When the weather changes from mild to hot and you break out the shorts and flip flops, your bunny will undoubtedly be shedding his/her winter fur coat. When a bunny sheds, it's called molting. Bunnies typically molt about twice a year, though one molt may be barely noticeable and the second look like a blizzard of fur. Baby bunnies have three molts their first year since they also have a baby coat to shed, but again, some of these molts will likely be mild.
Removing the Loose Fur
Two other methods for removing excess fur are by plucking/rubbing the fur off while outside or in an area where you can let the fur fly. This is great for bunnies that hate being brushed, but you may need a few healthy treats to keep him/her at ease. Finally, if your bunny is extra mellow, you may be able to vacuum the loose fur. My bunnies often tolerate this because they are used to me vacuuming their cages each morning, but they would still rather eat their own poop than be groomed by me. :)
Why is it Important to Remove Loose Fur?
Just like cats, bunnies give themselves baths in an attempt at proper hygiene. When they are molting, they ingest any loose fur in areas that they clean. Unlike cats, however, bunnies cannot vomit up hair balls. Sounds good, right? Well, not really. The fur sits in their digestive tracts and either forms "poop ornaments" (poop strung together by fur) or slows down and possibly stops digestion. This immobility of the gut is called GI stasis, and excess fur ingestion is one cause. GI Stasis has the potential to quickly kill your bunny, so it's important to keep loose fur to a minimum and educate yourself about GI stasis.
Support Your Bunny's Digestive System
During molts, it's especially important to boost your bunny's digestive system to help prevent GI stasis. First, a constant supply of hay is essential to help sweep material through the intestines. I recommend a fresh timothy hay or orchard grass (weeds and clover can be included, bunnies love them). First cutting will be the least green and most thick, second cutting is softer and usually greener, and third cutting is very soft green, and fragrant. I usually purchase second cutting, either from a local farmer who doesn't use pesticides/herbicides/fertilizer or online through Farmer Dave's or Small Pet Select on Amazon. Just make sure the hay smells fresh and not moldy or overly dusty. Bagged pet store hays are usually sub par quality.
Second, digestive support tablets can be a great aid in helping your bunny's digestive system stay active. My favorite are Sherwood's digestive tablets, which contain papaya, ginger, pineapple, and other gut-stimulating natural ingredients...plus, the bunnies love these (yes, they're like bunny crack)!
Third are herbs that help digestion. Plantain herb, dandelion greens and flowers, parsley, and comfrey are just a few herbal digestive aids. If your yard is not treated with chemicals, you likely have plantain and dandelion everywhere. These can be fed freshly picked/washed or washed/dried for later use. When feeding fresh herbs, be careful not to give more than a small handful at once. If you notice mushy poop later (from your bunny that is), then cut back on the amount of greens. Dried greens are not as harsh on the digestive system and can be fed in slightly larger quantities (this is basically what hay is, dried greens). I try to keep dried plantain herb on hand in a mesh bag all year long.
Last but not least, remember to offer your bunny plenty of exercise! Exercise helps to stimulate gut motility and keep things moving, plus, your bunny will love being able to run, hop, and binky. Basements, garages, and outdoor exercise pens all offer a great spacious environment for your bunny to have "recess."
I hope you have found this information on brushing bunnies during molting helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below. Thank you!
The first step is to get a cage, exercise pen, or other way to contain your bunny when you're not home. Make sure the cage is low enough to the floor that your bunny can either hop in and out or use a ramp. For the Prevue Hendryx cage pictured above, I had to engineer a ramp that attached to the door when open so my Holland Lop, Ruby, could come and go when the door was open. Don't worry, the ramp was not made of wide wire as you see above, it was wooden with grips.
Next, get a litter box for the cage. My favorite is the Ware JUMBO Lock-n-Litter pan that attaches to the cage side and has the handy grate to keep your bunny's tush Charmin-clean. Use a thin layer of absorbent material in the bottom. Yesterday's News is excellent and can be ordered on Amazon, but Carefresh Natural is also effective and compostable. Place the litter pan in the corner where your bunny likes to do his/her business. Some people place the bunny's hay in the box or on the cage wall over the litter box as bunnies often eat and relieve themselves at the same time. Your bunny should soon use the litter pan for most potty breaks, especially #1. You'll likely find quite a few #2 poo balls rolling around the cage bottom like billiard balls.
As you allow your bunny to begin to exit the cage and roam around, keep the space small and make sure to have a litter pan (with some of his/her poo balls in it) close by. Do not allow your bunny to have any more space to explore until it consistently uses the litter pan in that room or by returning to the cage to use the bathroom. A baby gate can help to keep your bunny's space small at first. Keep in mind that even the most experienced litter-box-trained bunnies drop poo balls here and there - especially when they get excited or someone scares the poo out of them!
