Molting is when rabbits lose their coat and grow in a new one.  A molt can last from 2-6 weeks or more.  It varies greatly from rabbit to rabbit and from breed to breed.  During this time, they can get a hair ball that can plug them up.  Giving hay daily will help this, but when one gets into trouble, we give them a little bit of dried papaya or fresh banana or even a little fresh pineapple.  In the spring and summer time, a dandelion leaf or two is a special treat for them that they seem to really like.  All of the above seem to help get their system going again.

by Benton Anderson of Anderson Alley Rabbitry, Huson MT


Shedding - Question by Emily

Question:  I bought a 1yr old Dutch and a 1 yr old Holland lop last year and I am wondering how much Dutch's shed.  My Holland lop has only shed once since I've had him and it seems like my Dutch has been shedding since I brought her home.  When I hold her, my clothes end up becoming white and black and when I brush her daily, I get about 4 handfulls of hair off.  I was wondering if she sheds because she's stressed out by the male, unhealthy, or do they always shed that much?  My room mate won't let me let her run loose because he doesn't want her hair everywhere.  Does anyone have any advice?

Answer #1

Hello Emily,

Normally, Dutch rabbits go through a molting about every three months like other breeds do.  Shedding is normal and as long as you are not finding any bald spots or skin irritation, it is not a sign of illness.   Most likely, if she is a house rabbit where the temperature is fairly constant, the molting process ends up being gradual and seemingly constant.  You are doing the right thing in keeping her brushed so that she has less chance of ingesting too much of her hair during her own grooming sessions which can cause problems.

Now that we are entering into fall and winter, if it is possible, one thing you might want to try is to lower the temperature in the room where her cage is.  It can help cut down the shedding some. 

I have one Dutch that I keep as a house rabbit (Snickers).   In the room where her cage is, I have been keeping the window open this Fall and when it is time to turn on the heat for the Winter, I'll keep the vents to the room closed or at least partially so.  If you do this, make sure you keep the door closed to the room during really cold days so that you don't trigger the thermostat to the rest of the house.  With gas prices rising, you don't want to waste it. 

I hope this helps.  Please let me know how you are getting along.

By Connie Jones Larson of Verlannahill Rabbitry, Billings MT

Answer #2:

Dear Emily,

Hair loss in rabbits can be caused by several disorders - and a veterinary diagnosis is often necessary to treat the underlying cause.  However lets first look at some possible environmental causes.

Hair loss is the normal part of the molting or shedding process, which naturally occurs seasonally, after which the rabbit’s coat may appear rather sparse, until it grows back in again.  Molting is normally heaviest at the end of the winter season when the thicker coat it has grown is no longer needed for protection against the cold.   Fur bearing animals evolved the molting process as an aid in controlling their body temperature to variations in the temperature of their environment allowing them to survive seasonal temperatures variations ranging from periods of very cold winter weather to periods of relativity hot summer temperatures.  Rabbits are not mouth breathers, which mans that panting is not a means they use to help lower their body temperature.  When they do pant it should be viewed as an alarming symptom of an underlying serious problem.  To control body temperature they will either add more hair or loose excess hair until equilibrium in its body temperature is reached.  When we move these animals into an artificially maintained environment, their normal biological responses can run amuck.  What is a comfortable environment for you can be too warm for your fur-covered pet, causing a molting process to be triggered when otherwise it might normally be growing its winter coat.  In some cases, a bunny will do a major shedding of great clumps of fur, sometimes called "coat blow."  This can sometimes even leave small bald patches. If the bunny is healthy, the bald patches will become pigmented, and then start to grow hair normally within a few days. If this doesn't happen, however, the fur loss may be due to one of several disease processes.  I have mentioned some below.  If you feel disease is a possibility, a trip to the veterinary is called for.

