Grooming your Lionhead rabbit
Rabbits spend a huge amount of time grooming and keeping clean is very important to their health, which is why they need a helping hand from their human
If you have a pair or small group of bunnies, you’ll often observe them grooming each other. Vet Brian Faulkner says: “Rabbits love to be clean and watching them groom is fascinating. They will usually spend a large chunk of their day grooming themselves and when they live in groups, they will groom each other as a sign of affection.”
However, our beloved buns, especially long-haired varieties, need our help to take care of their beautiful, fluffy coats. And, when it comes to Lionhead rabbits – characterised by a distinctive wool mane, the result of a genetic mutation, that gives them a lion-like appearance – these small buns rely on their human for some regular grooming assistance.
Q: How often should I groom my Lionhead rabbit?
A: Veterinary charity PDSA advises: “They can have very long fur around their necks which requires daily grooming to prevent it from becoming matted. The rest of the fur is fine to be groomed weekly to help keep it in top condition.”
Rabbit expert Lou Carter says: “Lionhead rabbits are adorable. Thanks to their furry manes, they look quite different from most other domestic rabbits. But, with all that fur comes some responsibility.”
She advises establishing whether you have a ‘single-maned’ or ‘double-maned’ rabbit. Single-maned rabbits should be groomed regularly, whereas double-maned rabbits must be groomed daily.
This is particularly important when they are moulting, which, with adult rabbits, generally happens around twice a year, in spring and autumn. Regularly removing fur that’s being shed is really important because, when rabbits groom themselves, they can swallow a lot of fur, which can cause serious health issues.
In fact, during a moult it may be necessary to brush your rabbit more than once a day. It may be best to break the grooming routine up into smaller sessions as this can be less stressful for your buns than one long bout of grooming.
Rabbit Welfare, a charitable organisation that works to ensure all pet rabbits in the UK are cared for with understanding, insight and kindness, advises: “Moulting rabbits need daily grooming to reduce the amount of hair passing through the digestive system. Rabbits are constantly ingesting hair through grooming, and it is therefore perfectly normal to find some hair in the rabbits’ stomach. Problems occur when the hair ‘dries out’ due to a sluggish gastro-intestinal tract and/or dehydration. Constant access to hay /grass is absolutely vital to keep the guts moving normally, even more so when the rabbit is moulting.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Diet plays a huge part in keeping your rabbits healthy and happy. Always feed a high-fibre diet made up of 85-90% feeding hay/fresh grass and avoid muesli-style diets as these are linked to a reduced faecal output. Rabbit nuggets are a much better choice.
Q: How do I groom my Lionhead rabbit?
A: Get your rabbit used to bring brushed from an early age. To help them associate grooming with something good, give your buns some extra tasty hay or nutritious and delicious nature snacks to nibble on when giving them a gentle brush. Learning that grooming is nothing to be worried about is especially important with Lionhead rabbits.
PDSA says: “Lionheads are usually quite timid and can be easily frightened.” Lou Carter adds: “it is the Lionhead’s personality which can be trickiest to manage. These rabbits are smart on the one hand, but timid on the other. This means they need plenty of entertainment, but minimal stress.”
- When brushing your rabbit sit with them on the ground. Rabbits are ground-dwelling creatures and do not like being placed at a height.
- You can either hold your rabbit by supporting their backside as if they are sitting up – useful when trimming nails or brushing tummies – or by placing them on a towel.
- NEVER, ever put your rabbit on their back, as this will frighten them into ‘playing dead’ as part of their prey animal response to being caught by a predator.
Getting your bunnies used to being gently handled is really worthwhile, as it makes life much less stressful for them when it comes to essential bunny welfare activities, such as grooming or visits to the vet >>.
- Ensure that when you brush your 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.
- If your rabbit has any matted fur that you cannot gently brush out, try untangling with your fingers, but be very careful not to tug on the fur as that can be very uncomfortable and may cause injury to your rabbit’s skin. If this doesn’t work, you may need to cut the matt out. Be very careful, especially if it’s close to the skin. You may prefer to ask your vet to clip the fur instead.
- Unless it’s absolutely essential, you should avoid bathing your rabbit. When wet rabbit hair clumps together, it takes a long time to dry and damp rabbits are potentially prone to respiratory infections and hypothermia.
Q: What grooming equipment do I need and what’s the best brush for my Lionhead rabbit?
A: Rabbit Welfare says: “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.”
