What’s that mysterious flap of skin hanging beneath your rabbit’s chin? While it may look like a strange growth, the dewlap actually serves many important purposes for rabbits! This distinctive feature helps regulate temperature, aids communication, and assists mother rabbits when nesting and nursing. Rabbits use their dewlaps in fascinating ways. But dewlaps also require special care and grooming to stay healthy. Improper care can lead to issues like skin infections, parasites, and urine scald. Discover everything you need to know about the amazing dewlap! From why rabbits have them to how to keep them healthy, this article will take you in depth on dewlap facts and care for happy, healthy rabbits.
What’s the Purpose of a Dewlap in Rabbits?
The dewlap is the loose fold of skin that hangs from the neck of domestic rabbits. It serves several important purposes for rabbits. Here are some of the main functions of the dewlap:
Temperature regulation – The dewlap helps rabbits regulate their body temperature. When rabbits get too warm, increased blood flow to the dewlap helps cool them down through evaporative cooling. The large surface area of the dewlap facilitates heat loss.
Communication – Rabbits use their dewlap to communicate with each other. An excited or angry rabbit may stiffen its dewlap to make itself look bigger and more threatening. A receptive female rabbit may expose her dewlap to signal mating readiness to male rabbits. The dewlap can convey a range of emotions and signals.
Nest lining – Mother rabbits pull fur from their dewlap to line their nests when preparing to give birth. The fur provides insulation, warmth and comfort for the newborn kits. Rabbits are very meticulous about lining their nests properly before kindling.
Nursing – Some theories suggest the dewlap gives extra skin surface for newborn rabbits to suckle from the mother when nursing. The loose skin may allow them to get a better latch. However, rabbits can nurse without issue without a dewlap.
Gripping – When mating, male rabbits often grip the female's dewlap in their teeth. The extra skin gives them something to grab onto. Some dominant female rabbits may also grip the dewlap when asserting dominance.
Aesthetics – For domestic rabbit breeds, the dewlap is seen as an attractive and desirable feature. Certain breeds have been selectively bred to have very large, prominent dewlaps for show purposes.
So in summary, the dewlap serves many important functions related to temperature regulation, communication, reproduction and nesting behaviors in rabbits. It's an integral part of the rabbit's anatomy.
Rabbit Breeds with Dewlaps
Many domestic rabbit breeds possess dewlaps, while wild rabbits typically do not. Here are some of the most common domestic rabbit breeds with distinctive dewlaps:
English Lop – This breed has the longest dewlap of any rabbit. It can reach up to 12 inches in length. The dewlap drapes heavily on both sides of the neck.
Flemish Giant – This large breed has a heavily furred double dewlap that is very pronounced. It is a distinguishing feature of the breed.
French Lop – French lops have loose skin giving them prominent folds around the neck and shoulders. The dewlap is an important show feature.
Holland Lop – A medium-large dewlap is desirable in holland lops. The dewlap hangs close to the chest.
New Zealand – This breed has a well-developed dewlap that should be evident but not oversized.
English Angora – A pronounced dewlap with long fur is typical in English angoras. It frames the chest.
American Chinchilla – American chinchillas have a loose fold of skin under the neck that forms a small dewlap.
Himalayan – This breed has a small dewlap that lies close to the throat. It should not be too exaggerated.
Californian – A dewlap is present but not considered a defining characteristic of Californian rabbits.
So most domestic rabbits will have a dewlap to some degree. But the largest and most distinctive dewlaps are found in breeds like the English lop, Flemish giant and French lop. The dewlap is an important feature in rabbit shows.
Do Male Rabbits Have Dewlaps?
Yes, both male and female domestic rabbits normally have dewlaps. The dewlap is not sex-specific.
Wild rabbits, like cottontails and jackrabbits, do not have prominent dewlaps. But in domestic rabbit breeds, males and females alike possess dewlaps.
In general, the size of the dewlap does not differ significantly between males and females of the same breed. Dewlap development is related to genetics, not sex.
However, female rabbits may use their dewlaps more during courtship rituals and when nursing their young. Mother rabbits pull fur from their dewlaps to line their nests.
But males still use their dewlaps for temperature regulation, communication with other rabbits, and gripping females during mating. So the dewlap serves important functions for both male and female rabbits.