If you consistently keep your rabbit inside your apartment your bunny will still likely go through a molt once or twice a year but it should not normally be excessive.   On the other hand if you are moving your bunny back and forth between the outside environment and the warm environment of your apartment you are setting up a lot of stress for your rabbit which could be the cause of excessive shedding.  Especially if you live in the northern part of the country where outside temperatures are now dropping.  If you would move her permanently inside an equilibrium should be reached and the heavy molting process should stop

You also mention the Holland Lop buck. Rabbits have very definite behavioral needs.  Wild rabbits live in groups containing at least one other rabbit of the same sex.  Rabbits need opportunities for exercise and social interaction allowing them more control over their immediate environment. Their cage should be, at a very minimum, large enough to enable the rabbit to sit upright and lie out at full stretch.  It is also important that they have visual contact with other rabbits, an area to withdraw to, a shelf for resting on, and a clear visual field to see what is taking place about them.  The lack of any of these basic needs can produce stress, behavior problems and possibly excessive shedding.     

There are other factors including disease that can lead to excessive hair loss.  Some of these factors include the following.

·        Nest building – a pregnant mother will pull excessive hair to add to the nest for its young before they are born.

·        Some degree of hair loss is normal at anytime; the rabbit during its normal self-grooming process will remove this hair with much of this hair being ingested.  Any times rabbits are witnessed to be shedding they should have access to unlimited amounts of grass hay to aid in avoiding hairballs.

·        Dominance behavior shown by anther rabbit can trigger stress with an ensuing possible hair loss.

·        Any form of stressors will play a major problem in your rabbit’s health; These include but are not limited to: noise, boredom, fear, sudden changes to their environment, inconsistencies in their supply of food and water, and pain or distress will cause stress and possible hair loss.

·        Infections (bacteria or fungi) – can cause localized hair loss, and self-trauma from  rubbing, scratching, or biting.

·        Disease of the skin

1.)    Parasites such as mites and fleas will highly stress your rabbit and can cause hair loss

2.)    Fur Mites live on your rabbit’s skin, they eat the top layer of the skin and then burrow into the under skin.  Symptoms include itching, flaking, and sore spots.  There is often a loss of fur behind the ears, neck, and rump and along the sides.  This can be quite pronounced.  Check the skin for a crusty appearance, flakiness and open sores or inflammation.

3.)    Check for signs of Ringworm fungus.  Fur loss will usually be patchy and characterized by relatively round bald patches that have rather distinct edges.

4.)    Mange is a disease usually characterized by beige or whitish crusts, usually starting around the borders of the ears, edges of the eyelids, the nose, mouth and toes.  The crusts often have an unpleasant musky smell, especially in the ears.  Animals with mange can lose large amounts of hair that can often be very slow to grow back in.

·        Any increase in the normal temperature were rabbits are housed will bring on a molting.

·        False Pregnancy can cause a female rabbit to start pulling tufts of hair from her chest, belly and sides and use this hair to line a nest as though she were pregnant and preparing to give birth.  There are some Veterinarians with knowledge of rabbit physiology and behavior who advise to have such female rabbits spayed to avoid the risk of uterine cancer, mammary cancer, and other health problems associated with intact female reproductive systems that are not being used.

·       Overgrooming by a bonded companion or by the rabbit itself can be a source of excessive hair loss.  Overgrooming is not a normal behavior and can be a sign of boredom.

·        Fighting is another possibility if you have more than two or more rabbits sharing the same cage.  Check for signs of scabs or cuts as symptoms the rabbits are fighting when you are not there to witness it.

·        Hormone imbalance is not often seen in rabbits but can be a cause of fur loss.  This can only be determined by having your veterinarian take a blood sample and send it to a laboratory for analysis of thyroid dysfunction and other endocrine imbalance.

If your rabbit continues to show excessive hair loss it would be advisable to contact a veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment plan.  You should also be aware that your rabbit is probably ingesting a great deal of hair during its normal grooming routine; this can lead to hairballs which will cause a whole new set of health problems.

I hope this addresses your question and I wish you success in dealing with your rabbit.

By John W. Jones of Verlannahill Rabbitry