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Rabbit Grooming Basics for Show Rabbits and Pets

Rabbit Grooming – How to Get Your Rabbit Into Show Condition

The preparation for your success at a rabbit show will begin long before show day. Here are some things you’ll need to start doing a couple of months in advance and some things you’ll need to do either the day of or the day before the show to make sure that your rabbit is in the best condition possible when it is placed on the judging table.

Proper Diet Before the Show

Many things go into preparing your rabbit for show – diet, handling your rabbit frequently, practicing posing your rabbit, grooming, and housing.

If you’ll be showing your rabbit, you’ll want to make sure that it is eating a top quality food. I feed mine Manna PRO. I’m very happy with the way it gives them a nice, thick, shiny coat.

I also make sure that they have a small amount of fresh veggies every day. I feed them anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1 cup of fresh veggies.

I also start feeding a grain supplement about a month or so before a show. I feed them about 1/4 cup daily. It includes a tablespoon of BOSS (blackoil sunflower seeds), a tablespoon of Calf Manna (I don’t feed this to them any other time than a month before show because it can make them molt more), and the rest contains a combination of wheat seed, barley seed, and oats. Oats bring your bunnies into good show coat and good muscle tone. They are a heating food, though, so you don’t want your rabbits to eat so much of it that it makes them molt like they do when it’s hot outside. That’s why I try to limit the overall mix that I give my bunnies to 1/4 cup daily.

Another supplement that some rabbit show breeders feed their bunnies is Lucerne Chaff. It has a very high protein content, however, so you need to be careful not to feed them so much that they plump up or go into molt. Pea Vine and Clover Chaff is another good one that will help their show coat. It is not quite as high in protein as Lucerne Chaff, but you’ll still need to watch how much you feed your rabbits.

Yet another supplement that some rabbit owners give to their show rabbits is Doc’s Rabbit Enhancer supplement feed.

Clean Rabbits

You really need to make sure that your rabbits are housed in a clean environment on a continual basis. Not only will it keep them healthier, it will keep their fur cleaner.
Judges do not like grubby looking feet with stains all over them. If you house your rabbits in wire bottom cages that have a plank board in them to rest on, this will keep their fur out of their excrement and urine, and it will also allow them a small place to lie down off the wire.
Rabbits kept in cages with a plastic bottom will have a much harder time staying clean and dry. Wood shavings can get soggy, and plastic bottom cages allow urine to pool up.
While some people will claim that keeping rabbits on wire bottom cages is cruel, they don’t take into consideration the different needs rabbits have depending upon the length of their coats. Long  coated rabbits tend to have fur that mats up easily, and when their fur is resting on wet hay or wood shavings, it knots up and clumps more quickly. So, it can actually be more painful and less sanitary for a rabbit of this fur type to be in a plastic-bottom cage.

Brushing a Show or Pet Rabbits

Rabbits have different kinds of fur – rollback, flyback, rex, satin, standing, and wool. It’s very important when you select a breed of rabbit that you make sure you have time to keep that breed of rabbit groomed properly. Some rabbits require much more daily grooming than others in order to keep their hair free of knots and mats. Wool breeds, in particular, require a lot of maintenance.

ARBA (the American Rabbit Breeders Association) is very strict about the grooming of rabbits at show. The ARBA Standard of Perfection states that “No substance can be added to a rabbit’s coat that will alter it at a show.”

Never use these on your rabbit right before or the day of the show because they leave a foreign substance on the fur that judges can see or feel, and it will get your rabbit disqualified from the show:

  • Conditioners
  • Oils
  • Show Sheen
  • Luster oil
  • Dry shampoo because it can strip the coat of its natural oils
  • Corn starch mixed with water – don’t use the day of the show because it might leave a residue on the coat that could result in a disqualification.
  • Vinegar – don’t use the day of the show because of the odor. It qualifies as a foreign substance, so it might get your rabbit disqualified.
  • Powder
  • Grooming chalk
  • Grooming lotions

ARBA does not allow oils or conditioners to be added to a rabbit’s coat because they add a sheen-like appearance and an artificial, denser feel, which could give the rabbit an unfair advantage.