Sometimes a very large or inflamed dewlap on a male rabbit can cause sanitary issues if urine soaks into the dewlap skin fold. But with proper hygiene and grooming, the male dewlap itself is not a problem. It's a normal feature found in both sexes.
Does a Dewlap Mean My Rabbit is Overweight?
Not necessarily. A dewlap alone does not indicate that a rabbit is overweight or obese. Many healthy rabbits with ideal body weights still have prominent dewlaps.
However, an overly large or exaggerated dewlap could be a sign of excess fat deposits in an overweight rabbit. Excess fat accumulation can cause the dewlap to become enlarged.
Signs that a dewlap may reflect excess weight include:
Dewlap is pendulous and hangs very low over the chest
Dewlap sags or drags on the ground when hopping
Dewlap has very large fat deposits beneath the skin
Rabbit has generally poor body condition and signs of obesity
Ideally, the dewlap should sit neatly against the chest without excessive sagging or interference with movement. It's normal for breeds like English lops to have long dewlaps, but excess fat will cause it to swing pendulously.
Monitoring your rabbit's dewlap over time provides a rough visual gauge for changes in body condition. But the dewlap alone should not be used to determine if your rabbit is overweight or not. Look at the overall body condition score and health as well.
Hair Pulling in Rabbits
It's normal for mother rabbits to pull fur from their dewlaps when preparing to give birth. But outside of pregnancy, excessive hair pulling from the dewlap can signal an underlying health issue.
Possible causes include:
Parasites – Mites, lice or fleas may cause itching and hair loss in the dewlap.
Fungal or bacterial infections – Ringworm or bacterial infections can lead to skin irritation.
Mites – Fur mites can colonize the dewlap and lead to intense itching, rubbing and hair loss.
Self-trauma – Rabbits under severe stress may pull out their own hair compulsively.
Urinary issues – Urine scald from leaking urine can lead to skin irritation in the dewlap.
Cancer – In rare cases, tumor growth under the dewlap skin can cause itching and hair loss.
Abscess – An abscess under the dewlap can also cause significant irritation.
If your rabbit is excessively grooming its dewlap, contact your veterinarian. Treating the underlying cause, whether parasitic, fungal or behavioral, will stop the hair pulling.
Proper dewlap hygiene is also key. Gently clean the dewlap daily with a damp cloth to prevent skin irritation and infection. Keep the dewlap fur dry and well-groomed.
What Are the Different Health Issues with Dewlaps?
1/ Improper Grooming
Lack of proper dewlap grooming can lead to several health issues, including:
Buildup of dirt, debris and parasites like fur mites
Urine scalding and skin irritation from accumulated urine
Infection from bacterial or fungal overgrowth in dirty, folded skin
Abscess if dirt/debris get trapped within puncture wounds
Fly eggs and maggots during summer months if dewlap stays damp
General discomfort and irritation from skin fold dermatitis
To prevent these issues, gently lift and extend the dewlap daily while grooming your rabbit. Clean with a damp cloth to remove any dirt buildup. Dry thoroughly after bathing. Check for any signs of infection or parasite infestation.
Keeping the dewlap fur trimmed may also help improve air circulation and cleanliness. Cleanliness is vital for healthy dewlap skin and fur.
2/ Wet Dewlap
Keeping the dewlap dry is also extremely important for rabbit health. A chronically damp dewlap can lead to potentially serious skin problems.
Causes of a wet dewlap include:
Urine scald from a leaky bladder or improper litter habits
Accumulation of drinking water on the dewlap
Damp conditions within the living space
Obesity – pendulous dewlap drags on wet surfaces
Liquid medications applied to the skin
Dewlap resting in wet urine or feces
Skin fold dermatitis causing weeping sores
A chronically damp dewlap provides an ideal environment for bacterial and fungal infections to grow. This can cause secondary skin issues like crusting, redness, pain and abscess.
Urine scalding in particular can burn and irritate the delicate dewlap skin. Severe scald may require antibiotics to treat infection.
Monitor your rabbit's dewlap daily for dampness. Gently dry with a clean cloth after exposure to any moisture. Keep housing clean and dry. Address any bladder control issues. And have your veterinarian examine any skin infections.
With proper daily care, most dewlap health issues can be prevented. Pay close attention to this sensitive area of skin for optimal rabbit wellness.