Seasons change, and the days no longer swelter and bake. Instead, the amber light of afternoon gently warms, and the smell of wood smoke lingers in the cooling evening. The leaves have begun trading their green for gold, red and brown, and pet owners everywhere will soon be seeing something else softly floating through the air and falling gently to the ground: their pets’ fur.
Not quite so pretty a sight, eh? Dust mask, anyone?
Cat-owners, what comes with cats and cat hair? You got it: hair balls. Dog-owners, your pooches generally don’t lick themselves that much, but the result is a dog-bed full of dog hair, isn’t it? Not to mention the rest of the house? And you bird lovers understand that every so often your feathered friends are going to be, shall we say, a bit moody - less brightly colored, less friendly, and with more than the usual number of their feathers on the floor of their cages.
Unfortunately, rabbits are no exception to the rule. Their thick, luxurious fur generally means they’re at less risk (not NO risk) from insect problems, and bunnies do generally try to keep themselves clean and well-groomed the way cats do. But while house rabbit keepers don’t have to deal with a lot of moodiness, we do need to do something with that extra fur come shedding time.
I wrote a while back about how rabbit digestive systems are a little different from some of our other pets. On the one hand, this means that rabbit-owners don’t need to deal with the unpleasantness of hair ball clean-up, since rabbits don’t do any regurgitating. On the other hand, this means that an excess of hair in their gut can lead to a dangerous blockage, and one of the practical impacts that has on our routine is that every so often we have to help them with that extra fur, especially at shedding time.
So, once or twice a month, we break out our pet-hair brush and help the buns get that extra fur out of their coats. (long-haired breeds like angoras or lion-heads need it once a week, really.) Once upon a time, it was a Big Deal: we’d pick them up out of their cage, hold them in place on our laps, and then brush and brush and brush until the rabbits just wouldn’t be held anymore.
Kind of stressful on everyone. Not to mention a big furry mess.
Since those early days our family has learned that the best way to deal with bunnies on nearly every issue (brushing sessions included) is to do things on their schedule, at their pace, and in their way. Mostly this just means not forcing the issue, and letting them believe that the whole thing, whatever it is, was their idea in the first place.
For example, our buns love hopping around their room and around the house, but we can’t watch them 24-7. Rather than scooping them up (not something most bunnies enjoy, usually), we usually just grab a little bit of their food, let them know we have it, then lead them back to their cage where they happily settle in as though it was their idea all along.
In the case of brushing out their fur, all we have to do is let them out to run around, grab the fur-brush, and then sit down and wait. Eventually, their explorations will lead them to us (especially if we just happened to bring bunny treats along!), and with a petting here, and a brushing there, eventually they get the idea that this “brushing thing” isn’t such a bad idea after all. It might take a little extra time, but letting them get comfortable with us and the activity first lets them ease into it at their own pace. Eventually, they’ll sit and let us brush them as much as they need.
Grooming makes for a great bonding experience for us and our rabbits. Sometimes during shedding season we end up with enough extra fur to make a whole new rabbit, it seems like. But all that extra fur ends up in a pile destined for the trash can instead of drifting through the air, piling up in their cage or around the room, or in their bellies causing other problems.
As a bonus, we get tons of bunny-kisses as the rabbits take their turns grooming our hands, feet, clothes… whatever they can reach, really.
As I mentioned last post, understanding the rules of proper rabbit behavior is one of the important aspects of living with a house rabbit. In this situation, the bunny that’s being groomed is the “superior,” while the one doing the grooming is “inferior.” But good bunny manners dictate that the groomer gets their fair grooming too, so that everyone knows they are welcome.
So unless you want to be considered “rude,” every so often you should take breaks from the pettings and brushings to accept those bunny-kisses. After all, taking turns is always good manners.
Do you have any tips or tricks for dealing with shedding pets? What about pets that always seem interested in doing something ELSE besides what you have planned? Share your tips, stories, or comments below!