Rabbits are naturally very clean animals and are always grooming themselves and each other; if they’re particularly bonded to their human, they may even groom them as well! But every so often, your rabbit may need a little extra help to stay clean.
The easiest ways to clean your pet rabbit include:
- Regular Brushing
- Spot Cleaning
- Dry Cleaning
- Wet Cleaning
Below, we’ve broken down each of these ways to clean a rabbit’s fur, from preventative brushing to bathing, which should only be used in extreme circumstances. We’ve even included some of our favorite rabbit grooming products, so you know what to look for no matter which method you decide to go with. Then, we’ll look at some of the most commonly asked questions about cleaning your rabbit’s fur and how to keep it from getting dirty in the first place.
Simple Ways to Clean Your Pet Rabbit’s Fur
Whether you’re reading this with a dirty rabbit on your lap or just looking to educate yourself on proper rabbit grooming, being prepared in advance will help your rabbit lead a happy, healthy, and clean life for many years to come. A clean rabbit is a happy rabbit, so it’s essential that you know how to keep your pet’s fur spotless with the least amount of stress for you or the bunny.
Here are four easy ways to clean your rabbit’s fur:
1. Regular Brushing
The only regular cleaning you should ever need to do on your rabbit is regularly brushing the fur, which will remove everyday dust and dirt buildup. Additionally, most rabbits find gentle brushing soothing, and it can be an excellent way to bond with your rabbit.
Regular brushing also removes loose hairs, which is helpful in two ways:
- Regular brushing prevents the hairs from shedding all over your home.
- Brushing prevents potentially dangerous digestive blockages in your rabbit. Rabbits can’t vomit, so if they ingest a lot of loose hair while grooming themselves, it can very easily form into a hairball in the GI tract.
When brushing your rabbit, keep these tips in mind:
- Aim for a brushing session every three days or so, and more often while the rabbit’s shedding or if the coat is especially long.
- Be very gentle, and use a comb or brush with rounded teeth that won’t scratch the rabbit’s delicate skin. Rabbit’s skin is very fragile, and even the smallest abrasion can quickly turn into a big deal.
- Be calm and give positive reinforcements in the way of your rabbit’s favorite treats if your rabbit isn’t used to being brushed. Try not to make it a stressful situation for the rabbit, and don’t force anything.
Note: If your rabbit is resistant to being brushed at first, start with short sessions and work your way up. If your rabbit is okay with being pet, a brush glove may be a better option than a metal comb, at least initially.
Recommended Rabbit Combs and Brushes
Not surprisingly, there aren’t many rabbit-specific combs or brushes on the market, but fortunately, as long as the teeth aren’t too rough or pointed, many pet grooming tools work well on rabbits found on Amazon:
- The Dasksha Rabbit Grooming Kit is made specifically with the delicate skin of bunnies in mind, and both the hand comb and bunny glove have flexible teeth that make for a gentle brushing session.
- The Small Pet Select HairBuster Comb is excellent for removing loose hair during shedding season, gathering huge clumps with ease. The teeth’s rounded tips promise not to damage the skin.
- The Trixie Flea and Dust Comb for Small Animals is another metal comb with rounded teeth; only this time, the teeth are spaced very closely together to pick up every creepy-crawly or dust particle off your pet’s coat.
2. The Spot Cleaning Method
Spot cleaning is just what it sounds like: cleaning only the spots that need it. If your rabbit has gotten into something gross, it might be necessary to spot clean the fur in places. It’s rarely required to actually bathe the rabbit, which is good news since spot cleaning is infinitely easier to do.
If your rabbit isn’t used to being handled very much, the first step is to get the rabbit into a small area where it will be easy to get hold of her. If possible, a tabletop or counter with a non-slip surface is ideal, so you don’t have to bend down to clean her.
Alternately, you can hold her and have a friend do the cleaning or vice versa. Once you’ve decided how you’ll go about securing the rabbit, just follow the steps below:
- Get something to wipe with: this can be a pet wipe or a damp cloth or sponge.
- Use the wipe or cloth to gently rub or blot the dirty patches, careful not to irritate the rabbit’s skin.
- Rinse the cloth and repeat, as necessary.
- Dry thoroughly: This method shouldn’t get your rabbit wet enough that you’ll need to dry her, but if you do happen to overdo it with the water, make sure to dry the fur thoroughly with a soft towel and keep the rabbit indoors until completely dry. Remember, it’s not natural for rabbits to get super wet, so wet fur combined with outside temperatures can result in illness and even death pretty easily, depending on your climate.
