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Dewlaps are one of those things that mny rabbits have but that you don’t always notice until one day they’d laid down, loafing and you see it and think ‘huh?’.
Kind of like a butt skirt, which is when a semicircle of fur flicks out above a bunny’s butt.
You always wonder if you’ve groomed them wrong, or they’re a bit chubby, when in fact, dewlaps and butt skirts are normal rabbit things. In fact, a lot of rabbits with dewlaps are often blessed with a butt skirt too.
What is a dewlap?
A dewlap is a fold a skin beneath a rabbit’s mouth. I’d say ‘under their chin’ but if you’ve ever looked, you’ll know that rabbits don’t really have chins.
Dewlaps come in all shapes and sizes.
Some are really obvious – especially on short-haired breeds like rexs – and look like they’re wearing an Elizabethan ruff. Others are more camouflaged and only pop up when the rabbit is having a little snooze and using it as an under-mouth cushion.
Why do rabbits have a dewlap?
It’s thought that the purpose of a dewlap is to have a convenient place for a female rabbit to pull out her fur for nest-building purposes.
To be honest, we’re not 100% sure about the ins and outs of dewlaps, because, er, not many people care about doing research on rabbit’s dewlaps BUT it’s most common use (after convenient cushion) is to make a nest.
If your rabbit doesn’t have a dewlap, it doesn’t mean she can’t make a nest. One of mine doesn’t have one and still managed to pull her fur out from somewhere. I’m sure no one is worried about this, but i thought I’d share!
Rabbits building nests can be so funny – they’re so intent on doing it, and build a beautiful nest over a couple of days and then BOOM they totally forget about it and trample all over it.
Even spayed rabbits have the urge to build nests sometimes (especially if you’ve had contact with an intact one) – they don’t necessarily have a full phantom pregnancy, and it gives them something to do.
Why does my male rabbit have a dewlap?
Sometimes men have dewlaps, though they tend to be smaller than those that females have. Why? I dunno. Perhaps it’s like nipples in men.
It’s been observed that castrated males are more likely to have a dewlap than intact ones, so perhaps ALL rabbits have the potential to develop a dewlap, but testosterone can stop it from growing.
Can a dewlap go away?
A dewlap is a fold of skin so it won’t completely disappear but the appearance of it can diminish a lot if your rabbit loses weight.
Dewlaps vary a lot in size – usually larger breeds have larger dewlaps in relation to their body, whereas small breeds, like Netherland Dwarfs barely seem to have one at all.
If you think your rabbit’s dewlap has gone, but they haven’t lost weight, it could just be the way they’re sitting.
Some rabbits have a pretty pronounced dewlap when they’re laid pretty flat on their belly, but it’s barely visible if they’re in the loaf position.
It seems weird because there isn’t that much difference in those two positions, but I think it’s to do with the position of their head.
If Holly has her head more on top of her body she doesn’t have a dewlap at all, but if she’s laid with her chin (if she had a chin) on the floor, she rests on a little dewlap.
When do rabbits develop a dewlap?
A dewlap usually starts to develop when a rabbit reaches sexual maturity (so they can make a kick-ass comfy nest), so any time from around three months old.
However, spaying a rabbit CAN stop a dewlap from growing, so if your rabbit was spayed when they were pretty young (like, under a year) they may only have a small dewlap.
Dewlaps can also grow if your rabbit puts on weight, so if you notice that your rabbit’s dewlap is growing and they’re fully grown, it might be time to cut out the treats.
Problems associated with dewlaps
Problems associated with dewlaps are usually a result of two things:
- An overweight rabbit
- An old rabbit
The main issue with dewlaps is keeping them clean and dry. Because they’re essentially just a skin flap, debris can get trapped and cause bacteria to thrive.
This can be an issue in overweight bunnies because they may not have the range of motion required to clean their dewlap properly.
I had dewlap issues with one of my old (11) rabbits. She took to dribbling in later life, and keeping her dewlap dry was a nightmare.
If you notice that your rabbit has a wet dewlap, it’s worth getting them checked at the vet, because rabbits don’t tend to dribble unless they have dental issues (which can be very serious).
Isobel had 0 dental issues. In fact, the vet was pleasantly surprised by the state of her teeth (she was big on shredding egg cartons).
After careful observation, the vet informed us that she was a lazy drinker (am not surprised) and wasn’t big on grooming herself (am not surprised) and there wasn’t much we could do about the situation, other than keep the dewlap clean.
So we just wiped it with kitchen towel regularly.
It wasn’t fun – rabbits HATE being touched under their chin.
All the fur dropped out of her dewlap so it looked grim, but the vet said that as long as it stayed pink and healthy it was fine. We were told to bring her back if it got red or inflamed or scaly, but it never did.
You can get creams and things if the dewlap does get inflamed, but your vet should be able to advise you on that.
How to reduce a dewlap
If your rabbit’s dewlap is causing them issues, there are a couple of things you can do.
The first thing is to see if the rabbit is overweight. Run your hands down their sides – if you can’t feel their ribs at all, you may need to consider putting them on a diet. Hopefully the dewlap should reduce too.
In extreme cases, rabbits can have surgery to reduce their dewlap. This sounds super extreme, but some rabbits have been bred to have extra large dewlaps (I can’t for the life of me think why) and the surgery can really improve their quality of life.
We were offered dewlap surgery on Isobel, but the vet said he would prefer not to operate on such an old rabbit (though she was incredible at being operated on – a real pro – and never, ever let anything as small as major surgery affect her appetite).
Luckily, her dewlap, though bald, didn’t seem to mind being dribbled on.
The only thing we did, other than dry her off with kitchen towel, was ensure her water was kept super clean.
Normally water and food bowls are washed weekly, but we washed the water bowl daily and changed it two or three times to not only keep it free from bacteria, but also to make sure the bowl wasn’t that full so at least her whole dewlap wasn’t sopping wet.
Many animals have dewlaps in some form or another. Some humans have double chins, lizards have dewlaps to scare of predators, attract mates, or make a cool noise. Dogs actually have dewlaps to help with temperature regulation.
From what I’ve read, only rabbits seem to have dewlaps that double up as a handy cushion, and I think that’s amazing.