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Giving a rabbit a bath can be a serious health risk. In worst case scenarios it can put a rabbit into shock, but it can also lead to hypothermia and cuts and severe skin irritation. If rabbits are dirty and unable to clean themselves, you can spot clean them with a wet rag or give them a dry bath with corn starch.
Unlike dogs, rabbit’s spend a good portion of their day cleaning themselves. They do a much better job than we could at keeping themselves clean. It’s much better to assist rabbits by making sure their enclosures are clean and their litter boxes are emptied daily. They’ll take care of the rest themselves.
Why rabbit baths are dangerous
Baths can have a seriously negative effect on a rabbit’s health. Most rabbits are not used to water, and suddenly being put into a bath can be really scary. It can cause a lot of stress for the poor bunny. But even those rabbits that do okay in water have the potential to get sick or develop an infection as the result of a bath. Since rabbits keep themselves so clean, there is no reason to put them at risk by making them take a bath.
Rabbits are pretty fragile animals. Any number of unexpected things can cause a rabbit to go into shock or even have a heart attack from fear. Rabbits can be literally scared to death, especially in new or unusual situations, so you have to be cautious.
When a rabbit goes into shock from fear, their temperature will start to drop and their body will start to shut down. The symptoms of shock include:Rapid breathingRapid heartbeatPale, white gumsLimp bodyCold earsGlazed eyes
If this ever happens, whether it be from trying to give your rabbit a bath or otherwise, you should immediately wrap your rabbit in a towel to keep them warm and pet them to comfort them as much as possible. Dry them off and get the rabbit away from any loud noise or distractions.
If your rabbit’s vet is nearby try to make an appointment as soon as possible. But if the doctor is a long drive away, call and ask for advice. Car rides are very stressful for rabbits, so a long drive could end up worsening your rabbit’s condition.
With luck, the rabbit will start to recover over the next few hours and days. But unfortunately, shock is very often fatal for rabbits.
HypothermiaRabbits have very thick fur. When it gets wet it takes a very long time to dry. Even if you try to dry your rabbit after the bath, it’s difficult to be completely thorough. A rabbit usually has their thick fur to cover and keep them warm, they mainly use their ears to regulate their temperature. Having wet fur for any long period of time disrupts their ability to self regulate their body temperature and they become at risk of developing hypothermia.
If your rabbit has hypothermia their whole body will slow down. If you ignore the signs, hypothermia can be fatal in rabbits. Symptoms to look out for include:Sitting without moving, or moving very slowly.Ears and feet feel cold to the touch and look pale in color.Shallow breathing.Weak heartbeat.Non-responsive, or doesn’t move around or respond to you when yo try to interact with them.
If you believe your rabbit has developed hypothermia, it’s important to contact your rabbit’s vet to set up an emergency appointment. In the meantime, you don’t want to wait before you start getting your rabbit’s body temperature back to normal. At this point you will want to start warming the rabbit up externally:Wrapping them in a towel.Bringing your rabbit to a warmer area of the house.Make sure your rabbit is completely dry.Place your rabbit on a heating pad (at the lowest setting) or next to a hot water bottle.Providing luke warm water for your rabbit to drink.
Rabbits also have the potential to injure themselves during a bath. Sometimes this is because they could very easily slip and fall. Rabbit feet don’t do well on slick surfaces. The bottom of a tub or sink isn’t easy for your rabbit to get their footing, and they may injure themselves if they slip trying to hop around.
Rabbits could also injure themselves if they get scared and start thrashing around. They could accidentally injure themselves (or you). Rabbits also have very strong hind legs paired with a weak back. If they are very afraid, they could kick strong enough that they twist or fracture their spine causing paralysis.
Rabbit skin is very delicate and sensitive. Bathing can easily irritate a rabbits skin and cause a rash or infection. The water strips away the natural oils on your rabbits body and leaves them with dry, unprotected skin.
A rabbit’s skin is also more easily damaged when it is wet. So a small cut on wet skin could result in a much more serious and painful wound. If anything like this happens to your bunny, you should immediately seek help and advice from your vet.
