Every once in awhile, the topic of bathing rabbits comes up for discussion. Most of the time, it takes only a few seconds for someone to jump in the ring, yelling “NOOOOOOOOO!”
It is common knowledge among rabbit enthusiasts that rabbits don’t typically enjoy baths. Many have gone as far as saying that rabbits can actually be stressed to the point of shock or death by being submersed in water. A friend of mine, whose word I trust, said he or she did have this happen.
So in general, I would agree that baths are not ideal or necessary for the average rabbit. Rabbits are self-cleaning animals, like cats, and groom themselves often. If their cages are cleaned regularly, rabbits do not smell and their fur does not become greasy. There is really little reason to bathe most rabbits.
On the other hand, there are situations where I don’t hesitate to draw a bunny bath. I’ve known an overly excited buck or two (or three or six) that was coming-of-age and enthusiastically discovered that his male parts can be used to spray urine to mark his territory. There are cases where I’ve been lucky and his aim is outside of the cages. There are also cases where he hits every bowl, bottle, toy, and wall in his cage, then rolls around in it and greets me at his door wearing it all.
Baby Holland Lops are known for an even more offensive phenomenon known as the “poop ball.” I’m not sure what it is about this breed, but they have particularly sensitive digestive systems. Years of babies has taught me valuable lessons in weanling dietary needs, but there is still the occasional baby with an upset system and a ball of originally mushy, now hardened poop cemented to its tail.
These are only two of a novel of situations I could illustrate for you, but I think you’ve gotten the point. Sometimes you just can’t spot clean.
In these instances, it is okay to bathe your rabbit, but it’s important to be careful about the process.
I usually fill the bathtub or a sink with 1″ of warm water. If the surface is slippery, place a washcloth on the bottom so your rabbit’s feet aren’t slipping. With one hand, I hold the head or back down (not with force, just support) while the other hand slowly pours water over or lathers a small amount of mild soap in the affected areas.
Never submerge a rabbit in water.
It might take a few extra minutes to finish rinsing the suds with such a small amount of water, but the rabbits are significantly less stressed out by shallow water. In fact, most are more curious than worried.
When the soaped area are thoroughly rinsed, I removed the rabbit from the water and vigorously rub a dry, fluffy towel into the coat. Rabbit coats are thick, so it’s important to be sure the coat is thoroughly dried before the rabbit is exposed to warm or cool temperatures. Room temperature is best while the coat is drying to prevent chills or heath exhaustion.
In all the years I’ve owned rabbits, I’ve been using this method successfully. If a rabbit seems particularly frightened by the water, I remove them immediately and just spot clean as best I can with a washcloth. But many rabbits are unconcerned or at least tolerant of a quick bath when needed. And sometimes “needed” is an understatement.