Note: Using water alone is generally okay, but you can spray a small amount of small animal fur cleansing spray on the cloth, as long as it’s non-toxic and you’re sure to wipe it all off. Remember that rabbits are constantly grooming themselves, so if you decide to use a wipe or spray of any kind, there’s the possibility of it getting ingested and causing digestive upset.
Recommended Rabbit Wipes and Spray Cleansers
As I mentioned, a washcloth dampened with water is usually enough to do the trick, but if your bunny’s fur is really coated in something yucky, you might want a little extra cleaning power.
Ideally, whatever cleanser or wipes you choose for your bunny’s fur should be:
- Non-toxic to rabbits
- Hypoallergenic or for sensitive skin
- Mild or no scent
Kaytee Quick & Clean Small Animal Shampoo (Amazon Link) can be sprayed onto a cloth and used to spot clean messy spots. It was formulated especially for small animals and is non-irritating to the skin. It also neutralizes odors, which is a plus. If you prefer the convenience of a disposable wipe, you might consider trying Pogi’s Grooming Wipes (Amazon Link), which are non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and deodorizing.
Although choosing products made specifically for rabbits and other small animals is usually the safest bet, some baby products are actually okay to use on rabbits, believe it or not.
Disabledrabbits.com recommends using Huggies Natural Care Sensitive Baby Wipes on rabbits. They say these wipes are gentle enough to use even on bunnies who need frequent cleaning due to incontinence and other issues. They’re also easier to find in your grocery or big box store, so it’ll save you a trip to the pet supply shop.
3. The Dry Cleaning Method
If your rabbit has made a bigger mess than spot cleaning can fix, or if you’re just interested in an alternative to wet spot cleaning, the dry cleaning method can clean your rabbit’s fur with no moisture involved.
For the dry cleaning method, you’ll need:
- Cornstarch-based baby powder (NOT talc, which can damage the sensitive respiratory system of your rabbit)
- Comb and/or brush
If you don’t have baby powder, regular cornstarch will do the trick too.
How to Dry Clean Your Rabbit Using Powder
This method works incredibly well on urine and other wetter messes, as the powder absorbs all the moisture, allowing you to get it out of the coat.
- Secure the rabbit. Just like the spot cleaning method, the first step is, of course, getting your rabbit in a position to be cleaned. The details of this will vary depending on you and the relationship you have with your rabbit. The important thing is to keep your rabbit as safe and calm as possible and confined to a small space to prevent the need for chasing.
- Ideally, the rabbit will be on your lap or a countertop with a towel underneath her to keep her comfy as well as to catch the loose powder that falls, making cleanup easier. If you’re cleaning the rabbit’s bottom, you’ll need to either put her belly up on your lap or hold her under her armpits with her belly away from you.
- Sprinkle the cornstarch powder liberally on the area that needs to be cleaned, then work it through the dirty fur. The powder should coat the mess and allow it to slide easily through the hair, so you can pick it out using your fingers in combination with the comb or brush. Remember that rabbits have delicate skin, so be careful not to pull on the hair more than necessary.
- Pat the powdered area with a towel or similar dry, clean cloth, make sure all the powder’s out, and you’re all done!
Recommended Powders to Use on Rabbits
There’s definitely a gap in the market for rabbit powder, so for now, rabbit owners have to make do with powder made for human babies. Fortunately, this works just fine; just make sure to use cornstarch-based powder with minimal additives or fragrances.
Angel of Mine Cornstarch Baby Powder (Amazon Link) is made for babies’ sensitive skin, so your rabbit’s sensitive skin will thank you for using it. And if you’re looking for something you can get more uses out of, just buy Unpretentious Baker’s Cornstarch (Amazon Link); use what you need for dry cleaning, and stick the rest in the kitchen for your next meal.
4. The Wet Cleaning Method
This “wet cleaning method” is undoubtedly the most complicated and stressful for you and your bunny. As a general rule, rabbits hate water, and getting wet can seriously stress them out; this is why it’s best to use this method only if you really need to—as in the case of incontinence or something along those lines—and only use as much water as absolutely necessary.
