Rabbits are naturally clean animals that groom themselves frequently. Apart from regular brushing to prevent the formation of hairballs, they should not normally require any extra bathing. Some pet owners, particularly those who intend to show their rabbits, may want to go an extra step to keep their rabbits smelling fresh and free of dirt.
For these owners, there are a number of commercial dry rabbit shampoos that can simply be brushed through the fur without the need for rinsing. This is important because rabbits, as a rule, should not be bathed. There are several reasons for this. Although there are reports of rabbits who enjoy paddling around the pool, the vast majority will be immensely stressed at being forced into water- enough so that some die of shock after being given a simple bath. Also, rabbits have extremely fine, dense fur that will take a very long time to dry out on its own. This means that, once the rabbit is wet, it must be dried off as soon as possible. The catch here is that they are also extremely sensitive to heat, and a hot blow-dryer may be enough to cause serious damage.
Having said all that, it may be necessary to bathe your bunny under certain conditions. Soft stools (probably caused by improper diet) can cause cecotropes (or “night pellets”) to cling and cake up around the rabbit’s anus. Beyond being disgusting, and very uncomfortable for the rabbit, this creates a perfect environment for parasites. If your rabbit suffers from “poopy butt syndrome”, your first step should be to attempt to brush out the clumps. Don’t try to cut them away unless you are absolutely certain you can do so without cutting the skin, as rabbits’ skin is incredibly thin, and even a small cut can tear wider and result in massive bleeding. If this doesn’t work, you may need to bathe the rabbit.
In a sink or bathtub, lay down a towel, and fill with lukewarm (not hot) water to a depth of a couple inches. Remember, you do not want to immerse the rabbit! Add rabbit shampoo to the water- about a teaspoon should do it. It is very important that you use only shampoo noted as safe for rabbits- human or dog shampoo may cause serious damage to the rabbit’s skin. Once you have lathery water, you can gently lower the rabbit into the water to immerse the problem area. Gently massage the clumps and mats until the area is clean- for severe cases, you may need to change the water before completing. When you are satisfied the area is clean, gently towel off the bunny. The fur is dense and fine enough that it is still too wet for the rabbit’s health, so you’ll need to blow-dry it the rest of the way. This is probably the most dangerous portion of the whole process, as rabbits are extremely susceptible to heat. Use only the “warm” setting on the blow dryer, and keep a hand on the area being dried so you can feel exactly how hot the air is to the rabbit.
Throughout this whole process, it is important that you monitor your rabbit closely. Stress isn’t just unpleasant for rabbits, it can easily kill them. If your rabbit seems to be panicking or struggles violently, stop the process immediately. Give it a day to calm down, and try again later. If this is a process you undertake regularly, the rabbit will eventually grow accustomed to it- but until then, you must respect your rabbit’s feelings, or risk having a dead rabbit.
Following these guidelines should get you through this sensitive process with a minimum of risk and hardship. If you are ever uncertain as to how to proceed, contact a local veterinarian before taking any chances. Your rabbit will thank you, as will rabbit lovers everywhere.