The above photos are from my customer, Beth, who has an adorable black Holland Lop buck named Batman. After having Batman for about three months, she is confident to let him roam freely in the rooms where the family is present. Batman returns to his cage to go to the bathroom (except for a few rogue escapee poo balls) and even gets along with the dogs, though these interactions are supervised. Batman has a special hiding place in a grass tunnel on a shelf, where he hops to feel secure.
Another customer, Doug B., has owned bunnies for years and is pretty much a pro at potty training bunnies and treating them like royalty! His new blue bunny named Samson is already using the litter box most of the time and is slowly being introduced to his Dutch bunny friend, Tronic (who is fixed). These lucky bunnies have their own room in the house and are allowed to explore the house when their owners are home!
Doug offered some terrific tips for litter training rabbits:
So, if you are faced with the task of litter training a bunny, don't despair! IT IS POSSIBLE, but it takes time, patience, and perseverance. If things don't go well at first, be creative in finding a solution, but DoN't GiVe Up! Thank you to my wonderful customers for their pictures and feedback about potty training rabbits!
*March, 2017 Update:
Since I published this blog article, I have switched my entire herd to solid floor cages and have litter trained all of the bunnies. Most of them use their litter boxes to urinate nearly 100% of the time, but the poop is a different story. Part of the issue is that I have a dozen un-neutered and un-spayed rabbits housed in close proximity, so I believe some of the poop trails are for territory-marking. Based on what my customers say, the poop doesn't get more sparse until spaying/neutering, so I just keep a wet/dry vacuum handy and suck up the dry poo balls twice a day. I then dump the vacuum canister into a bucket every few days and use the manure as garden fertilizer (it's great stuff!). The smell is very minimal compared to traditional cages with collection trays, and I only have to clean litter boxes a few times per week. Hint: a cheap plastic putty knife/spatula works wonders for scraping litter boxes so they can be cleaned in the sink and not clog your drain!
Overall, litter training was easier than I imagined for most of my rabbits (adults and babies alike), but there are a few who challenge me, so I have added one or two extra litter boxes to some of the rabbits' cages. I also didn't allow my bunnies to have access to the second floor of their bunny condo until they were litter trained on the first floor. The Ware Jumbo Scatterless Lock 'n Litter pans from Amazon/Drs. Foster & Smith are still my favorites when compared with the metal litter boxes from KW Cages or options without grates on top. Bunnies love to dig, so a litter box without a grate is a recipe for disaster. You can use a plastic foot rest mat with a cheap plastic kitten litter box if you prefer, but the Ware boxes have nice high sides and attach to the cage - worth the $13 price tag if you ask me. Good luck!
The rabbit cages pictured above are Bunny Villas from KW Cages. They come with one, two, three, or even four floors, but I wouldn't recommend more than three unless you're at least six feet tall. :)
It's January in northern Ohio, which means it's pretty stinkin' cold outside (and cloudy nearly every day thanks to good old Lake Erie). Thankfully, my bunnies get to stay in our garage until the bunny barn is built, and although it is heated from the ducts underneath the second story, it does get chilly on blustery 15 degree days! Trying to think like a bunny, I imagined myself in a winter coat, sitting on metal mesh wire with my tootsies getting all cold and nasty. That might work for some, but my spoiled bunnies expect the equivalent of a Hilton, and I felt like I was providing more of a Motel 6 experience.
Thankfully, my friend Wendy from Hickory Ridge Hollands had an excellent idea. She makes these awesome cozy pillows for many of her bunnies, and she was nice enough to give me one when I purchased a bunny from her last summer. I gave Envy the pillow last week, and she is constantly lazing atop it like a queen. As the other jealous girls gave her the stink eye and started spreading rumors about the poor girl, I knew it was time to get crafty and make some pillows for everybunny.
With my "20% off anything" Jo-Ann Fabrics coupon in hand and my kind hubby in tow, I perused the endless aisles of material and started loading colorful bolts of flannel and fleece onto my hubby's arms. I was thinking of spending around $30, and with the sales and my coupon, I smugly patted my frugal self on the back as I headed to the register with my rainbow pile of fabric bargains. Long story short and $55 later, I had enough fabric to make a few pillows and felt very naive that I let Jo-Ann outsmart me with her coupon exclusions and end-of-bolt "special pricing." She's one cunning gal, that Jo-Ann.