Supplies needed for the wet cleaning method include:
- A small sink
- Vet-approved pet shampoo
- Sponge or washcloth (optional)
- Blow dryer (optional)
This method, fondly nicknamed “the bunny butt bath” by Dr. Dana Krempels at the University of Miami’s biology department, is basically used for just that—cleaning your bunny’s messy bottom while leaving the rest of the rabbit completely dry.
How to Wash Your Rabbit’s Fur
While some of the previous steps above allow you to leave the rabbit on the ground or flat surface if you want to, but this method does require picking the rabbit up.
This isn’t a bad time to point out, by the way, that it’s a good idea to get your rabbit used to being handled and picked up regularly for occasions just like this; this last thing a sick and poopy bunny needs is the stress of being picked up when it’s not a regular occurrence.
If you’re not experienced holding a rabbit, this isn’t really the best time to learn since the rabbit will likely be stressed and scared. However, if you don’t have a choice, at least take a look at a guide like the one provided by the RSPCA on rabbit handling.
Here is an easy six step process to wet cleaning your rabbit:
- Gather your supplies before picking up your rabbit. (You don’t want a wet, scared rabbit to have to wait while you root around for a towel or shampoo. Have everything ready to go.)
- Fill the sink with a few inches of lukewarm water with a few drops of vet-approved, gentle pet shampoo.
- Pick up the rabbit, holding him under the armpits, so his back is to you. Support his chest with one hand and his bottom with the other. Be sure to hold him firmly enough that he won’t jump but gently enough so that if he kicks, he won’t hurt himself.
- Slowly lower the rabbit into the sink just until his feet reach the bottom. If this causes him to kick, you might have to keep him hovering above the water. Keep his lower half supported by your stomach or the counter as much as possible while still holding him around the chest.
- Use your free hand (and a washcloth, if preferred) to carefully work the soapy water through the dirty fur until it’s clean.
- Rinse the clean fur by emptying the sink and refilling it with fresh water. Work this water through until there are no more soap suds or residue. You might have to refill the sink a few times until it runs clean.
- Dry the rabbit carefully with a towel, making sure not to rub his delicate skin too roughly.
- Use a blow dryer on warm (NOT hot) to completely dry the fur. Make sure to keep the blow dryer moving so no one patch of skin ever gets hot. Use a diffuser if you have one, or keep your hand in between the dryer and the rabbit, to make sure he doesn’t get burned.
If your rabbit stays outside, it’s a good idea to keep him indoors for the night, just to make sure that he doesn’t go out with any dampness still in his fur.
Recommended Gentle Rabbit Shampoos
Make sure to check with your vet before using any shampoo on your rabbit, and always use the gentlest, most natural shampoo that you can find.
Note: No matter how gentle or natural, though, it’s crucial to make sure to rinse it entirely out of your rabbit’s coat. Failing to do so can cause skin issues as well as digestive upset if the rabbit ingests any while grooming himself.
That being said, here are a few of our favorite gentle pet shampoos that work well for rabbits found on Amazon:
- Mad About Organics Oatmeal Small Animal Shampoo is a no-frills, organic shampoo that promises to clean and deodorize, which is exactly what you need for bunny butt bath time.
- J.R. Liggett’s Small Animal Liquid Shampoo is made for sensitive skin and is all-natural. The formula is designed to rinse clean and leave no residue, perfect for bathing rabbits.
- Pro Pet Works All Natural and Organic Oatmeal Pet Shampoo is an all-natural pet shampoo for sensitive and dry skin. You really can’t ask for more in a pet shampoo for rabbits.
Cleaning a Stressed Rabbit’s Fur
In a perfect world, your rabbit would be used to being held and handled and would calmly submit to being cleaned. However, in the real world, it’s not always that easy, especially if you’re dealing with an unsocialized rescue rabbit.
This is where the buddy method can come in handy. Make sure to choose someone who’s calm to assist you, since someone who’s easily stressed or impatient can further upset the rabbit and add more stress to the situation.
Use the Buddy Method
The buddy method isn’t really a method in and of itself as much as it’s an add-on to the previous cleaning steps mentioned above.
First, choose the cleaning method that you’re going to use:
- Spot cleaning
- Dry cleaning
- Wet cleaning
Then, decide who’s doing what. Most likely, one of you will be in charge of securing the rabbit, and the other will be doing the cleaning. Alternately, you might want to do both the securing and the cleaning and have your assistant there to hand you the tools you need and lend a hand just in case.
