Fluffy tufts of fur drifting through the air. Your beloved rabbit leaves a trail of fluff in her wake. But when she starts looking ragged with bald patches, you worry. Why is she pulling out her own fur? The reasons may surprise you. From natural nest-building behaviors to signals of stress, rabbits have complex motivations behind this common habit. Excessive fur plucking can also indicate medical issues needing a vet’s care. There are solutions to keep your bunny from plucking herself bald. This article delves into the mysteries of rabbits’ hair-raising grooming and barbering behaviors. Learn what’s normal and what flags a real problem needing your intervention. Get ready for some fur-raising revelations!
Rabbit is Barbering
Rabbits groom themselves multiple times a day and ingest some of the fur they pull out in the process. This is completely normal rabbit behavior called barbering. However, excessive fur pulling and bald spots can indicate an underlying issue. There are several potential reasons a rabbit may be barbering excessively:
Bored or Stressed
One of the most common reasons for over-grooming in rabbits is boredom or stress. Rabbits are highly intelligent, social animals that need mental stimulation and exercise. A lack of enrichment in their environment can cause them to focus obsessively on grooming as a way to occupy themselves. Stress from changes in their environment, lack of companionship, or fear can also trigger obsessive fur pulling. Providing toys, puzzle feeders, digging boxes, tunnels, and other enrichments can help redirect this behavior into healthy activities. Slow introductions to any changes in their routine reduce stress. Bonding them with other neutered rabbits also provides companionship and entertainment. Monitoring their behavior and environment and identifying stressors is key to stopping over-grooming.
Too Much Fur
Some rabbit breeds, like Angoras and Jersey Woolies, have been selectively bred to have long, dense fur. This profuse coat can cause discomfort, tangles, and difficulty grooming thoroughly. These heavily furred rabbits often need help maintaining their coat with regular brushing, fur trims, or even shaving of the backside. Working with an experienced rabbit groomer is recommended. Providing moistening agents like coconut oil can also help loosen excess fur and prevent matting. Without proper coat maintenance, thickly furred rabbits may resort to pulling out clumps of fur themselves to relieve discomfort.
Allergies, skin parasites like mange, fungal or bacterial infections, or other dermatological issues can cause itching, flaking, and irritation for rabbits. The discomfort may lead them to excessively groom, bite, scratch, or pull out fur in an attempt to relieve the sensation. Bald patches and broken hairs from over-grooming can result. Consulting an exotic veterinarian to diagnose and treat any underlying skin condition is important. Medicated shampoos, anti-inflammatory medications, or other treatments may be prescribed to address the root cause and allow the fur and skin to heal. Any parasites must also be thoroughly eliminated from their environment to prevent reinfestation.
Rabbits who over-groom due to boredom, stress, or physical discomfort require adjustments to their environment and routine to redirect the obsessive fur pulling and prevent bald spots. Providing proper housing, enrichment, social bonding, grooming assistance, and veterinary care can get compulsive barbering under control. With diligent attention to their behavioral and medical needs, rabbits can live happy, healthy lives.
Rabbit Building Nest with Her Fur
It's natural for mother rabbits to pull out their own fur to create soft, warm nests for their young. They typically give birth in underground burrows and construct nests with materials they can gather in their environment. A doe just prior to kindling will begin shedding more fur than usual and gathering it in one spot to build a nest. This maternal instinct ensures their babies will be insulated and protected after they arrive.
Fluffing Up a Fur Lined Nest
The doe plucks large amounts of her own belly, chest, and thigh fur, resulting in significant bald patches in these areas. She gathers the fur into a pile, carrying mouthfuls of it to her selected nesting spot. Using her front paws, she fluffs and arranges the fur into a hollow, bowl-shaped nest. The doe completes the structure by firmly pounding the walls with her hind feet. This felting process mats the fur into a dense, warm lining. The end result is a soft, weather-resistant nest providing security and temperature regulation for the vulnerable newborn kits.
Nest Building Behaviors
Nesting behaviors start about 24-48 hours prior to kindling and continue until the babies arrive. Along with shedding fur, the expectant doe may become more aggressive in guarding her space during this time. She will also search for the most secure site available to build her nest and may even dig at the flooring or bedding. Providing her with an enclosed nest box lined with bedding gives an appropriate outlet for these instincts. She will rapidly collect the materials into a cozy sanctuary for the impending birth.
Preparing a Proper Nest Box
For does that give birth in domestic settings, caretakers should provide an appropriate nest box 1-2 weeks ahead of the due date. A plastic tub or cardboard box lined with hay or shredded paper bedding makes ideal nesting material. It allows the natural nesting behaviors while containing the mess of loose fur. Supplying hay or straw for additional warmth is also recommended. The doe will be highly motivated to gather and arrange the nest box contents as her maternal instincts kick in leading up to kindling.
A rabbit building a fur nest is simply exhibiting the innate nurturing behaviors that wild rabbits rely on to ensure their offspring's protection from the elements. Providing nesting materials for a house rabbit soon to give birth satisfies these instincts and facilitates a clean, safe environment for the new family. Monitoring her during this time will also help ensure the babies transition into the world as healthy and thriving as possible.
Rabbit Pulling Fur Out of Another Rabbit
While grooming and plucking loose fur from each other is a common social behavior between bonded rabbits, excessively pulling out tufts of fur or causing bald spots crosses the line into aggression. There are a few key reasons one rabbit may start attacking the fur of another:
My Female Rabbit is Pulling Fur Out of a Male
If your female rabbit is aggressively pulling out clumps of fur from a male companion, she is likely unspayed and experiencing raging hormones related to the breeding drive. Unaltered rabbits will mount, circle, and fight other rabbits in an attempt to establish dominance and win a mate. The female will attack the most vulnerable areas she can grasp, often the male's face, rump, and back fur. Adding to the fur-pulling, mounting behavior can further irritate and inflame the skin. Spaying your female rabbit is the most effective way to curb this behavior and allow her to live peacefully with a desexed male companion. Consult with your veterinarian about the appropriate age to schedule her spay surgery.
My Male Rabbit is Pulling Fur Out of a Female
Similarly, if your male rabbit is obsessively plucking out your female's fur, he is most likely unneutered. The testosterone-fueled breeding drive will cause him to try establishing dominance over nearby rabbits, even if they are already desexed. He may fur pull, mount, circle, and exhibit other aggressive behaviors. Neutering your male at around 4-6 months old will reduce the territorial behaviors and hormones fueling the attacks on your female rabbit. Post-neuter, he has a much better chance of bonding peacefully with your spayed female once the hormones dissipate.
Sometimes even after spay/neuter, a bonded pair of rabbits may start to fur pull and fight with each other. The cause is usually difficulties in their relationship. Stress from changes in environment, routine, or owners can disrupt a previously harmonious bond. Or tentative bonds between newly introduced rabbits can break down despite earlier signs of progress. Re-starting the bonding process in a neutral space, providing stress-relief measures, and intervening at the first signs of discord are keys to re-establishing a peaceful relationship. Consulting a rabbit-savvy veterinarian or trainer may also help facilitate a successful re-bond or bond between a difficult pair.
While some gentle mutual fur plucking while grooming bonded rabbits is normal, aggressively pulling out tufts of fur is not. The cause is often related to territorial behaviors and raging hormones in unaltered rabbits. Spaying females and neutering males, in addition to carefully bonding them, can allow rabbits to live together without inflicting damage on each other. With patience and effort, even rabbits with turbulent past relationships can often learn to groom each other without needing to dominate and attack.