Rabbit Shedding (Molting)
Rabbit shedding (molting) occurs about every 3 months. Shedding is a natural process in all animals and it cannot be stopped. Rabbits are adorable creatures who deserve extra care during this time. Every alternate time they have a light shedding that may not be very noticeable, and the next time they have a heavy shedding. They shed their coat as a way to adjust to warmer and cooler temperatures. This results in rabbits growing a thick fur coat to keep warm in the winter, and then shedding it for a thinner coat in the summer. It means the rabbit can regulate their body temperature to keep from developing hypothermia or heatstroke.
Young rabbits will have a slightly different shedding pattern because the adult coat has not grown in yet. Baby rabbits have a very soft fluffy coat that will be replaced by a transitional coat when they are around 5-6 months old. You won't notice a whole lot of shedding during this time though, since bunnies are still growing and won't need to completely shed their baby coat to grow their transitional coat.
During the next 6 months to a year, as the bunny reaches adulthood, the transitional coat will develop into an adult coat. Only after this point will your rabbit start to have their normal seasonal moltings during spring and autumn.
Rabbits shed A LOT during seasonal moltings! For many people, this is an unexpected part of rabbit care. Sometimes there is just so much fur that it makes you wonder, is this normal? Should a rabbit really be shedding this much? You can brush your short fur rabbit about 2-3 times a week and a long fur rabbit can be brushed every 2 days. Because rabbit skin is extremely delicate, brush very gently and only in the same direction as the fur grows.
Rabbit molting seasons can last anywhere from 2-6 weeks. On the shorter end, you will be dealing with a whirlwind of fluff as your rabbit sheds its entire coat in a very short period of time. If the season lasts for 6 weeks, then you are more likely to be dealing with a steady stream of fur, but not quite as much all at once. It will start off slow, then ramp up around the middle of the shedding period.
In the last couple of weeks, you will notice a steady decrease in fur as the rabbit finishes losing their old coat. Often you can see darker skin where the new fur is growing in.
Tools You Can Use
All grooming tools must be used very gently because rabbit skin is VERY fragile.
- Soft brush for general grooming
- Fine-toothed comb with rounded tips for longer-haired rabbits
- Rubber brush or glove with rubber nubs
- Lint roller swiped over the coat from front to back
During the height of molting when the fur is starting to shed from the bulk of their body, you may notice a change in your sweet rabbit's behavior. They can get defensive, moody, grumpy, and aggressive. This is when the rabbit's skin is most sensitive. Bunnies have fragile skin so be very gentle when brushing.
When a rabbit is shedding, they don't want to be held. They get feisty and you may find that the rabbit will barely let you touch it at this time. This means a couple of weeks of no cuddling with your rabbit.
The only time that you should be touching them is when you are grooming with a very soft brush (they love this!) at least once a day. Otherwise, the fur will become more difficult to manage during the shedding process. You will also need to be incredibly gentle when you are running the brush over the rabbit’s skin. This will ensure that your rabbit is in the minimum amount of pain when it is molting.
Dampen a cloth or paper towel and gently rub this over the body of your bunny rabbit to help remove loose hair. For some rabbits, it might be better than using a brush.
Typically the shedding seasons will happen 3 months apart, but the exact timing will vary a lot depending on where you live. Many factors, such as temperature and amount of sunlight, can let a rabbit's body know when it is time to shed its coat. To know which months would be most normal for your rabbit to shed, think about the weather in your area. What time of year does it start to warm up in your area?
When your rabbit sheds, you will likely see a tide line separating the new coat from the old coat. Typically they will shed their coat starting at their head and ending with their backside. While most of the time rabbits will have a nice, shiny, and sleek coat, rabbits can all of a sudden start to look shaggy during shedding seasons. There will be fur flying with tufts of fur sticking out of the rabbit's coat, and they will often have an uneven coat color as well. They look so raggedy that if this is your first time experiencing a rabbit molting season, you may think your rabbit has a health problem.
But after a while, you start to notice a pattern in your rabbit's shedding. Usually, it will start along their forehead and jaw. Your hand will come away with a little bit of fur on it. You may even see a fur line on their forehead that marks the difference between the new and old coats. Sometimes the shedding cycle will get stuck at this point, and you will notice your rabbit's face and back have changed to the new coat, but your rabbits' butt and sides will still have thick tufts of fur.
Some rabbits dislike being brushed, so you may have to resort to lightly grasping with your fingers (plucking), loose pieces of your rabbit's fur when you are petting to help them finish shedding their coat. You don't want to grasp too hard or pull too much -you just want the fur that is ready to come out to come loose.
As the shedding season continues, the shed line will continue down their back, and then down their sides. This is when you will see the most fur flying around the room. Every time you pet your rabbit, you will see little clumps of fur fall away from your hands. Often fur that is ready to come out is white in color.
Rabbits Blowing Their Coat
Instead of having a normal shedding pattern where they lose their coats in a predictable line down the body, some rabbits lose it all at once. It's not very common and is referred to as "blowing their coat". If a rabbit is losing its coat like this, it will shed big chunks of its fur at a time. It can result in rabbits having temporary bald patches in their coats.
If the fur in the bald patches starts to grow back within a few days (usually a little darker than the fur that was lost), then this is perfectly fine, and your rabbit will regrow its coat. However, if the bald patch does not start to regrow fur, or looks red and irritated, then this is likely a sign of illness in your rabbit. If you have any doubt, contact your veterinarian for an appointment to make sure your rabbit does not have any underlying health conditions.
Why Does My Rabbit Shed All Year Long?
