If you’ve been a rabbit owner for a while, you probably know that our fluffy friends don’t need to bathe as humans do. Similar to cats, they’re able to keep themselves clean, and they’re actually very meticulous about their personal hygiene! But what happens if a bunny isn’t able to clean itself due to issues like illness, old age or obesity? Can you give a rabbit a bath if the need arises?
Let’s find out all about bathing a rabbit, including why water baths are potentially dangerous and what your alternatives are if your rabbit is looking a little worse for wear.
Can you give a rabbit a bath?
Let’s be loud and clear about this: no, you can’t lather up your pet rabbit and submerge it in water to bathe it. Those cute videos of rabbits appearing to “relax”, stretched in a tub of soapy water? While it looks like they’re enjoying themselves, they’re actually so stressed they’ve resorted to playing dead in an attempt to ward off the perceived danger. Not something you want to subject your pet to! Even if they don’t play dead, they can panic so severely that they end up injuring themselves.
Aside from the fact that being submerged causes a lot of stress in rabbits, there are also other problems associated with bathing them:
- Rabbit fur doesn’t dry very quickly, which means there is a risk of hypothermia.
- Improperly dried ears can become infected.
- Water getting in a rabbit’s nose can cause respiratory infection.
- Rabbit skin is very sensitive, and bathing can cause irritation.
But, we hear you ask, what do I do if my rabbit is dirty? Maybe it got into some food and is covered in syrup or oil, or it has somehow acquired a dirty bottom. Don’t worry: there are ways to clean a rabbit, it’s just that it doesn’t involve normal baths like we’re used to.
When should you clean your rabbit?
Rabbits are very meticulous about grooming and keeping themselves clean. Although they may require regular brushing, there usually isn’t much else you have to do to keep your pet bunny looking its best. However, there are a select few exceptions.
If a rabbit is ill, obese or old, it may begin to have trouble keeping up with its normal grooming habits. This can lead to their bottoms becoming caked with feces and urine, which is problematic. Aside from the unpleasant smell, the urine irritates their skin, and fur matting can occur. If this happens, your rabbit may need a bath. However, what it needs first is a vet visit: it’s important to figure out why it became dirty in the first place, because otherwise, it’s just going to keep happening.
Aside from this, your rabbit may also need a clean if it has somehow gotten stained with or covered in some kind of substance. Rabbit owners will know that our furry friends have a knack for getting themselves in trouble, which can include food or other stuff getting on their fur.
Below, let’s have a look at the different options you’ve got at your disposal for rabbit bathing if your bunny isn’t able to take care of cleaning itself.
Spot-cleaning a rabbit
If your rabbit’s fur has become stained with food or another substance, you may be able to solve the problem with a simple spot clean. You can take a washcloth and see if you can remove the stain without wetting the cloth first. If this doesn’t do the trick, you can wet it with some warm water and then wring it out so it’s only lightly damp.
Gently wipe the stain, making sure not to be too harsh so as to prevent damaging your rabbit’s sensitive skin. Afterward, dry the area as best as you can using a towel.
Giving a rabbit a dry bath
If spot-cleaning doesn’t do the trick, or if the affected area is too large (like when a rabbit’s bum is dirty with urine and/or feces), you can consider a dry bath. This is a great way to clean up a bunny without having to wet it. You’ll be surprised at how well it works!
Here’s how you give a rabbit a dry bath:
- Cover the affected area with baby cornstarch or talc-free baby powder. Make sure your rabbit doesn’t inhale any of the powder!
- Gently work the powder into the fur to make sure every dirty hair is coated.
- You may be able to work much of the dirt out with your fingers. Otherwise, you can use a fine-toothed comb. Remember to be careful and gentle, because as we’ve mentioned, rabbit skin is very sensitive. It tears easily, so never apply force.
- If the comb wasn’t enough to remove excess powder, you can pat the area gently to get rid of it. You can also use a damp cloth, as described in the section above on spot cleaning. Try not to get the fur too wet; just the minimum to remove the powder.
Don’t forget to give your rabbit a treat after a successful dry bath. After all, despite it being safer than a “true” bath, it can still be stressful for them.
Bottom bathing a rabbit
If spot cleaning or a dry bath don’t do the trick, you may have to wet the affected area in order to clean your rabbit. Be sure to check in with your veterinarian before attempting this. They’ll tell you if it’s necessary or not, and they can even show you how to do it properly. Situations like these can occur with older rabbits or those with chronic illnesses that make them unable to keep themselves clean.
Even with a wet bath, the idea is still to keep as much of the rabbit as possible dry. If it’s your rabbit’s bottom that’s dirty, which is usually the case, then you’ll only want to submerge and clean this part.
Again, it’s best to ask your vet for advice, but here’s the basic procedure for bottom bathing a rabbit:
- Have a hypoallergenic shampoo ready. A special rabbit shampoo is best, as their skins are just incredibly sensitive.
- Ask someone to help you. The rabbit’s head has to be kept dry, and this is easier to ensure when one person can hold it and the other can wash it.
- Fill a sink or tub with around 2″ of lukewarm water. Add a small amount of the shampoo, as well as a towel or rubber mat at the bottom for better grip.
- Place your rabbit in the bath, holding its top half constantly so only its bottom end is submerged. The belly should ideally be kept dry as well.
- Carefully work the dirty fur with your fingers to remove bits of poop and stains. If it doesn’t come off at first, be patient, as it may need to soak a bit to loosen.
- Once your rabbit’s bottom is clean, rinse with some shampoo-free warm water and get that bunny wrapped in a fluffy towel ASAP.
- Towel dry the affected area, patting rather than rubbing to prevent skin irritation. Remember, your rabbit’s skin is probably already affected by the urine stains, so it’ll be extra sensitive!
- After towel drying as best as you can, use a hair dryer set to warm (never hot) to gently dry the fur further. Keep your arm in the airflow so you can keep gauging the temperature.
- Once it has dried, use a comb to brush your rabbit’s fur. Matted areas should be untangled, or in severe cases, carefully clipped.
If your rabbit lives outdoors, it may be best to wait a night before putting it back in its usual enclosure. It’ll likely be stressed and maybe a little cold, so keeping it indoors can help prevent hypothermia.
Conclusion: Can you give a rabbit a bath?
So, can you give a rabbit a bath? As we’ve concluded, rabbits will rarely need to be cleaned unless there’s something wrong. If yours has gotten dirty, try spot cleaning or a dry bath first.
Consult your veterinarian before attempting a wet bath, and even then, never submerge the rabbit fully! They’re just very sensitive and bathing them can cause stress and health issues.