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.)
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.