My Rabbit Is Shedding a Lot
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Do you pet your rabbit and find there is a lot of hair stuck to your hand? Especially with long haired rabbits, some loss of hair is normal. In fact, we need to brush our rabbit regularly to ensure we remove any dead hair which might be in their coat. This will happen more during the molting season, a time when the rabbit will lose hair for an important reason.
At AnimalWised, we explain everything you need to know about a rabbit's molting season. We also let you know whether something is wrong if your rabbit is shedding a lot.
What is shedding in rabbits?
Molting is a process which can happen to various animals. In mammals it is the term used for the loss of hair, but it can happen in other animal groups also. For example, birds can lose their feathers or reptiles shed their skin. All mammals will shed hair, even human beings. However, they don't always do it to the same degree. Even within a single species, there is often a lot of variation in how much an animal will shed.
The reason for rabbit shedding is to help regulate their body temperature and adapt to seasonal changes. They will usually do it twice a year, but in many animals it is a process which can go on unnoticed. This is not the case with most rabbits. They can shed a lot and it can seem to happen very suddenly. They may even leave patches of fur in the places they lie down for any length of time.
The most visible molt for rabbits is in spring when temperatures start to rise. This is because they are shedding their dense undercoat which they no longer need in the warmer months. They are essentially changing their heavy winter coat for a light summer jacket. When the summer ends and the temperatures start to drop, their coats will change again. This time the lighter hair will be replaced by more insulating winter fur.
Although it may take some time for us to notice, rabbit shedding does not happen all at once. It is a process which increases in increments and phases. It will depend a lot on the region and climate. For example, in some places October can still be very warm, whereas the temperature can be near freezing in others. Regardless, we still need to take care of their coat through brushing and to ensure we take proper care of them in winter.
How long does rabbit shedding season last?
The duration of a rabbit's molt will vary according to the individual. Various factors influence the length of their shedding season, including their breed. In some cases, it can take as little as 2 days, in others it could be a matter of weeks. Most rabbits should lose their hair progressively, but it is possible they will have patches or spots of thinner hair. This is particularly so if they are petted in a certain place and hair is removed by us. This is normal during shedding and shouldn't be a cause for concern.
In fact, you can use petting to determine if your rabbit is in shedding season. Although you may experience some hair coming out when petting your rabbit at any time of year, it will be particularly noticeable during their molt. Not only will you see hair coming out when you stroke them, but there will be hair on the floor after they lie down and you will be able to see some in their feces. You may even see the pellets of a rabbit's feces be strung together by digested hair.
The reason there is hair in a rabbit's feces during shedding is because they swallow more dead hair while grooming themselves. If the appearance of your rabbit's poop is healthy and normal, it is a good indication they are not having a problem. However, there are some complications which can occur during their molt, especially when they are shedding a lot. We explain what these may be below.
Rabbit shedding risk factors
While we will always need to be on the lookout for symptoms of the most common rabbit diseases, molting season brings some specific problems. Because they are shedding a lot, the rabbit will have to deal with having extra hair around them. Rabbits groom themselves by licking their fur, but when they do this during shedding, they will inadvertently ingest a lot of it. The same can happen if they end up with a lot of fur on the hay they eat.
When the fur is ingested, it will travel down the rabbit's digestive tract and result in trichobezoars, more commonly known as hairballs. Hair should pass down the digestive tract and be excreted via feces. However, since it cannot be digested, it is possible the hair will collect to a large enough hairball that a blockage is created. If the blockage is large enough, it can be life-threatening.
Tips to avoid hairballs in rabbits
To avoid hairballs, preventive measures should be taken, especially during the shedding season. They include:
- Brush the rabbit: it is essential you brush your rabbit regularly to remove loose hair. In addition to ingesting less hair, they will not drop as much over the ground or furniture, something that is helpful for general hygiene reasons. We should use a brush suitable for our rabbit, usually a slicker brush rather than a comb. These brushes will help to penetrate to the undercoat, especially in longhair rabbits. We may also want to get a special brush to work out knots when your rabbit's hair becomes tangled.
- Provide plenty of hay: so that the hair swallowed during the shedding causes less problems, we can help by providing the correct diet. Fresh hay is not only the ideal and healthiest way to feed rabbits, it also has a positive cleansing effect on the gastrointestinal tract. The fresh grass stimulates digestion and helps gastrointestinal transit, as well as avoiding blockages.
- Malt paste for rabbits: you may have heard that malt paste for cats is a great way to help them avoid shedding, but this can be just the same for rabbits. The only difference is that we need to ensure the ingredients are suitable for rabbit digestion. For this reason, we can buy a malt paste designed specifically for rabbits. This paste helps to encourage intestinal transit.
Is my rabbit shedding too much?
As we have explained above, even though it might seem as if our rabbit is shedding excessively, they will drop a lot of hair. With long haired breeds, especially, it is possible there will be a lot of dead hair around their hutch and any area in which they spend time. It is also possible you will see through to the skin during a heavy shedding.
However, there are other reasons why a rabbit might be losing their hair. For example, there are certain diseases which can cause a rabbit's hair to fall out, either in localized areas or all over the body. These may include:
- Dental problems (if hair loss is localized to mouth area)
- Parasite infestation
- Bacterial infection
- Excessive grooming
- Physical trauma
In these cases, we might see patches of hair on their skin making us think they are shedding a lot. However, this type of shedding is alopecia, another term for hair loss. It is not healthy and is a symptom which will require diagnosis. When a rabbit is stressed, they can also overgroom or pull their fur out with their teeth when they are anxious. Dermatitis and other skin problems can also cause hair to fall out, but these are usually secondary symptoms of an underlying problem.
You can tell the difference between normal shedding (even if they are shedding a lot) by looking at their behavior and for the presence of any other symptoms. Take them to a veterinarian specialized in rabbit care to obtain an accurate diagnosis.
Maintaining a rabbit's fur is only one aspect of their care, something you can learn more about in the video below:
If you want to read similar articles to My Rabbit Is Shedding a Lot, we recommend you visit our Fur care category.