Having spent so much on the small bag full of fabric, I knew these pillows better look like a million bucks...even though they're just pillows for, um, rabbits. (Insert eye roll) I decided upon a pattern of 14" square for most of the pillows, and after cutting the fabric, I embroidered each bunny's name (GIVE ME A BREAK, woman, seriously??) since I have an embroidery machine. Once embroidered and the edges were sewn, I turned it right-side-out, stuffed it sparingly (that silly bag of stuffing was 10 bucks!), stitched the opening, and then sewed along the edges again to make a nice 1/2" border. I also stitched a small spot in the center to turn the pillow into more of a cushion. Sixteen pillows later, I was pretty proud of myself...and began to worry that the boys in particular would immediately shred (or hump) their pillows. Overall, I think most of the bunnies will use and appreciate their pillows. (And no, little bunny, I do not provide a mint on your pillow or complimentary turn-down service.)
What? Back that pony up...I thought you just put the boy bunny with the girl bunny and the magic bunny fairy plops a cute litter of bunny kits into the nest box 30 days later! That isn't so?
When I first started breeding Hollands, that's what I thought too. Those other breeders are just trying to scare me; how difficult can it be? Plenty!! Let's take a look at some of the most common scenarios when breeding Holland Lop rabbits.
Scenario 1: First-time Mom
There are SO many things that can go wrong with a doe who has never kindled before. If the breeding takes, she could deliver her litter flawlessly 30 days later, or they can be born dead, or even worse - be stuck and require assistance just to save the doe or be retained and render the doe sterile. If she has live kits, she can accidentally over-clean them and nip an ear or appendage, her milk might not come in soon enough to keep the kits alive, or she might have too many to care for...and the list goes on.
I was fortunate to have my first first-time doe be a "normal" (non-dwarf) Holland Lop who is definitely a brood doe. Cocoa is such a laid back girl and was my son's 4H rabbit. She delivered a whopping SIX live kits, and since she isn't a dwarf, there were no fatal peanut kits. The only issue was that her milk didn't come in sufficiently, but thankfully I had bred veteran Clementine at the same time and could feed Cocoa's babies on Clementine for the first few days. That was time-consuming!!
My second first-time doe (Saynora's Giuliana) kindled two normals and a peanut, all live, but this is more the exception than the rule. With only two kits to feed, she is doing well so far (she is on day 3 as I type this). I suspect that her awesome Saynora genetics and a nice wide bootie helped to achieve success!
Scenario 2: Veteran Mom with a Good Track Record
So you bought a proven doe and babies should just pop out of this girl like Pez candy and earn her the Mother of the Year title. Well, maybe.
There are a lot of factors that can affect whether her breeding will take and be delivered successfully. If she's too hot, too cold, too stressed, too old, has underlying health issues, has a big butt ruffle, or she's just not "feelin' it" with that particular buck, the situation becomes complicated. The babies could also grow too large to be delivered live, or the doe might not be able to deliver them at all, and this can be deadly for her.
The first veteran doe that I bred was Campo's Clementine, who had previously been residing with my breeder friend Wendy at Hickory Ridge Hollands. She was a great mom for Wendy, and she did the same after I bred her with Campo's Sunny Jim. I caught her just as she flawlessly delivered 5 live Holland Lop kits into her nesting box. Although a bit moody with me, she was a great mom and produced some cute babies!
Scenario 3: Veteran Mom on Strike!
Your gorgeous new proven doe is finally settled in, and it's time to breed her. You light the candles, put on a little hip-HOP music, and the buck seems to enjoy all five seconds of the act and squeals in appreciation. Ten days later, you're not sure if the doe feels pregnant, so you wait. After a month, your doe begins to nest and pull fur or may do nothing at all, and no babies come. She has missed. Yep, she probably ovulated if she nested at the correct time, but the mouse didn't take the bait so to speak, and no babies result. Now you feel like complete crap for both the doe and your ego as a breeder. Even worse, miss after miss keeps happening like a broken record....for months.
This is what happened to me with my beautiful broken lynx doe, Campo's Envy. When I bought her in July, she was flown from Washington to Ohio and had just come off a litter and was also bred prior to leaving her old boyfriends. She miscarried as a result of the tumultuous move (I found a bit of blood near her shortly after she arrived, so I am guessing she miscarried at that point).
For the next several months, I continued to try to breed her, using the table-breeding method so I could hold up her gigantic "tutu" (ruffle/skirt around her plump rump). One month, she pulled lots of fur on day 29, so when kits didn't ensue in the next couple days, I took her to the vet to check for retained kits...there were none.
I was beginning to worry that too much time had passed since her last litter (if you don't breed a doe for more than six months, it can be very difficult or impossible). The breeder I bought her from suggested I try a different buck and let them live together in a pen for a couple days. Long story short, this worked. Sort of.