Water is the best thing to use the day of the show. You can use it to wipe off the coat, remove loose hairs, and reduce static. Plus, it won’t strip the hair of its natural oils and luster.

Quick Clean can be used to remove stains, is odorless, and is fine to use right before the show. It does not leave a residue that will qualify as a foreign substance.

Do not EVER, EVER, EVER give your rabbit a bath unless it is for a very extreme case of pest infestations such as fleas, is caked with mud, or something like that. If your rabbit has stuff matted into its fur, you’re better off trimming or shaving it out than trying to give it a bath. Rabbit’s fur will hold onto water for days even if you towel dry and blow it out with a hair dryer. Bathing a rabbit also strips the fur of all natural oils, and it can take months before it looks normal again.

Rubbing a damp cloth over your rabbit will remove excess hairs, and it will work on rollback, flyback, standing, rex, and satin fur. With the exception of wool fur types, you can use a damp wash rag or towel and rub it forward and backwards over your rabbit, OR you can just wet your hands and use them. It needs to be a barely damp rag, though, so that the fur texture won’t be altered (you don’t want your Rex fur to curl up on you if it gets too wet).

Black slick and easy stones can help remove excessive and loose hairs too.

Not all rabbit breeds need to be brushed.  If you have a rabbit breed with a short, slick, flyback coat, they usually do not need to be brushed, and you might even damage their hair if you brush them too much.

Rollback coated breeds like Netherland Dwarfs and Holland Lops have thicker and longer fur that needs to be brushed or combed sometimes.

Wooled breeds like Angoras, Jersey Woolies, and American Fuzzy Lops need more thorough grooming on a frequent basis.

Do not use a brush on a Rex. For my Rex, all I use is a very fine tooth hacksaw blade to remove hairs and a fine pumice stone to buff out the fur coat and give it a bit of a shine.

For your other rabbits, you can use a 4″ rabbit brush (or cat slicker) on your rabbit’s coat. Try to remove as much of the dead hair as possible. For smaller rabbits, you can use a small cat brush with softer bristles on it.

It is easier to see the dead hairs on a darker colored rabbit because as they start to die, the color fades to the point that it can almost resemble a different colored rabbit. These dead hairs need to be removed for showing. Faded hair color will receive negative comments from the judge.

You also want to make sure that any dried poop pellets, knots, hay, or anything else in their fur is brushed out. If they won’t come out with a brush, you might need to try the following to remove them.

How to Remove Mats From Rabbit Fur

If your rabbit has mats, here is how you can get them out:

  • Separate the mats using your fingers to separate them from each other. If you can separate them a little bit, it won’t hurt the rabbit as much as you comb them out.
  • Use a comb to try to brush them out. Start at the ends of the hair and comb just a little at a time.
  • Continue to use your fingers to separate them.
  • Your very last resort is to cut out the mats with a pair of scissors. I have also used a widget to cut just below the mat into the hair. It doesn’t pull on the hair as bad as scissors, but you have to get someone else to hold the rabbit for you so that you can keep one hand on the mats and the other shaving away the good hair from the mat.

Typically, mats will show up around the neck (or in the dewlap for a Rex), around the bottom where hay and poop pellets can get trapped inside a mat of hair, and around their chin. So, be sure to check in each of these areas.

How to Give Your Rabbit a Blow Out With a Hair Dryer

Blow outs with the hair dryer help remove loose hair and dirt, and it really fluffs up your rabbit by opening the coat up. Be careful if you’re wearing contacts, though, because the blow dryer might blow hair and dirt right into your eyes.

A very popular brand of rabbit blower is the Metro Blower.

Adding a Final Grooming Touch

Once you’ve dampened the hair of your rabbit, brushed/combed it, blown it out with a blow dryer, dampened the hair again to remove any last stray hairs, rub the hair down with a piece of silk. This will give the hair an extra gleam.

How to Remove Stains from Rabbit Fur

There are several things you can try to remove stains from your rabbit’s coat:

  • Equal amounts of water and white vinegar with cornstarch (pre-show)
  • Peroxide or white alcohol (day of show or pre-show)
  • Classicoat – a rinseless rabbit shampoo (pre-show)

Before you try anything else, try using either peroxide or white alcohol by applying it to a rag and then rubbing the stained fur with the rag. Peroxide and white alcohol are preferred the day of the show because they do not leave a smell or residue, and remember that no foreign substance can be noticeably present on the rabbit at judging.

