Taking care of a pet includes the usual feeding, exercising, and grooming chores. While some pets need baths on occasion (dogs), others need them hardly at all (cats). Rabbits fit squarely into the latter category.
Rabbits, like cats, are good at cleaning themselves, so for the most part, giving them a bath is unnecessary. But for those times when it’s unavoidable, rabbits should still not be given a full-on bath. It can actually be quite dangerous to bathe your rabbit.
In this article, we discuss why giving your rabbit a bath isn’t recommended, along with a few steps that you can take to clean your rabbit safely.
The 5 Reasons the Bathing a Rabbit Is Not Recommended
Rabbits do an excellent job at cleaning themselves, so most of the time, they don’t need a bath. Rabbits and water only go together when they need a drink.
Rabbit hair doesn’t do well when wet because it takes a long time to dry, which can lead to hypothermia. The hair is exceedingly thick to keep the rabbit warm, and they use their ears to help regulate their temperature. When their hair is wet, it interferes with their ability to control their temperature, which is when hypothermia can set in. If not treated, it can be fatal.
If you suspect that your rabbit has hypothermia, contact your vet immediately, and let them know that you’re on the way. They will ask you to take immediate steps to keep your rabbit out of danger, such as:
- Wrap them in a towel.
- Ensure that they are completely dry.
- Bring them to the warmest place in your home.
- Use a hot water bottle filled with warm water wrapped in a towel, or put them on a covered heating pad at the lowest setting.
- Give them lukewarm water to drink.
Never warm them up too quickly, which is why a hot water bottle or heating pad must be only warm.
Being prey animals makes rabbits incredibly nervous creatures, and they can sometimes literally be frightened to death. Submerging a rabbit into water can cause them to go into shock from fear, which can have similar signs as hypothermia:
- Rapid heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Cold ears
- Pale, white gums
- Limp body
- Dull eyes
Their temperature drops quickly and they need to be warmed up. Call your vet so you can bring in your rabbit. Wrap them in a towel immediately to warm them up, and speak to and pet them gently to comfort them. Take them to the vet if they aren’t too far away, but if a long drive is required, speak to them on the phone for advice.
Unfortunately, while some might recover in a few hours or days, shock is fatal for many rabbits.
Since rabbits aren’t used to being dunked in water, they tend to panic and seriously injure themselves. They have fragile spines that can easily fracture or twist if they struggle and thrash around too much. They might also become injured trying to gain purchase in the slippery tub or sink.
4. Water in the Ears and Nose
There’s a risk of water entering the rabbit’s nose and ears, potentially leading to an ear infection or respiratory infection, also known in rabbits as the “snuffles.” They can recover from both conditions once they receive treatment.
5. Skin Irritation
Water and soap will strip a rabbit’s natural oils from their skin, which also means their skin can dry out and become irritated. This can lead to rashes and infection.
Their skin is also more susceptible to damage when wet, so a small scratch could potentially turn into a more serious wound.
When Does a Rabbit Need a Bath?
Now that you know that baths are not ideal for rabbits, you might be wondering what circumstances may dictate such a process:
- Dental problems might lead to a rabbit being unable to groom itself properly.
- Arthritis or spinal issues might also cause a rabbit to not be able to clean itself.
- Overweight rabbits won’t be able to reach all parts of their bodies.
- The rabbit has parasites like fleas or E cuniculi.
In most cases, a visit to your vet is needed to treat the underlying problem. However, there are other options for dirty rabbits that only require cleaning, though never to the point that you need to submerge your rabbit in water.
The 4 Alternatives to Bathing Your Rabbit
1. Spot Cleaning
If your rabbit is dirty in only a few areas, you just need to do spot-cleaning. Try to clean the area first with a dry towel, but if that doesn’t do the trick, use a damp towel or washcloth. Just be sure that it is only damp and not soaking wet. Gently rub the area to remove the mess, then thoroughly dry the spot when you’re done.
2. Dry Bath
Giving your rabbit a dry bath is a good option if they are dirty and is even more helpful if they already have any wet patches on their hair. Dry baths work along the same lines as dry shampoo for humans.
The best place to give your rabbit a dry bath is on your bathroom floor, with a towel or mat underneath them. This will help prevent any injuries and should help with the cleaning up afterward.
- One: Sprinkle a small amount of cornstarch on the dirty areas. Ensure that your rabbit doesn’t inhale any.
- Two: Massage the cornstarch into the hair, which will start to clump up when combined with dirt.
- Three: Use the comb to remove the clumps and cornstarch.
- Four: Finish by wiping any excess cornstarch from your rabbit with a towel.
In certain situations, you might only need to give your rabbit a thorough combing to remove excess dirt that isn’t caked in. Just remember to use a fine-toothed comb or one made specifically for rabbits.
4. Washing a Dirty Bum
When a rabbit is elderly, disabled, or overweight, they might have difficulty cleaning themselves around their hind end. This is why rabbits are prone to poopy butt, which they’ll need help cleaning.
You may need to give your rabbit a butt bath, which works best with someone assisting you. This way, one person can hold and comfort the rabbit, and the other can do the cleaning.
You’ll want to use a bin rather than the bathtub, which is too big, and you’ll risk getting your rabbit much wetter than you want. A sink might work, but a bin will be more accessible if there are two people.
- Put a folded towel on the bottom of the bin or sink, which provides traction so your rabbit won’t slip.
- Fill the bin with a few inches of warm water and a small amount of pet shampoo, and swirl it around.
- Pick up your rabbit, and place their rear end in the water. Keep the top half of your rabbit out of the water.
- Gently swirl the water around to help soak the butt area.
- You can use your fingers or a washcloth to gently remove the poop and any other mess on their bums.
Once they’re all clean, you’ll need to ensure that they are dried thoroughly, or there’s a risk of hypothermia for your rabbit.
- Remove your rabbit from the bin and place them on a dry towel.
- Gently pat the wet hair with the towel. Remember that rabbit skin is particularly delicate when wet, so use gentle patting and pressing rather than rubbing. Continue this until you’ve got it as dry as you can.
- Use a hair dryer on the lowest heat setting, and gently dry your rabbit’s hair. Don’t put it too close to your rabbit, and take a few breaks to ensure that they aren’t getting overheated.
- Continue until they are dry, which given how thick their hair is, will take a while.
Animals crawling with fleas are typically given a flea bath, but we don’t recommend a flea bath for your rabbit unless your veterinarian tells you otherwise.
You’ll need to ask your vet for a flea solution that is made specifically for rabbits. Do not use flea treatments meant for cats or dogs.
The flea solution is usually placed on the rabbit’s skin between the shoulder blades or behind the ears because they can’t reach these areas and lick it off. You should also use a flea comb to help remove any fleas and eggs.
Bathing a rabbit is dangerous business. Anyone who gives a rabbit a full bath is putting their rabbit’s health at risk, and it can even prove fatal.
There are many options that you can use if your rabbit needs help cleaning off. Spot cleaning and a dry bath are excellent options for rabbits with a bit more of a mess than what they can handle on their own.
See also: Can Rabbits Swim? Facts & Safety Tips