Most caring rabbit owners understand that rabbits are not an easy pet to own. Despite their low purchase price rabbits are actually quite an exotic animal and like a lot of exotic animals, they come with a whole list of do’s and don’t’s. One such caution that we often hear is around the subject of bathing. Bathing a rabbit s a touchy subject within the rabbit community so in this post we thought we’d take a look at rabbit bathing and answering the burning question: is it ok to bathe a rabbit?
Can I bathe a rabbit? Yes, but only their butt and only as a last resort! Don’t believe the YouTube videos, rabbits should never be fully submerged in water or bathed in the traditional sense of the word. Just like cats, rabbits clean themselves whenever they feel dirty by licking their paws and wiping them on the areas that need cleaning. While an elderly, sick or obese rabbit may need a helping hand from time to time, unnecessary submersion in more than a couple of inches of water may lead to shock, injury, or even death if the rabbit panics.
Do Rabbits Like Water?
As prey animals rabbits are well equipped to survive. Their eyesight is perfectly adapted to spot predators in the distance and their ears are able to rotate independently through 270 degrees in order to pinpoint sounds and be ready to react either through freezing in place or fleeing to the safety of the burrow when they believe they have been spotted.
A rabbit relies on its powerful legs to flee from predators and naturally feels at its least vulnerable with feet on solid ground. Although they can swim, a rabbit will not intentionally enter a body of water unless it is being chased by a predator and has no other option. Water is not natural for a rabbit and a rabbit in water loses its ability to think straight which makes it more vulnerable to predators.
Reasons Rabbits Get Dirty
Rabbits will groom themselves and their companions several times a day, and even though a day in the garden may leave them looking like they need a bath, they are usually capable of taking care of their visible areas of fur themselves in a similar way that a cat does. Cleanliness problems in rabbits are usually regarded as issues that arise when poop sticks to the rabbits fur and genital area.
Living conditions may also lead to a dirty bunny. Bunnies produce a very large amount of poop every day and although this is not really a problem for house bunnies with plenty of room to roam, those confined to much smaller living space such as a hutch or a playhouse have a much tougher time escaping it all. Consequently, they can end up sitting in their own waste which becomes stuck in the animals fur.
Diet is another factor which if not taken seriously may result in a dirty bunny butt. A rabbits diet should be around 90% good quality hay with greens and a very small amount of pellets making up the other 10%. Too many greens and not enough hay will often result in runny poop and therefore a higher chance of a mess. Inexperienced owners may also feed their bunnies lettuce which has little nutritional value but very high water content which can cause diarrhea. In short, if your rabbit has very wet poops regularly, its time to start increasing the fiber in its diet.
(Obesity caused by too many shop-bought rabbit treats will also have an effect on a bunnies ability to clean itself properly. An alternative and healthier treat option can be found here!
When is it OK to Bathe a rabbit?
From our own experience, the most likely reason that it is necessary to help a rabbit along with it’s cleaning routine is old age. Elderly bunnies find it very difficult to clean themselves, particularly those suffering from medical conditions such as arthritis which makes reaching those areas even more difficult.
Any experienced rabbit owner knows that bunny keeping is not for the squeamish. Sometimes you will have to do things that you won’t necessarily like doing, and cleaning poop from the tail of an elderly rabbit is probably towards the very top of that list. Although it is a task that can be very unpleasant it’s one that is quite literally life and death for a rabbit.
You should never simply ignore it when a rabbit is in a mess. Not only is it cruel, but it also puts the rabbit at an increased risk of a very painful and potentially deadly condition known as flystrike. Flystrike occurs when a fly lays eggs on an animal, which hatch into maggots and eat the host’s flesh. The smell of poop naturally attracts flies and puts the rabbit at an even higher risk of a maggot infestation (& if not caught very quickly) death.
Things to Consider Before Cleaning a Rabbit
Rabbits have very thin delicate skin which is usually slightly more exposed towards the genitals. When cleaning these areas avoid the temptation to pull dried poops away without loosening them with some warm water first. Stretching the rabbit’s skin can lead to tears and unnecessary pain to the rabbit.
Is There a Way to Clean a Rabbit Without Bathing It?
Dependant on how messy your rabbit has become there are a few ways that cleaning can be approached. The first and easiest way is simply by using cotton wool and warm water. Dip the cotton wool buds into warm water. Remember water should not be hot due to the sensitivity of the rabbits skin.
Carefully dab water on to the area and the dried poop. After a couple of minutes of soaking, you should find that the poop can easily be pulled away. Once the area is clean use a towel to dry the rabbit. A hairdryer at the lowest heat can also be used to dry the area however avoid keeping it in one spot for too long and stop if the rabbit shows any discomfort.
For more serious cases of dried poop, you may find that cotton wool and water applied in this way simply won’t do. If this is the case, and as long as the poop is in the fur and well away from the skin we find that small nail clippers can help to break it up.
This should be approached with caution and only be attempted if absolutely necessary. If you are not confident that you can successfully distinguish where the poop meets the delicate skin of the bunny, this should not be attempted at all. Instead, seek advice from a rabbit savvy vet.
For this task, we recommend using some round nail clippers like the ones linked below. These allow you to take very small bits of poop at a time and also give you more control.
Take your time and carefully clip off the poop until you have reached a point where you can use the cotton wool and water method described above.
Can You Use Baby Wipes On Rabbits?
‘milder than water’ baby wipes can be used on rabbits, however, their relatively small water content will make it difficult to soak poop enough to be able to easily remove it. For this reason, we would only recommend baby wipes as a way to wipe off any small remaining fragments of poop after using the cotton wool and water method.
Alternatively, we find that a better option is a rabbit safe dry shampoo such as Kaytee Quick & Clean Small Animal Shampoo Spray available on Amazon and linked here, these are a better option if you want your rabbit smelling fresh, and as Its specifically made for rabbits there is no chance of the bunnies skin reacting to any of the ingredients
Cleaning Out the Scent Glands
As well as the ones under their chins, rabbits have scent glands around their anus. These can get rather smelly after a while and the scent can build up into an unpleasant crust that clogs up the glands. These scent glands can be cleaned relatively easily using a wet Q tip and some warm water. Simply locate the two slits at either side of the anus and gently use the Q tips to clear out the dried discharge. We understand this might be a bit much for some owners so if all this sounds a bit too gross your vet will be happy to help.
How Do I Bathe a Rabbit?
Bathing a rabbit should be a last resort due to the risks involved and in most cases, the methods described above will be successful in getting rid of mess.
That said, we have bathed several rescue rabbits in the past successfully without issues. One advantage that bathing does have is that it is possible to clean the rabbits scent glands (located either side of the anus) at the same time as their mucky butt. If you absolutely feel that a bath is necessary we recommend sticking to the points below which are also demonstrated really well in this video
- Never more than a couple of inches of water (just enough to be able to soak the bunnies but and the encrusted poop)
- Lay a towel at the bottom of the bath before filling so that the rabbit has a place to stand without slipping around.
- Use your forearm to support the rabbits front legs out of the water as you carefully massage and soften the poop.
- Talk to the rabbit in a reassuring manner
- Never bathe a bunny in this way for longer than around 5 Minutes. This should be plenty enough time to allow the lukewarm water to soften the poop enough to be removed.
- Wrap the bunny in a towel and ensure it is completely dried off before returning it to the hutch or enclosure.
Keeping a bunny clean especially in its twilight years is all part and parcel of being a bunny owner but it can be a bit of a grisly task if you’re not expecting it. If you are still deciding whether or not a rabbit is the right pet for your family you can read about some other things to consider before making a decision in our post right here.