Mixing together equal parts water and white vinegar is your next possible solution. Mix this in a spray bottle and spray it directly onto the stained area, and then work it into the stain with a washcloth. If that doesn’t remove the stain, get some cornstarch and mix it in as well with your fingers. Once the stain is gone, brush out the cornstarch with your fingers. The problem with using this method is that the vinegar smell stays on the rabbit and so does the cornstarch residue. So, it’s best to use this method the day before the show so that you have plenty of time for the smell to dissipate and for the hair to dry so that you can use a damp cloth to rub out any cornstarch residue that was left behind.

As a last ditch effort, you can try using a rinse-less rabbit shampoo with a whitener like Classicoat. You’ll want to spray the stain and use a towel to massage the fur, then towel dry it. You’ll need to blow out the rabbit to dry the hair, and then rebrush the area. This is one of those treatments that you’ll want to start a day or two before the show, because your rabbit’s fur might not dry the right way at first.

How To Clip Rabbit Toe Nails

Trimming a rabbit’s toenails can be extremely nerve-wracking. They have to be turned over on their back, you have to hold a paw (and the rabbit will use this to its advantage to turn back over the right way), and then you have to clip their nail, hoping not to make it bleed. And, trust me. When a rabbit’s nail starts bleeding, sometimes it seems like it won’t ever stop bleeding.

Try to clip their nails at home before the rabbit show, if at all possible. But, if you don’t have time and will be trimming them at the show, make sure that you bring styptic powder (Cardinal Laboratories Remedy and Recovery Professional Groomer’s Styptic Powder for Pets, 1.5-Ounce) with you.

Start out with the right toe nail clippers. This is what I use – Whisker Wishes Veterinarian Grade Pet Clippers

First, flip your rabbit over and either cradle him like a baby in your arms or have someone help you hold him on his back on the grooming table by supporting his head and holding him on his back.

You’ll need to hold onto one paw with one hand, and pull back the fur and clip beyond the quick of the nail. On a white nail, it’s pretty easy to see where the quick starts. It’s the pink part of their nail. Only clip the white part, and don’t get too near the quick because they still might start bleeding if you do.

On dark nails, they’re a little trickier to trim. I’ve found that it’s easiest to have one of my kids hold a flashlight up to their claws, and then you can see the quick a little easier.

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If you do cut the nails too deeply, they will bleed quite a bit. I have tried using flour and cornstarch to stop the bleeding, and it never works. As soon as the flour or cornstarch falls off, the blood starts up again.

Styptic powder is much faster and more effective at stopping the bleeding.

If the nails are very long, you might just trim a little bit back, and the quick will recede a little. Then, check the following week.

Rabbits have a thumb nail on the front feet, but not on the back feet. Don’t forget this one.

All of the nails will start to curve if you don’t keep them trimmed. And, if you’ve been negligent and let them get this long, it may take several weeks of staying on top of it and re-trimming the nails before they get back to the proper length.

Particularly for Rex, which are prone to sore hocks, it is very important to keep the nails trimmed. If the nails get too long, Rex will lean back on their hocks to take the pressure off of their toenails. Because they are a heavier rabbit, this causes the fur to rub thin on their hocks, and they can develop a sore spot that might bleed.

If this happens, Preparation H rubbed on the sore hock two times per day for about 3 or 4 days will heal it right up. The fur will take a couple of weeks to grow back. But, if you don’t trim up the nails, the sore hocks will come right back.

That’s about it as far as getting your rabbit ready to present to the judge! If you’ve been practicing posing your rabbit prior to the show, have it groomed, and know when your breed is supposed to be called, you’re all ready for your rabbit(s) to be judged.

Related Posts:

  1. Entering a Rabbit Show
  2. Show Checklist
  3. What to do Before Judging Begins
  4. Rabbit Grooming Basics
  5. The Judging Order Within the Breed
  6. How a Rabbit is Judged
  7. How to Win Best in Show

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