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There is some controversy on bathing rabbits. There are multiple claims that bathing a rabbit can cause a fatal shock at the same time there are multiple videos online of bunnies getting a bath.

While I find several respected rabbit authorities repeating this warning, I am not finding any reliable reference indicating a documented death related to a bunny bath. I want to take the best care of my pet rabbit, but I also don't want to make a choice based on a old wives' tale. It is pretty hard to imagine a scenario where an animal domesticated from Europe (and exposed to rain in the wild) could have evolved in few hundred years to the point it might die from getting wet.

Note rabbits are generally self cleaning like a cat. I am granting as a given that a rabbit bath would only be required in extreme cases.

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    hmm stress can kill a rabbit, a bath could cause stress, but I am not sure that is the type of answer you are looking for. – user9 Jan 4 '14 at 0:16
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Kind of... bathing can be very stressful to a rabbit; stress can cause body function changes that can kill a rabbit.

Rabbit digestive systems are fairly fragile, and stress can upset the balance in their gut causing them to go into GI Stasis. When this happens, the GI tract shuts down and unless this is dealt with in the first few days, it is usually fatal. The problem is it can take a day or two before you can tell for sure that your rabbit is in stasis, so the rabbit is often beyond help before the problem is noticed. GI Stasis kills more rabbits than any other cause.

I have a few rabbits that have needed a bath from time to time. These are the tips I have for bathing your rabbit:

Make sure you have rabbit safe shampoo. Many human, dog, and cat shampoos contain chemicals that are toxic to rabbits. Make sure you are going to use a cleaning product that it is rabbit safe. If it does not state that it is, assume that it is not, just to be safe. Make sure that you really need shampoo. If you just have urine on the hindquarters (this is pretty common in male rabbits), that can usually be rinsed away with water on the surface of the fur, without the need for thorough cleaning with shampoo.

Use warm, but not hot water. Rabbit fur generally protects your rabbit from the effects of water, but when you are bathing them, the water will soak through to the skin. If it is too hot or too cold, your rabbit could go into shock. My rule of thumb is water that I could put my hand in with no immediate discomfort, and leave in without any discomfort. If it is too hot/cold for you, it is too hot/cold for your rabbit.

Do not make your rabbit sit in a pool of water. I have a raised grate that I use for rabbit baths. It is not normal for rabbits to sit in water, and doing so causes them stress.

Keep your rabbit properly supported. - A rabbit spine can break relatively easily. And even if it does not break, if your rabbit is not being supported properly, it can be painful and cause stress. Most of the time, your rabbit will want its back feet supported. When you need to clean that area, flip the rabbit over into Trance position. Make sure that the rabbit's back is properly supported, then clean the feet, and genital area.

Bathe only the areas needed. The most common problem I see is that some of my rabbits will get some poop caked on their feet and/or underside. When this happens, I do my best only to wash the areas that need cleaning. This will reduce the time spent in the bath. Also when you bathe your rabbit, the process will wash away some of the natural oils that protects the rabbit and its fur. Limiting the areas you bathe reduces the impact of this.

Try to avoid getting water in their nose. This is as uncomfortable to a rabbit as it is to you, and they do not have the ability to blow their nose like we do. For this reason, I try my best to avoid getting my rabbits' heads wet at all. When it happens, I immediately try to help the rabbit by drying their nose with cotton balls. Just hold it for a second or two on each nostril, repeating until it comes away dry.

Dry your rabbit as thoroughly as possible. When the bath is done, if the rabbit is not dried well, they will get cold and this causes stress, and may even send them into shock. I dry my rabbits with towels. If the rabbit has angora fur, you may want use a blow dryer on low heat.

YOUR RABBIT SHOULD NOT SMELL LIKE FRUIT OR FLOWERS! Rabbits are very attuned to scents, and changing the scent on them can be traumatic to the rabbit, which may cause problems with any of its companions. Rabbits normally have a gamey smell to them. This is their natural scent and using scented soap or perfumes on them can be very stressful.

I would also note that my rabbits are used to being picked up, held, petted, posed, and thoroughly examined. We do this partly because they are show rabbits and need to be able to handle that, and partly because we love them very much and they get a lot of attention. I believe that their being used to this treatment helps reduce the stress when a bath is needed.

  • Would you say it's more of a shower than a bath that you're giving them? – starsplusplus Jan 28 '14 at 13:53
  • @starsplusplus That is probably accurate. I have a nice wash basin with a good sprayer I use. – user9 Jan 28 '14 at 14:26
  • To sum up: rabbits are fragile little balls of anxiety that can drop dead from stress, so try not to stress them. – Mark Reed Nov 5 '14 at 19:01
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Chad's answer strikes at the root of the bath problem; stress can cause heart attacks and GI stasis, both are deadly. Nevertheless, any discussion of bathing isn't complete without review of the function of a rabbits coat.