Your grooming kit should contain:
- RUBBER PIMPLE BRUSH OR MITT Useful during moulting, when used carefully, they can gently remove the build-up of loose fur quite effectively.
- SOFT BRUSH Good for general grooming, many rabbits enjoy being gently brushed. Always go in the direction their fur grows.
- COMB These are useful for longer-haired rabbits, or when short-coated rabbits are moulting, but use carefully to avoid injury.
- NAIL CLIPPERS Choose specially designed rabbit nail clippers. Never use ordinary scissors or human nail clippers as these can split the nails and hurt your rabbit. If you’re not confident about clipping your buns’ nails safely, your local veterinary nurse will be happy to do it for you.
DID YOU KNOW?
Although historically seen as a child’s pet, rabbits aren’t really suitable for small children. They don’t enjoy being picked up and have very fragile backs that can break easily if they’re dropped. For this reason, they’re better suited to families with older children who can spend time with them, creating a large, natural environment for their rabbits to enjoy which will allow them to express normal behaviours such as digging, binkying, and running.
Size: Extra small, weighing about 1.36kg (3lb).
Coat: Lionhead Rabbits have soft, woolly medium-length fur and manes that can be either ‘double’ or ‘single’. In double-mane Lionheads, the fur is prominent around most of the body, especially the head and hindquarters, while single-maned Lionheads have a mane around the head and ears that diminishes as they age. Lionheads come in a variety of colours including black, blue, lilac and chestnut.
Life span: 7-9 years.
Temperament: Lionheads are docile, intelligent rabbits that love attention. However, as they can be unpredictable when frightened or stressed, experts say they aren’t suitable for families with small children.
Q: What are other benefits of regular grooming?
- EYES to ensure they are clean and bright.
- EARS to ensure they are clean with no discharge and no unpleasant odour.
- FEET to ensure there are no injuries or abrasions.
- BOTTOMS to ensure they are clean and there is no sign of flystrike – a potentially fatal condition caused by flies laying their eggs on a rabbit’s skin, particularly around a dirty bottom, which quickly hatch into maggots that chew their way into the rabbit’s skin.
- YOUR RABBIT’S BODY CONDITION – not too fat nor too thin and with no lumps or bumps. If you do find lumps or bumps, any suggestion of flystrike, injuries, discharge from nose, ears or eyes, book a visit to see a rabbit-savvy vet.
While brushing, you may notice evidence of fleas. This could be either the fleas themselves, or dark flecks that turn red when brushed out with a damp tissue. If you spot these signs, speak to your vet about the best flea treatment for your rabbits. It’s important to tackle fleas because as well as being uncomfortable, they can also cause anaemia.
Your rabbit’s back and front teeth must be checked regularly especially if they are beginning to lose weight for no apparent reason. Dental problems are common in rabbits, but feeding them the correct diet and providing a bunny-sized bundle of high quality feeding hay every day can help prevent this.
CHECK OUT OUR CHECKLIST FOR HEALTHY, HAPPY BUNNIES
✔︎ Check that your rabbits are eating, drinking and toileting normally.
✔︎ Keep an eye out for any change in behaviour and any signs of ill health – are they moving/running normally?
✔︎ Run your hand all over them to feel for lumps, bumps, wounds or wetness or any signs of flystrike. The best way to prevent it is to ensure your rabbits are a healthy weight, keeping their accommodation clean and dry, and by checking them every day in the winter and twice a day in warm weather.
✔︎ Check your rabbits’ nails to make sure they are healthy and not too long.
✔︎ Check your rabbits’ teeth. If they look abnormal, or your pets have watery eyes, there is drool, partly chewed food or weight loss, then you should consult your vet.
✔︎ Check you rabbits’ weight and body condition score.
✔︎ Take your rabbits for a vet health-check every 6-12 months, or as recommended by your vet.
DID YOU KNOW?
Rabbits are highly social animals, and in the wild are used to living in large groups with a vast living area. This needs to be recreated for our pet bunnies, and living with a suitable companion has to be at the top of this list. Bunny experts recommend homing rabbits in compatible pairs, for example, a neutered male with a neutered female.
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Rabbits are herbivores and need a plant-based diet with lots of fibre to keep their digestive system healthy. Along with their rabbit nuggets and a few healthy treats make sure your rabbits have unlimited access to good quality, dust extracted feeding hay and fresh grass to graze on.
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