Some rabbits will seem to shed all year-round instead of in normal seasons. Sometimes this occurs because of either too much artificial light or not enough natural sunlight. If you keep your rabbit in a room that doesn't get much natural sunlight or you keep a fluorescent room light on until late in the night, it can confuse your rabbit's sense of what time of year it is. This, combined with a relatively constant indoor temperature, results in a rabbit shedding pretty much year-round.
The other reason rabbits might shed all year is genetics. Rabbits born as the result of too much inbreeding can have a problem with their ability to sense the amount of light in a day.
Shedding all the time is not a significant health risk to rabbits. Your rabbit will always be shedding, so there will always be fur flying around. There is not much you can do if your rabbit has a genetic problem, but you may be able to help your rabbit regain a natural seasonal molting- by placing them in a room that gets natural light and reduce the amount of artificial light they receive.
- Try to brush your rabbit's coat once or twice a day.
- Clean bedding at least twice a week, as loose hair will gather in their nest.
- Wash all food and water bowls daily. You do not want your bunny rabbit ingesting loose hair.
- If you use blankets in your rabbit bedding area, launder these regularly during the shedding process.
Problem Fur Loss
Not all fur loss is the result of shedding. Sometimes it can be a health concern. Many of these health problems will involve bald patches. However, since rabbits can sometimes lose fur in big clumps, bald patches are not always the most accurate symptom to look out for. Health problems with fur loss and bald patches include: crusty skin, dandruff, inflammation or swelling, open sores, and excessive itching.
Health Issues Can Cause Fur Loss
Parasites like fleas and mites, or fungal infections like ringworm are possible culprits for abnormal fur loss in rabbits. The good news is that most of these infestations are easily treatable with some simple medications. Talk to your veterinarian to diagnose the problem and for instructions on which medications to use that are safe for rabbits.
Ear mites and mange will cause fur loss and painful crusting skin around the rabbit's eyes, nose, and ears. The skin will also be inflamed and more prone to infection. Fur mites have a subtle effect that will look like flakes or dandruff on the skin and can cause bald patches and excessive itching.
Fleas are usually not as obvious a problem as mites. In small amounts, fleas will be difficult to detect at all. However, a severe flea infection will cause significant itching and scratching, which will eventually lead to fur loss in the rabbit.
Ringworm is a fungal infection that looks like a round bald patch in the fur with slightly irritated skin. Ringworm in rabbits can also cause some small red bumps. Ask your veterinarian who will prescribe medication to use for your rabbit. The creams that humans use to help with ringworm are not safe for rabbits.
If your rabbit is losing fur on the area under their chin and on their chest, it may be the result of saliva burn. This is when a rabbit is drooling, causing the area under its chin to be wet all the time. Wet fur and skin can cause a lot of irritation and itchiness, which will result in fur loss, rashes, or sores. Saliva burn is caused by dental problems in rabbits. Healthy rabbits do not drool, but when they have health problems, such as overgrown teeth, then the rabbit will not be able to close their mouth correctly. This creates drool, that irritates the skin under their chin. Other symptoms of saliva burn include a change in eating habits. Since the rabbit is experiencing some dental issues, it will struggle to eat. You may find that your rabbit refuses to eat any hay at all or is constantly dropping food out of its mouth.
Urine scald occurs on the underside of a rabbit and around their hind legs when rabbit pee collects on the fur and skin. Like saliva burn, this will eventually cause irritation and rashes to occur on the skin in that area. This is usually caused by a urinary tract infection or similar conditions that cause the rabbit to dribble urine down their legs.
Rabbits who are disabled, obese, or elderly, may have a problem with urine scald. Urine scald occurs when urine is left to soak on a rabbit's body, causing severe urine burn, skin inflammation, and hair loss.
Rabbits can also contract a bacterial skin infection that will cause fur loss. This is most likely to occur in rabbits that live in humid climates because excess water on a rabbit's fur can lead to irritation and infection. An infection can also result from a minor injury or cut, so it's best to keep an eye on any damaged skin closely to make sure there aren't any further health complications.
Sometimes fur loss will be the result of overgrooming. This can be a form of obsessive grooming, or a rabbit grooming their bonded partner too much. Overgrooming is not normal behavior. It is usually a sign of boredom or stress in rabbits.
Other than fur loss, there are usually not many other symptoms present, so unless you can watch your rabbit's behavior closely, it may be difficult to diagnose. If you think your rabbit is stressed, move to a quiet and calm environment so they won't be scared all the time. If your rabbit is bored, it may need more time out of its enclosure to explore and exercise - make sure its enclosure is large enough. Giving your rabbit a variety of toys will also help keep them occupied during the day.
Rabbits will lick themselves to stay clean. This means that during a heavy shedding season, your rabbit will inevitably be ingesting a lot of fur. For a healthy rabbit, this is okay because the fur will be able to make its way through the rabbit's digestive system. But if your rabbit is ill or not eating a healthy diet, all that fur could end up forming a blockage in your rabbit's stomach or digestive tract. Since rabbits cannot vomit to get the hairball out of their system, this can quickly become a very dangerous condition for your rabbit.
- Your bunny should have plenty of fresh water in a bowl instead of a water bottle because it's more natural for rabbits to drink from a bowl. This will encourage them to drink more.
- Rabbits should always have access to unlimited fresh hay. The high fiber content in hay keeps their digestive tract running smoothly.
- Brush your rabbit frequently because this will help to remove some of the excess fur so your rabbit won't be eating it.
- When rabbits start to ingest a lot of fur, you will start to see it in their poop. Their normal fecal droppings will be linked together by strands of fur. If you notice a lot of these linked poops, you will want to brush your rabbit more frequently so that they are eating less fur.