However you decide to break up the responsibilities, make sure to communicate it in advance, instead of trying to figure out who’s doing what when you’re in the middle of it.
It’s worth repeating that the cleaning session should be as calm and stress-free as possible for the rabbit, so behave accordingly, using:
- Soft voices
- Slow movements
- Treats if appropriate (possibly not the best idea if you’re cleaning the bunny due to digestive issues)
Also, try to avoid leaning down over the rabbit when possible, crouching or bringing him up to your level instead. Remember, rabbits are prey animals, and a large, looming shape over them can set off the fight-or-flight response.
Ask a Professional for Help
If your rabbit’s super unsocialized, or the fur is really a huge mess, there’s no shame in asking a professional groomer for help. Ask your vet if this is a service they can provide or if they can recommend a groomer that specializes in rabbits.
If your rabbit’s fur is a mess due to urine or feces, it’s a good idea to have your vet check out why that is, anyway. Bringing him in to get cleaned is an excellent chance to do both at once.
If this isn’t an isolated incident, and your rabbit is regularly having issues with urine or feces on his feet or bottom, it’s a sign that something’s wrong. We’ll get more into that below.
How Do You Get Urine Out of Rabbit Fur?
There are plenty of ways that a rabbit can get dirty, of course:
- Playing in the mud
- Knocking over a drink if inside
- Getting sprayed by another rabbit
But there’s a reason why most of the examples used in the cleaning sections are incontinence issues resulting in urine or feces on the fur: those are the most common substances that rabbit owners wash off their rabbits.
If your rabbit has urine on its fur, you need to use the wet cleaning or “butt bath” method to get the urine off so it doesn’t result in a painful condition called urine scald.
Urine scald is caused by urine soaking through to a rabbit’s skin, causing:
- Severe pain
- Fur loss
If your rabbit has urine somewhere other than his bottom, from being sprayed by another rabbit, for example, you can use a combination of the dry cleaning and spot cleaning method, depending on where and how bad it is.
- If it’s on the lower portion of the rabbit, the wet cleaning method in the sink will be your best bet.
- If it’s on the upper back or head area, using the spot cleaning or dry cleaning method might work better, as long as you’re able to get the urine out without getting water or cornstarch in the rabbit’s eyes or ears.
Note: Under no circumstances should you submerge the rabbit in water or get his head wet; this can result in death since the rabbit can get so scared, he’ll actually go into shock.
Why Do I Have to Wash My Rabbit So Often?
For the most part, your rabbit should be able to keep clean without your help, so if you regularly have to clean a dirty bottom or feet, it’s essential to find out why. Otherwise, it can lead to severe conditions such as:
- Urine scald
- Skin diseases
The sooner you find out why your rabbit has a messy bottom, the sooner you’ll be able to fix the issue before it turns into something even more serious than what caused it in the first place. This will result in less stress and vet bills for you and less stress and discomfort for your rabbit.
The most common reasons for a rabbit regularly having a dirty bottom are as follows:
- Small or Unhygienic Living Conditions – If your rabbit is living in a cage or hutch where it’s unable to get away from its urine or feces, it makes sense that it will develop a messy bottom. Rabbits are naturally very clean animals, and it’s easy to get them to litter train. Make sure that your rabbit’s cage is large enough to facilitate this and that you clean it daily.
- Poor Diet – A poor diet can easily lead to digestive upset in rabbits, leading to diarrhea, which can become very messy very quickly, especially in rabbits with long coats. The proper rabbit diet is:
- Limited amount of rabbit pellets (feed only as much as your vet recommends)
- Unlimited timothy hay
- Unlimited veggies
- Very occasional treats
- Obesity – Many pet rabbits are obese, mainly due to overfeeding pellets and not feeding enough timothy hay. Obese rabbits can’t project their urine away from them when urinating, which means that it’s more likely to soak into the coat.
- Mobility Issues – Like obese rabbits, rabbits with mobility issues often cannot project their urine away from themselves, resulting in a dirty bottom.
- Urinary Tract Issues – A messy bottom can be a sign of many urinary tract issues, which can become quite serious if left untreated. This is just one reason why it’s essential to take a dirty bottom seriously.
While cleaning your rabbit is likely never going to become your favorite part of rabbit care, with time, you and your rabbit will develop a routine that will make the process more efficient and less stressful. And Preventive grooming, like regular brushing, can limit the need for more intense cleaning sessions down the road and can be an excellent time to bond with your pet.