimited hay. The high fiber content in hay keeps their digestion running smoothly.
- Brush your rabbit frequently: This will help to remove some of the excess fur so your rabbit won’t be eating quite as much of it.
- Keep an eye on their poop: When rabbits start to ingest a lot of fur, you will start to see it in their poop. Their normal fecal droppings will be linked together by strands of fur. If you notice a lot of these linked poops, you will want to brush your rabbit more frequently so that they are eating less fur.
While your rabbit is going through a heavy shedding period, you will need to brush them more often. If your rabbit is experiencing a particularly fur-filled shedding season, you will probably need to brush them on a daily basis. However, rabbits that have a longer or lighter molting might only need to be brushed once a week.
Pay attention to the appearance of your rabbit to know how often you should brush them. If they have a very ragged coat, with tufts of fur sticking out everywhere, they probably need to be brushed more frequently.
What if my rabbit hates to be brushed?
Rabbit have very sensitive skin, which means many of them hate being brushed. You will need to experiment with different brushing tools to find one that your rabbit will tolerate. Some tools that I’ve tried are:
- A flea comb
- A fur-buster comb
- A fine toothed comb
- A glove brush
- A rubber brush
- A lint roller
If you absolutely can’t find something that works, then you’ll need to resort to petting with your hands and plucking the excess fur off of your rabbit. This isn’t ideal, since you won’t be able to get a lot of the loose fur, but it’s a possibility for those rabbits who won’t put up with anything else.
How to keep a clean house when your rabbit is molting
When a rabbit is shedding, their fur will get everywhere. It can be difficult to keep a clean house. Fur will make its way into all the nooks and crannies. You find it on your clothes and you’ll even find it up your nose (seriously!). Some of the steps I take to keep my living place as clean as possible during a big shedding season include:
- Lint brush: Always have a lint brush available, and wait until you are about to walk out the door to use it.
- Frequent vacuuming: Fur will collect on carpets and rugs, so if you don’t vacuum often, then just sitting down will end up spreading fur around.
- Clean off ceiling fan blades: Ceiling fans will collect flying fur on the blades and then disperse it throughout the room. Regularly cleaning the blades off will keep the fur from building up.
- Check AC and heater filters: AC units and heaters often have filters to catch dust particles. These will quickly fill up with rabbit fur and you’ll need to clean them out for them to work efficiently.
- Keep your rabbit out of the kitchen: Unless you like to eat rabbit fur, it’s best to keep your rabbit out of the kitchen completely. Consider installing a doggy gate along the entrance to keep your rabbit out.
- Harvey, Carolynn DVM. “Grooming.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/faq-grooming.
- Krempels, Dana Ph.D. “Fur Loss and Skin Problems in Rabbits: Common Causes and Treatments.” University of Miami Biology Department. http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/furloss.html.
- “Moulting.” Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund. April 2017, https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-health/moulting.
- Praag, Esther vaan Ph.D. “Varying Shedding Patterns Among Rabbits.” Medirabbit. http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/Skin_diseases/Molting/Shedding1.htm.
- Stephen White, Ron Rees Davies, David Scarff. “Molting Patterns: Normal and Abnormal.” Vetstream. https://www.vetstream.com/treat/lapis/freeform/molting-patterns-normal-and-abnormal.
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