Rabbits might be small but they pack a lot of fluff onto those tiny bodies! It can be alarming when you check on your rabbit and find fur all over the place. What can cause your rabbit to suddenly pull out fur and when should you seek veterinary care for this?
A common reason for fur pulling is the instinct to make a nest. When a rabbit is preparing for kits, her body secretes hormones that cause the fur on her sides & belly to loosen. This makes it easier for her to pull the fur out and pile it in a nest. It should cause her little pain and the skin should not look raw or red.
She will often also gather hay, leaves, or other bedding materials to help line her nest. When a doe makes her nest, she is generally towards the end of her 31-day pregnancy and will likely give birth within a few days. But every rabbit is different. I have one rabbit that usually builds a “starter nest” within her first week of pregnancy. Then she builds a real one in a different place a few days before birth. Many first time moms will also build their nest earlier in pregnancy.
Unspayed females who live with no other rabbits or only other females or neutered males can experience false pregnancies. This can be a common occurrence with some rabbits and the only way to stop it is to get your rabbit spayed. False pregnancies are not dangerous, but getting your rabbit spayed can also reduce the risk of some reproductive cancers so if you have no plans to breed your rabbits, it is a good idea.
During a false pregnancy, your rabbit will build a nest and often her mammary glands will swell. The symptoms should only last a few days before she returns to normal behaviors.
If your rabbit is left alone in her cage for most of the day she is likely to be both bored and stressed out. Rabbits need time and space to run, jump, dig, and just be a rabbit. Stressed and stuck in a tiny space with nothing to do, she could start pulling her fur out just for something to do. Try to give her more time out of her cage and provide her with toys or boxes to play in (click here for ideas on playing with your rabbit).
If your rabbit is pulling fur in patches it could be a sign that you are not grooming her enough. Especially with long-haired rabbits, when they go through their shedding periods if you don’t remove the fur well enough, they will start doing it themselves. Give your bunny a good brushing and hopefully the fur-pulling will stop. You don’t want them pulling out their own fur because not only could they injure their delicate skin, but they are also likely to ingest some fur that could become lodged in their digestive tract (Click here to read about GI Stasis in rabbits).
Check your rabbit’s skin by parting the fur to closely examine her skin. Mites, lice, and fleas can all effect rabbits and could make her very itchy causing her to scratch off her fur. Rabbits have their own species of fleas (Spilopsyllus cuniculi), but can also catch the same fleas that live on your cats or dogs. Thankfully, external parasites on rabbits are not common, but if your rabbit has them it is best to consult a veterinarian for treatment. You should NOT use topical flea medicine meant for cats and dogs on your rabbit, it could have deadly results!
Rabbits need a diet high in fiber. If they don’t get enough fiber in their diet, they sometimes will look to their own fur as a fiber source. Your rabbit should be eating a handful of fresh Timothy hay about the size of her body each day, as well as quality rabbit pellets and fresh greens. (click here for information on feeding wool rabbits)
When should you seek medical care?
Fur pulling can be distressing, but often observing your rabbit can help you determine the cause and hopefully remedy it. If your rabbit has raw, bleeding patches of skin a vet can prescribe medications to keep it from getting infected. If there are no obvious causes for your rabbit’s fur pulling or if it has been going on for a couple of weeks it would be a good idea to consult with your veterinarian.