It was so exciting to feel Envy's plump tummy and wiggles on day 30...but it wasn't so fun on day 31 and 32. Finally, on the afternoon of day 32, I found a stillborn kit on the floor of Envy's cage. It looked normal size, and I knew she had to have more inside her still.
Envy is so special to me that I wanted to try anything I could to help strengthen her contractions and get any remaining kits out. I gave her a couple Tums and fresh kale for the calcium, brewed her raspberry leaf tea, picked her fresh parsley from the garden, and moved her to a heated exercise pen on the floor so she could move around if needed. The next morning, I gritted my teeth in anticipation when I opened the door to the garage, fully preparing myself for the worst. Thankfully, she passed a second kit on her own, and a few hours later came the placenta. As I write this, I am hoping everything is out. I don't feel anything else remaining (fingers crossed that I am right)! Who knows whether I will ever get a live litter out of her, but I'm going to keep trying.
I'm sure there will be many other frustrating situations that I will encounter, but these are just a few of the reasons why breeding Holland Lops in particular can be tricky. So, the next time you find your jaw dropping at a $100+ price tag for a Holland Lop bunny or need to explain to your significant other why a Holland Lop costs so much more than that cute pudgy white bunny on Craigslist, keep this page bookmarked. There's more to it than a quick visit from the fertile bunny fairy! ...but these adorable floppy-eared fuzzy balls of cuteness are worth the time, effort, and cost in my opinion. :)
Although my goal as a small rabbit breeder is to work on improving a select few colors of the Holland Lop breed, the obvious other task is to find homes for the bunnies that don't fit into my program. I have tried very hard to select good homes for these bunnies so that they are provided with excellent care and love and DON'T end up in shelters.
The majority of my customers have been wonderful, caring people who I truly have enjoyed getting to know. These are the customers who have gone out of their way to research the best cages, food, hay, supplies, etc, and effectively communicate with me regarding pick-up date and any questions they might have. Their bunnies' pictures will be posted on the New Bunny Homes page as I receive photos.
Unfortunately, things haven't gone so smoothly with one particular bunny, and it truly has put a damper on my holiday spirit and has me questioning my leniency on my sales policy. I won't go into detail, as the situation is ongoing, but it continues to cause me to wake up with a giant knot of worry in my stomach every day for over a week now. I realize that in the greater scheme, this situation is indeed trivial, but how it makes me question my ability to judge someone's character is what bothers me most. In the end, I have learned valuable lessons and will be much more strict with how future litters are sold.
To my honest, trustworthy customers who are a pleasure to deal with, I wholeheartedly thank you for the pleasant experiences and quality homes that you provide your bunnies. It is these experiences that I will try to focus upon when debating whether to continue working with these adorable Holland Lop rabbits.
For anyone curious about exactly how much money breeding rabbits generates versus evaporates (when you feed them high quality pellets/hay/greens/water and provide exercise and large cages), take a gander at an average month's profit/loss report:
109.74 - Premium Rabbit Feed/Organic Oats
44.00 - Organic Hay
4.00 - Filtered Water
5.56 - Leafy Greens
21.96 - Bedding
10.25 - Exercise Pen Construction/Repair/Replacement
20.00 - Supplies that need replaced (water bottles, foot rest mats, toys, etc...)
27.50 - Cage Repair & Replacement
243.01 - Total Average Monthly Expense
115.00 - Total Average Monthly Income
$-128.01 - TOTAL MONTHLY PROFIT (NONE!)
This is why it stings so much when a customer fails to follow through on his/her commitment to purchase a bunny. Sure, I could breed more bunnies, feed cheap hay and pellets, and then I could be profitable...but this is against my philosophy, and this isn't a business. I refuse to "dispose" of bunnies that are pet quality or don't fit with my goals, so dealing with customers is imperative for me.
I treat my bunnies with respect and love. They are my pets, and I breed them small-scale and with compassion for their well-being. I breed them to improve upon the type of specific colors for the sheer joy it brings me, for the one or two shows I attend each year, for my son who works so hard in 4H, for other 4H youth who are dedicated to their bunny projects, and for the families who adore their pet bunnies.
All I ask is that you PLEASE be courteous and considerate if you are purchasing ANY pet from a breeder, and PLEASE do not judge that a breeder is in it for the money before ascertaining the facts.
Hook's Hollands is a small hobby rabbitry on our Ohio farm and is operated by me (Diane) with the help of my family. We have a small herd of Holland Lop rabbits and focus on raising colorful bunnies with the best type and temperament possible.
This blog serves to spotlight various bunny care topics and share a bit about my experiences raising bunnies.