Fluffy or Knot? - Caring for Long Haired Rabbit Breeds
By Sarah Wilson
Santa & Mia - Lionheads
My love for long haired rabbits began almost fourteen years ago with the arrival in my life of a white English Angora. I could not believe that a hutch in the garden was anywhere near suitable for this beautiful, comical bunny so into the house he came. This was met with much raising of eyebrows from family members – thankfully house rabbits have now increased in popularity and I do believe that the best and easiest way to keep long haired bunnies is in the home.
Chocolate box bunnies, little balls of fur with big fuzzy feet. Few animals are as appealing as those baby rabbits which are just that bit fluffier than the rest. Sadly however, the majority of these rabbits will end up neglected and hutchbound, their once fluffy coats matted and dirty and their chocolate box charm forgotten. The acquisition of a long haired rabbit is not something to be taken lightly; it should be given as much consideration as, for example, the ownership of a Persian cat. The responsibility for the care of the coat falls totally on the owner for the rabbit will simply be unable to manage it alone.
Perhaps the most well known of the long haired breeds is the Angora. The English Angora’s coat is a fine silky wool, with a characteristic fringe and tufts (furnishings) on the ears. Their coats grow and grow until the rabbit looks quite round like a snowball. Pet Angoras need daily grooming and sooner or later will require clipping. This is best done using scissors but care must be taken not to nick the skin.
Boots - German Lop
Cashmere Lops are a long haired version of a dwarf lop. Their baby coats are soft and quite difficult to groom and to keep knot free. The adult coat is easier to maintain but has to be combed regularly and checked daily. There is also the Miniature Cashmere Lop, the Continental Cashmere (German Lop size) and Giant Cashmere (French Lop size).
Santa - Lionhead
Lionheads are a relatively new breed. They can be short coated with a “ruff” around the neck and perhaps a “skirt”, or they can be double maned which is all over fluffy, like a little Angora.
Perhaps the most problematic are woolly coated rabbits which can occur in litters from short coated parents, one of whom may have a long coated ancestor. These coats remain thick and woolly into adulthood and require daily – or even more frequent – grooming. I have a rabbit with a coat like this and, although lovable, he is extremely hard work.
Zoe - Cashmere Lop
I have three fluffy buns as houseguests – or more accurately, they allow me to live with them – I also have four who live outside in a summer house. I have found that their coats do not tangle so much if they are not closely confined. They are all litter trained, and have timothy hay ad lib – definitely not shavings which disappear into their coats never to venture out again. Outside they have straw for bedding, litter trays with a good layer of timothy hay (which hardly sticks to them) and wood based cat litter underneath. Indoors they just have the litter trays and baskets with vet bed.
Particular care should be taken in the summer that long coats are kept clean and dry to avoid the risk of flystrike. The rabbit should be examined underneath at least daily (preferably twice daily) to ensure that they are clean. A product called “Rearguard” can be obtained from your vets and is used as a preventative measure against flystrike. Rabbits suffer greatly in the heat and, if they are kept outside, they must never be left in direct sunlight or in an enclosed shed. Heat can build up rapidly inside wooden buildings even if the sun does not seem particularly strong and this can prove fatal for the bunny. On particularly hot days my buns go into large shaded runs in the garden. Damp towels are placed over the tops of the runs which create a cooling effect as the breeze passes over them.
When rabbits are shedding (moulting) it is very important to remove the lose hair to prevent fur balls. Furballs can cause life threatening blocks in the gut, rabbits can't vomit to clear fur balls like cats. Watch out for small dry "currants" (smaller than normal), none at all or currant necklaces (strung together by hair). If spotted or your rabbit stops eating seek vet's advice.
Grooming a bunny
I use a comb on my own rabbits, less often a slicker brush (which do vary greatly and shouldn't be too hard or will scratch). Their coats vary in softness and density, depending on whether they live outside or in and some are groomed daily, others every other day. A soft brush is no use at all. The whole of the rabbit needs to be brushed – not just the top of the coat, which seems to be a common problem in cashmeres. Particular attention needs to be paid to areas of friction: the neck, armpits, groin, the base of the spine around the tail and also the area under the tail. It is of the utmost importance that it is done thoroughly but gently. Anyone – particularly girls! – who has ever had long hair as a child will know how eye wateringly painful it is when someone else brushes your hair with a little too much enthusiasm.
It is quite difficult to say how much time I spend on grooming as they vary so much in hairiness (from silky which is relatively easy to woolly which is difficult to brush) but 10 - 20 minutes at a time per bun. Some buns don't need brushing every day if you actually check them, have a feel into their coats (I blow into the fur when I have finished to make sure it clears to the skin - I am sure the neighbours think I'm loopy).
Note on bathing - only do if absolutely desperate, wet as little of the bun as possible, fur goes as crinkly as anything and takes an absolute AGE to dry, definitely not if rabbit lives outside unless really hot summer day. Wet wipes or a damp cloth are alternatives.
I have had several bunnies who have come to me in a very matted condition. One of these, Fiver, was in a particularly bad way. I saw him in my local petshop on Christmas Eve 2002. A sign on his cage said “Rabbits £5 for Christmas”, he was matted to the skin and had terribly sad eyes.
It took several hours over many days to remove all the matted coat, holding the comb between the matt and the skin and carefully snipping away. Rabbits’ skin tears easily and it is preferable to ask your vet or local rescue for advice if you have any concerns about this.
The downside of living with these beautiful rabbits is of course fluff. Indoors it will float and cling anywhere and everywhere. Vacuum cleaners will take one look and splutter into oblivion. Outdoors is not much better although if you groom your rabbit outside you can if you are so inclined stand and watch the fluff travelling skywards. It will also stick to your fence, washing line, washing, clothes and eyebrows.
Something which saddens me greatly is that long haired rabbits, particularly cashmere lops, seem to be increasing in popularity and are becoming a common sight in pet shops and garden centres. I would urge everyone not to buy a long haired bunny from a pet shop as hopefully if the demand ceases, so will the supply.