Rabbits- Moulting

As all rabbit owners know, rabbits moult regularly. Initially, when rabbits are young, their baby coat is replaced at around 5 months by a transitional coat. After this, the rabbit’s adult coat will develop and from here on, rabbits generally moult twice a year (Spring and Autumn). However, domestic rabbits are kept in very different conditions to wild rabbits. Therefore domestic rabbits seem to have a more variable moulting pattern. Some rabbits and especially house rabbits will appear to moult almost constantly!

When rabbits moult, they tend to start by shedding fur from their head, which works the way down the neck and back and then down the sides of their body, finishing on their rump. However, some rabbits seem not to have any set pattern and will lose fur in patches from all over their body at the same time. More often than not, a tide line becomes apparent, which looks like a line across the rabbit’s fur, where the moult is progressing, and often you can observe the skin as being darker where the new fur is growing through. You should get to know what is normal for your rabbit, so you are able to spot potential problems quickly, and helping your rabbit through their moult is a sensible idea. Moulting can be quite stressful for some rabbits, while others don't seem to care at all.

Regular brushing. Get your rabbit used to bring brushed, so when they are moulting and need more frequent grooming, it isn’t so stressful for them. When brushing your rabbit sit with them on the ground. Rabbits are ground-dwelling creatures and do not like being placed at a height. Also, they may jump and injure themselves.

During moulting time, is may be necessary to brush your rabbit more than once a day. if you can, break the grooming sessions up into smaller sessions, as this is less stressful than one long session of grooming. Ensure that when you brush the rabbit you brush down to the skin, parting the fur as you go along. You need to remove all of the undercoat that is being shed, and not just the fur that is sitting on the top, otherwise you will get matts within the fur.

There are a variety of brushes and combs that can be used on rabbits. Slicker brushes, which have sharp ends, are often too harsh to use on rabbits, since they easily scratch their skin, so should be avoided. Wide-toothed combs are very useful, as are the flea combs that are marketed for cats. Brushes with metal prongs with blunt ends are also handy. You will get to know what tools you find the easiest to use and your rabbit prefers.

Unless you have been shown how to and you are confident in doing so, you shouldn’t attempt to cut matts out from your rabbit's coat. Rabbit skin is very delicate and easily torn and cut. If you notice any matts that you are not able to tease out with careful brushing and combing, you should take your rabbit to your vets so they can clip them out.

Why Brush?  Moulting rabbits need daily grooming to reduce the amount of hair passing through the digestive system. Before we knew about proper care of Rabbits, hair balls used to be diagnosed as a cause of gastro-intestinal stasis (gut slowing, commonly known as GI stasis). However we now know that rabbits are constantly ingesting hair through grooming and it is therefore perfectly normal to find some hair in the rabbits’ stomach. Problems will occur when the hair ‘dries out’ due to a sluggish GI tract and/ or dehydration. Therefore hair balls are now known as a secondary problem and not usually a cause of GI stasis. Constant access to hay/grass is absolutely vital to keep the guts moving normally, even more so when the rabbit is moulting. Giving your Rabbit Fibre sticks can help this and also getting into the habit of checking droppings daily.

Droppings that are small and dry, or becoming hard with less being produced should ring alarm bells and you should take your rabbit to see a vet as soon as possible to try and prevent a bout of GI stasis. . However, if your rabbit is subdued or unwell in any way then he may be developing GI stasis which needs urgent veterinary attention.

Stuck. The moulting process can get “stuck”. This most often happens on the flanks, just above the tail, and on the belly. Use a cat moulting comb to remove the dead loose hair to help to keep the moulting period going. House rabbits living in centrally heated homes often moult incessantly, especially heavy coated breeds. This is an annoying side effect of keeping pets indoors (heavy-coated dogs living indoors do the same) and there is nothing you can do except groom your bunnies and vacuum your home daily!

Fur Mites   Cheyletiella Parasitovorax is probably the most common mite in rabbits, and often just referred to as the rabbit fur mite. It is a non-burrowing mite that is just visible to the naked eye, so is sometimes known as the “walking mite” or “walking dandruff” since you can often see them moving. Many rabbits carry the mite with no clinical signs.

Problems and infestations occur when the rabbit is unable to keep the mites numbers under control, which can be for a variety of reasons. These could be: dental problems, Arthritis, poor balance, Obesity, at times of stress and during any other illness where their immune system is not at it's best. Also at times of stress (bonding, loss of a companion, house move, sudden change in environmental temperature etc)

Check particularly carefully for mites and seek veterinary advice about tackling the mites and the underlying problem/s.

Symptoms The hallmark of Cheyletiella infection is areas of dense, flaky, encrusted skin particularly on the back, either above the tail, in the nape of the neck or down the spine, although occasionally it can become much more extensive.

Treatment   Cheyletiella infestations can be treated with a course of ivermectin injections given at 7 to 10 day intervals and repeated for 3 -5 weeks depending upon the severity. Spot On topical ivermectin or selamectin treatments is also available.

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