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Cleaning rabbits isn’t as straightforward as cleaning a dog.
I know that most dogs don’t enjoy being bathed, but rabbits like to go that bit farther, but being so afraid of baths that they can literally have a heart attack and die.
Most of the time, this isn’t an issue. Rabbits tend to be pretty clean animals, with the exception of the odd poopy butt – even then you should only attempt a butt bath.
They wash themselves somewhat scrupulously.
I say ‘somewhat’ because they do this thing where they’ll fastidiously wash their left leg (or whatever body part) for a good twenty minutes, and then just run a cursory tongue over the right leg and that’s fine.
It’s all good. I assume they know what they’re doing.
But stray rabbits aren’t really prioritising staying clean. They’re trying to keep fed and watered, and spend most of their time trying to not to attract the attention of predators. They end up covered in mud and dust and god knows what else.
If it were a dog, you could clean them with water, whether it’s a case of chucking them in the bath, or tying them to a tree and spraying them with a hose (gently, please).
You shouldn’t get any rabbit wet, never mind an already stressed and scared one.
Step 1: get kitted out
Let’s just assume the rabbit has pinworms or some other similar parasite.
Most of them do, and its not a big deal – the vets can prescribe meds, they’ll a couple of 100% worm poops which are unimaginably grim, and we’re done.
But what you don’t want to do is pass these bugs onto your other pets/humans. So make sure you’re wearing gloves and you clean and disinfect every tool and surface that you’ve used.
You COULD use surgical gloves – those little plastic things – but rabbits are sharp in both tooth and nail, so you might want to consider something a little more heavy duty. Ideally, use some of those gloves that construction workers use are very strong but you can still use your hands.
They’re not expensive and they’re super useful for things like picking up glass and shifting furniture that’s heavy or may splinter.
I also wouldn’t recommend bare skin (as far as is possible – you don’t need a full hazmat suit) because rabbits claws are sharp. I’ve never been scratched by a rabbit on purpose – it’s always been accidental but it still hurts. Long sleeves and a high neckline are definitely the way to go.
Bar in mind that a stray rabbit will probably have pretty long claws if they’ve been out for a while, so they can easily catch you unintentionally.
Step 2: don’t panic the bunny
Being stray is not a fun experience for most bunnies BUT they also probably won’t thank you for rescuing them. Being caught by a stranger and taken into their house can be very stressful for a rabbit, especially if it’s previously lived outside in hutch.
If you can, let the bunny settle a bit before attempting to clean them. Obviously, if you think there’s something dangerous on their fur, you’ll need to get it off asap, but if it’s just dusty or muddy, leave it alone for a while.
Put it somewhere where it can hide away for a while, and let it rest. Once you’re confident that it’s eating and pooping, you can get to grooming.
Step 3: vet first
This is in an ideal situation, but I’ve found my fair share of strays, and I notice that they always seem to turn up on a weekend when the vets are closed. I mentioned in this article about finding a stray rabbit that going to a vet is pretty important, but also doesn’t need to be rushed if you don’t think the rabbit is in bad health.
There’s no point paying for an out-of-hours vet for no reason.
If you get them to the vet, the vet can do things like trim nails, look for fleas, and check butts so that you don’t have to.
These aren’t difficult jobs by any means, but…the vet is a professional. Also, they can trim nails while you hold the bunny.
Trimming nails is much easier if it’s a two-person job. So much easier.
Also, any matting can be shaved by the vet. Again, not a difficult job, but they already have all the stuff. I’ve shaved rabbits in the past, and I highly recommend just trimming what you need to, and then coming out the rest. Rabbits have ridiculously sensitive skin, and you can easily knick them. Vets aren’t professional groomers, but they probably have someone there that has shaved rabbits before to prep them for surgery.
Step 4: brush them
I’ve tried a tonne of bunny brushes, and I really think it’s down to the personal preference of the groomer and the groomee.
In our household, we use a metal brush with little balls on the end ( basically like a regular human hairbrush). It’s effective and the girls don’t hate it (I mean, they don’t like it, but I don’t think they like being touched full stop).
Try to dislodge as much dirt as possible using the brush. Remember, you don’t really have the option of wetting them. If it’s really, you can dampen your hands and try to clean them manually, but you can’t submerge them.
A butt bath in the sink in an inch (max) of water is about all they can tolerate, and I wouldn’t recommend that.
You can get small animal shampoo, but since rabbits have incredibly sensitive noses and skin, I’d just use plain water. If you do get them wet, blowdry them on the coolest setting to make sure they’re thoroughly dry. Even our most nervous bunny loves the blowdryer, but if you think it’d be too much, wrap them in a towel and put them somewhere warm.
Step 5: massage their skin
If you’re struggling to get crap off them with a brush, it may be more efficient to physically remove dirt with your hands. I know it’s gross, but it’s the best way. It’s also a great way to look for any bumps, scraps, or, er, bugs. It’s gross, but they’re worth it
Do NOT use any essential oils on rabbits (or other pets, or kids). If the rabbit has sore skin (e.g. on their ears or hocks) you can use a small amount of olive oil, which can also help remove any caked-on grime. Only use a small amount, because the rabbit will probably try to lick it off, and whilst rabbits can have a small amount of olive oil, too much can cause a stomach upset.
I hope this was helpful, and please leave any tips on cleaning rabbits below!