Water could get into the rabbit’s ears or nose
If a rabbit gets water in their ears, it could potentially lead to an ear infection later on. Similarly, if a rabbit get’s water up their nose, they are in danger of developing a respiratory infection. Rabbits can recover from from these infections if they receive medical attention soon enough. But rabbits are experts at hiding when they feel sick, so you’ll need to watch to make sure their behavior and appetite are normal.
Will a rabbit die if they get wet?
A rabbit will not necessarily die when they get wet, but it is a possibility. Because of this, the House Rabbit Society and other rabbit welfare organizations strongly advise that you avoid bathing your rabbit. Even if your rabbit doesn’t go into shock or get hypothermia, it is still possible that they will develop other complications or infections. You might just not realize that the root cause was the bath that the rabbit had last week.
Can you give your rabbit a flea bath?
You should also not give your rabbit a flea bath. Not only is the bath stressful and unsafe for your rabbit, but flea dips and powders often contain ingredients that are poisonous to rabbits. Flea collars also tend to have a chemical dosage that is too high for rabbits.
If your rabbit does get fleas, the first thing you should do is thoroughly go through your rabbit’s coat with a flea comb. If there are too many fleas and you cannot possibly get them all, then you should consult your vet to get their advice on which flea treatment topical solution is safest for rabbits. You can apply the solution behind the rabbit’s ears, so they won’t be able to lick it off.
What if your rabbit gets dirty?
No matter how clean they are, rabbits can still get dirty on occasion. Maybe they were digging around in the garden and are covered in dirt, or maybe they rubbed up next to your breakfast plate and get a sticky spot of syrup on their fur. But if you can’t give your rabbit a bath, how can you help clean them up?
The first option is to do some simple spot cleaning. If your rabbit is only messy in a couple specific areas. Take a washcloth or towel and wipe down the areas that need a little help. Try to spot clean your rabbit with a dry towel first. If that doesn’t do the trick, use a damp towel (NOT dripping wet), and gently rub the area to wash off the mess. Make sure to dry them thoroughly afterward.
Dry baths are another option to take advantage of. These are especially useful if your rabbit has managed to get themselves thoroughly dirty. All you need for this are:CornstarchA fine-toothed combA washcloth or towel
When cleaning your rabbit, you’ll want to make sure you’re in a safe and secure location. You want to avoid the chance of your rabbit struggling to escape and then accidentally falling off a table. The best option for this is often the bathroom floor with a towel or mat so your rabbit’s feet will have some traction. This will make cleaning up the cornstarch afterward a little easier.
How to give your rabbit a dry bath:Sprinkle some cornstarch on the soiled areas of your rabbit. Be careful, and try to keep your rabbit from inhaling the cornstarch.Gently massage your rabbit, working the cornstarch through their fur. This will be a little tedious, but after a while the cornstarch will help the dirt and debris in the messy spots clump up.Use the comb to remove the clumps of debris as they start to form in the rabbit’s fur. You may need to add more cornstarch if the dirt on your rabbit’s fur is being particularly stubborn.Use the cloth to pat down and wipe off any excess cornstarch. Using the comb can also help remove the cornstarch from the rabbit’s fur.And you’re done. Now you just have to wipe down and clean up all the cornstarch from the bathroom floor.
Obese, elderly or disabled rabbits
Every rule has an exception, and that includes the no wet bath rule. Sometimes obese, elderly, and disabled rabbits are not able to clean themselves properly. Elderly rabbits often get arthritis, making it painful to move and bend in they ways they need to clean themselves. Obese rabbits sometimes just can’t reach around their belly to clean their butt. And disabled rabbits often don’t have the mobility to keep clean.
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In these cases, the rabbit might develop what is called poopy butt (yes, seriously). This is when clumps of poop start to cling to the rabbits fur around their butt and begin forming into a ball. It’s very uncomfortable for rabbits, and can smell pretty bad.