Rabbits fur consists of a slick top coat and dense undercoat that constantly sheds. This design makes the fir self-cleaning. The top coat protect the undercoat and skin from moisture in wet conditions keeping the rabbit warm. As such, rabbits neither sweat nor bath. Despite this, some rabbits, such as swamp rabbits, will swim or hide under water when threatened. However, swamp rabbits have adapted an extra dense coat to prevent water from soaking though to their skin.

By bathing a house rabbit, you inevitably soak undercoat to the skin. The rabbits dense coat, even when toweled off will trap water against the skin causing the skin to waterlog making it weaker and more prone to abrasion and dander issues. Further the now damp rabbit may become hypothermic after the bath, just as walking around in damp clothes all day will make you cold. Thus, bathing a rabbit, even with great care, should be avoided whenever possible.

There some disagreement, however, about whether this rule applies to extremely long haired rabbits, like angoras. Angora's been genetically bread such that their coat is extremely long and impossible for them to care for on their own. It's length also defeats the prevents the cleaning properties of the fur from being as effective, especially when molting. Moreover, especially with angoras, self grooming can lead to the ingestion of large amounts of fur which can ball up and cause blockages resulting in GI stasis. Therefore, some Angora owners choose to bath the rabbit to augment brushing during times of heavy molting, while others find it a better choice to shave the rabbit during these times.

For normal to average haired rabbits, its recommend to combat hair balls with brushing and petting. If your rabbit seems to be having trouble passing hair balls, most vets would recommend feeding them a motility agent, such as metoclopramide rather than trying to bath the rabbit and risk stressing it during this delicate period.

  • If your rabbit has poopy butt: STOP FEEDING IT SUGAR and non-timothy based pellets Give it only timothy based products (97% hay) and willow sticks. Use a damp wash cloth to clean the affected area.

  • If your rabbit smells: Ensure it has a clean litter box, and switch to hardwood pellets for bedding.

If all of these options have been exhausted and your rabbit still smells, there is a high probability your rabbit is having health issues, and you should monitor your rabbit closely to ensure it's able to keep up with it's molt, and it's feces are normal sized. If you suspect there is a problem, you should call a vet.

That said, some rabbits, especially males, do have a musky odor that is produced by their sent glands, this can be especially pronounced after your vet, either during an appointment, or during your yearly checkup, cleans the rabbits glands or dried out matter. The smell will usually subside to normal after a few weeks. Moreover, I've never bathed my rabbits, but find that they usually smell "mountain fresh" when they are in good health and properly grooming themselves.

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We also had to bathe our bunny from time to time. He had gotten quite old and wasn't able to clean himself anymore. His bunny wife had died already so she also couldn't help him out. So it was definitely necessary as otherwise all his fur at the back would just become one big matted clump. Apart from that we knew our bunnies quite well and they were very capable of showing if they didn't like something.

I guess the more interesting question would be what is going on in the brains of all those people discussing about that topic.

Anyway here is our bunny in the bath: http://youtu.be/xYdYV7Ce-I4

  • Our oldest bunny (11 Years) is in similar condition, he also has his front legs out to the side, and is very tolerant of handling much like yours. We have also had to bath him like that, though we don't use soap. I have heard that soap, even baby shampoo can be to harsh. What kind of soap are you using? – James Jenkins May 7 '14 at 0:07
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My bunny is 6 years old, and for the last year he's needed periodic baths because he has extreme poopy butt. Until then, Bunnie never got baths. I hate bathing him because I know it upsets him, but if I don't he'll have a very large, matted, stinking ball of poop stuck to his butt. I've taken him to two vets and neither could figure out his problem. He eats only timothy hay, green leaf or romaine lettuce and carrots. Sometimes he gets a snack with his younger sister (only a year old). We've tried giving him pain killers because we thought maybe he has back issues, but he's just not eating his cecotropes.

Anyway, I use a mild small animal shampoo I bought at the pet store in lukewarm water. I hold him in the bathroom sink and gently try to massage the poop off his butt & tail. Once that's off, I clean the area of debris and rinse with cooler water. Then I wrap him in microfiber towels and hold him in my lap next to the space heater as long as he'll let me. He'd rather dry himself so I let him go when I no longer see water dripping from him.

  • It sounds like you are only getting his but wet where the poop is, if so that is good. – James Jenkins Feb 9 '15 at 19:55
  • The most common cause of not eating cecotropes is feeding to high of a food value diet. See related Are carrots a healthy part of a rabbit diet? also you don't mention feeding any pellets to your rabbit, if you are feeding pellets you may want consider limiting those as well. – James Jenkins Feb 9 '15 at 20:01
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    i find this fine but could you have research related to the question? – Derrick K. Feb 10 '15 at 1:34

protected by Zaralynda Mar 25 '15 at 20:50

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