Long-haired rabbits have been prized for many years. But, like long-haired dogs and cats, few people appreciate the effort that will be required to maintain this special type of coat. Long-haired rabbits are sometimes presented to the RSPCA and rabbit rescue groups in a terrible state because of neglected coats. So, if you don’t think you will have the time to groom your rabbit every day, you might need to consider one of the short-haired breeds.
Why is grooming so important?
Rabbits constantly groom themselves and each other. Excessive grooming, associated with a poor-quality matted haircoat, can lead to the ingestion of large amounts of hair, forming hair balls (trichobezoars) in the stomach. Grooming not only allows you to remove this loose hair and matts but it is also an opportunity for a close examination of the whole rabbit. Done correctly, this is a wonderful socialising and bonding activity between you and your rabbit.
Short-hair coat care
Use a soft-bristled brush for day-to-day care. A weekly groom is usually enough, except when moulting. Slicker brushes and cat moulting combs are useful for grooming short-haired rabbits. If more grooming is required, start with a wide-toothed comb. When you’ve brushed the whole rabbit, repeat with a fine-toothed comb. Finish with a flea comb between the ears, round the anus, under the chin, and in the armpits, and the use a soft-bristled brush to complete the job.
Long-hair coat care
The entire coat (including armpits, groin, tummy, and feet) must be combed or clipped every day. The fur on the hindfeet is thicker and protects the foot, so leave it alone. Combing a long-haired coat takes 20 to 40 minutes each day, so some people prefer to clip their long-haired rabbit every four to six weeks, and then comb each day as described above.
Soft brushes are hopeless on long-haired rabbits – the top may look lovely, but there is often a matted mess underneath. These matts should be teased out with fingers or carefully cut off – BUT be very careful, as it’s easy to cut or tear the skin. Round ended scissors are safer but won’t penetrate the matts as well as scissors with sharp ends. Rest a comb against the skin as protection whilst you are scissoring, and don’t “tent” the skin while you are cutting.
Electric clippers are difficult to use on rabbits, as their fine fur clogs up the blade almost immediately. Very fine-toothed blades are available, but costly. Electric clippers often catch the skin and tear it before you realise what is happening, so great care must be taken.
Unhandled rabbits may find the whole process so distressing they have to be de-matted under sedation or general anaesthetic. Get advice on the use of positive reinforcement training to train your rabbits to accept routine grooming and introduce grooming into your rabbit’s daily routine as soon as possible – short sessions at first!