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Firstly, don’t hold your bunny whilst it’s being brushed.
You’re making it harder.
Very few rabbits like to be held. Very few like to be brushed.
I don’t think I’ve ever met any that liked to be held AND brushed.
The solution is kind of simple but also not easy, and it’s to not hold them whilst they’re being brushed.
I also don’t always use a brush.
I know how that sounds, but I will explain.
I’m not advocating letting them get matted and gross, but there are other ways!
Brush your rabbit with them on the ground
‘But,’ I hear you cry, ‘they don’t like to be brushed!’
No, they don’t. Most rabbits don’t.
You can, however, teach them to tolerate being brushed. And to tolerate being held. But why bother trying to convince them to tolerate being brushed AND held when you can just brush them on the floor?
If you can’t sit on the floor with them for whatever reason, put them in a cardboard box on the sofa or something.
I recommend that it’s not so high up that they’ll hurt themselves when they jump down, and that they do have a way to get down, because forcing them to be somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t really much fun.
They will scratch/bite/kick you. It will hurt.
Cut the side out of a box so they can get down if they want to BUT put something in the box that’ll mean that they don’t want to get down.
Dandelions and herbs is a good option, but whatever treat they like is good. You can start with very high-value treats and over time give them more generic foods once they realise that you’re only going to brush them, not sell them for parts on the internet.
Yes, this is a process, but even if it takes a year for your bunny to tolerate being brushed, it’ll make the next ten years much easier.
Don’t use a brush at first
Oh, and a word of warning about those grooming mitts that some people swear by – my rabbits are terrified of them, so don’t spend a fortune on one. Try stroking them with an over mitt first and see how they react. Try it a couple of times, because obvs the first time they’ll look at you like you’re mad, which can be confused for fear.
Don’t use a brush at first, just use your hand.
Rabbits don’t like having loose fur plucked, however gentle you are, so don’t pluck every time you run your hand over them. You want to be looking at a 10 strokes to one pluck ratio.
I find this very difficult because, as a picker by nature, I love plucking fur. my favourite thing is getting those little zits on their cheeks but they HATE it so I have to be very quick.
If a regular hand isn’t cutting it, try a wet hand. Yes, it is gross, but it works. Rubber gloves also get a lot of loose hair off, but again, respect that your bunny may find a neon yellow hand terrifying (though not as terrifying as I would find a flesh-coloured one).
Don’t pick up the bunny. Let the bunny be brushed on the floor. Sit down near bunny and offer treats and pets. They’ll probably be horrified at first that you have an ulterior motive and don’t simply want to cater to their every whim, but over time they’ll realise that the odd bit of brushing is worth the pets and treats.
So, when to introduce the brush to your bunny?
I would have the brush on the floor from the very beginning. Let bunny sniff it. What you don’t want to do is get the point that bunny is running over for a bit of attention and fur plucking and for you to randomly start brandishing a weapon.
Once bunny is
happy with tolerant of the odd bit of fur plucking, then maybe try the brush. If they run away in fear and horror, just get up and don’t force the issue.
How often you need to do this depends on your rabbit’s fur. If you have a rex, a brush won’t do much, so you can just fur pluck. My rabbits are shorthaired so I don’t brush them, I just strategically grab a bit of fur if I see some lose on their bum.
If you have something like an angora, you’ll probably need to brush them a LOT. Like, every couple of days. Hence why I would simply not get one. Lionheads could probably do with a weekly brush, but the level of…hairiness does vary from rabbit to rabbit.
You may need to do some experimentation with the type of brush you use. But after 15 years of having rabbits and probably the same number of brushes, I can confirm that most rabbits don’t like being brushed.
It’s that that they don’t like.
The being brushed.
You could get them the best, nicest brush in the world and they’ll still act like you were flaying them.
Just get a pet brush and use that.
This is the one we have:
we don’t use the black side because it does nothing.
I do have one of those 100% rubber ones (a zoom broom i think it’s called?), but I hate the sensation you get when you’re using it, and it’s no better than this bog-standard one.
The metal balls on the end do have a massaging quality, so sometimes the rabbits do zone out a bit, but only for half a second until they remember that they are ANGRY and DO NOT WANT TO BE BRUSHED.
I know that there are a tonne of people posting photos on Facebook of their rabbits falling asleep whilst being groomed, but I’m gonna assume you wouldn’t be here if your rabbit was like that.
Their rabbits aren’t the norm, and if, like me, you tend to get rescues, your rabbit won’t have had a chance to get used to being groomed from being a baby.
I mean, someone posted a picture of their rabbit ASLEEP in their ARMS following a NAIL CLIPPING.
After a nail clipping at our house, we all retire to separate corners to sulk for three hours. All of us. Me, Holly, Daisy, and Dave. None of us has EVER fallen asleep. We’re all too full of rage.
How long should you brush a rabbit for?
Try to go for little and often, rather than waiting months between brushing.
At first, just go for a couple of strokes, then go back to petting them. Give a lot of treats. You could even try giving a treat with every brushstroke and no treat with stroking them. A clever bunny would associate the brush with the treat and happily tolerate it (not mine, but it’s worth a try!)
At max, I wouldn’t brush them for more than a couple of minutes. Make sure that you’re not just sitting down next to them to brush them, because they’ll quickly learn to associate you sitting down near them with brushing, and if they don’t like it, they’ll run away.
Like with nail clipping, don’t chase after them or pull out of bed to brush them. You’ll just scare them. Tempt them out with treats. Unlike nail clipping when you have to restrain (even if only a bit – you do need to hold them still) your bunny, you don’t need to when you brush them.
You can usually keep them still, however begrudgingly, if you stroke them between the eyes. Brushing isn’t as scary for them nail clippings, so try to convince them that it’s fun.
Be very gentle and if you feel yourself getting frustrated, stop.
Brushing needn’t be stressful for both of you. It’s one of those things that a rabbit should be able to enjoy (whereas enjoying getting your nails clipped is, I’m afraid, a bit weird) but obvs can’t because they’re scaredy cats. You’re not hurting them, so don’t feel guilty.
If you persevere and include lots of treats, after a while your rabbit might actually enjoy being brushed.
If you have a very food-driven rabbit (i.e. all of us) you could try brushing them whilst they’re eating. As I said, it doesn’t hurt to be brushed – at worst it’s a bit distracting. Brushing them whilst they’re focussed on eating could help them learn that bit quicker that brushing isn’t the hell they imagine.