Pulling out their own fur, or that of another rabbit, often puzzles owners. It looks painful and can leave unsightly skin exposure. These actions suggest that your rabbit is under duress.
Rabbits pull out fur due to stress, boredom, and skin irritation. Pregnant rabbits use their fur to build a nest for their young. If one rabbit barbers another rabbit, it’s typically a sign of dominance.
Observe your pet’s behavior, and find out why they’re behaving this way. There will be a physical, medical, or emotional explanation. Once you know what this is, you can react accordingly.
1) Rabbit is Barbering
Rabbits biting out their own fur can be a complicated behavior to assess. On the one hand, it’s perfectly normal behavior for rabbits. Rabbits are fastidious groomers, and will tug out fur.
If your rabbit is starting to show patches of pink skin, something is amiss. No rabbit should be removing this much fur. This is known as barbering. Common reasons for rabbits barbering are:
- Boredom, stress, or anxiety
- Excess of fur and insufficient external grooming
- Nesting behavior
- Parasitic infestation causing irritation
- Skin disease-causing discomfort
Bored or Stressed
Rabbits crave company, and struggle when left alone for long periods. This means that, should they grow bored, they’ll become lonely and anxious.
If your rabbit is chewing fur from their own leg, they’re likely bored. Filling a hutch with toys is not enough. Rabbits always need new entertainment and engagement.
Adding a rabbit companion is a great way to provide this goal. Once two rabbits have bonded, they’ll be constant companions. You’ll find that they rarely leave each other’s side, and take care of each other. Multiple bonded rabbits is ideal, if you have a hutch large enough to meet their needs.
This is a common mistake. If two or more rabbits are to share quarters, they need space. Even if they seem joined at the hip, they’ll grow stressed in restricted quarters. This will lead to barbering.
You’ll no doubt have noticed that we have referred to bonded rabbits. This is critical. If you house two rabbits together before they bond, all hell can break loose. Rabbits are territorial, and unbounded rabbits will fight tooth and claw.
One or both of the rabbits will be a nervous wreck, and they’ll soothe themselves through barbering. Here’s some more information on bonding in rabbits.
Even if your rabbit lives alone, they can be susceptible to stress. Ensure that your rabbit has a routine they can trust. This will help keep them calm.
If the barbering happens overnight, consider relocating your rabbit’s hutch. Rabbits are not afraid of the dark, but they fear predators. Your pet may be spending their nights in a state of terror.
Too Much Fur
This behavior is most likely in longhaired rabbits, particularly around shedding season. Rabbits shed their winter coat in spring so that they can flourish in warmer temperatures. If they have too much fur, they grow uncomfortable.
Shedding alone is not enough, though. Your rabbit will also require significant grooming during this period. Typically, they’ll need the attention of a brush once a day. Some rabbits need to be seen to twice, or even more often.
Rabbits take their grooming regime seriously. They can only do so much by themselves, though. You’ll be expected to pitch in, and remove hair manually. If you fail to do so, an angry rabbit may take on the burden themselves.
This can be an issue. Rabbits cannot tell precisely how much fur to remove. What’s more, their teeth lack the delicacy and finesse of a hairbrush. Your rabbit will likely tear fur out by the clump.
Prevent this from happening by making sure you groom your pet sufficiently. While barbering themselves, rabbits can do some severe damage. Their skin is delicate, and biting can cause open wounds. These, in turn, can become infected.
You’ll know when shedding season has arrived. Rabbits drop fur at an alarming rate. The more fur they have to begin with, the bigger the pile will be. Keep on top of this, and you’ll avoid any unpleasant experiences.
If your rabbit has a flea infestation, they’ll be in discomfort. If your rabbit doesn’t have allergies, they’ll still itch. If your pet struggles with flea bite sensitivity, it will be torturous.
If you suspect that your rabbit has fleas, they’ll need immediate treatment. Barbering will follow as soon as the infestation takes hold. They’ll be itching, so they’ll try to relieve this by biting. Also, the discomfort will cause stress.
In addition, fleas – and other parasites, such as ticks – spread disease. If the parasites feed on an infected animal, they can pass a condition on to your rabbit. There is nothing to gain by taking any chances with treatment.
Find a rabbit-specific treatment to deal with the infestation. Treatments designed for cats and dogs are often toxic to rabbits. Treat other rabbits in the vicinity too, even if they show no outward signs of discomfort.
Fleas are not the only parasite to cause skin issues with rabbits. Rabbits can be prone to mites. The impact will be largely similar – itchy skin, and barbering. Mites can lead to more unpleasant conditions too though, like mange.
Some flea and tick treatments will also take care of mites. You may be better served by seeking a specialist remedy, though. Mites are even more stubborn than fleas, and can make a rabbit’s life miserable.
If you suspect that your rabbit has a mite infestation, act quickly. Pet stores stock specialist medication. These are not always effective, though. In such cases, you’ll need a vet for a more potent remedy. Thankfully, these are fast-acting.
2) Rabbit Building Nest with Her Fur
A common reason for a female rabbit to pull out her own fur is nesting. This behavior starts when the rabbit is pregnant. She is instinctively driven to create a warm, soft habitat for her babies.
This may make no sense. You had your rabbit fixed. Why would a spayed rabbit pull out fur? Your pet is experiencing what is known as a phantom pregnancy. The rabbit is convinced she is pregnant as her hormones play tricks on her.
False pregnancies can occur in any female. They’re scarcer in spayed rabbits, but remain possible. It’s more likely if the rabbit birthed a litter in the past. Once a rabbit ovulates once, they never go out of season. False pregnancy is usually caused by one of two factors:
- Mounting from another rabbit. This could be an act of dominance, or attempted breeding. Either way, the female will react to sexual stimulation. Being mounted by another female will have the same impact.
- Intense stress. If the rabbit is particularly stressed, she’ll ovulate. Rabbits are instinctively driven to sustain their species. A female can experience pseudopregnancy without another rabbit.
Your rabbit will display all the behaviors associated with pregnancy. She’ll be hungrier, and will become territorial. Don’t surprised if your pet is uncharacteristically aggressive for a few days.
A phantom pregnancy lasts around 18 days. A full-term pregnancy lasts closer to a month. Nesting will be the final stage of a phantom pregnancy. Shortly after doing this, the rabbit’s hormones will return to normal.
3) Rabbit Pulling Fur Out of Another Rabbit
The cause of this behavior mirrors that of solo barbering. The rabbits may be bored, or they may be trapped in too small of space. Even bonded rabbits can turn on each other in such a situation.
What you’ll likely notice, though, is that one rabbit is more likely to barber another. This is an act of dominance. One rabbit tugs fur from another to ensure they know their place in the pecking order.
Hierarchy is essential to lagomorphs. All duos have a dominant and submissive rabbit. Establishing this order is critical to bonding two rabbits. Until they have settled upon their respective statuses, both rabbits will want to be dominant.
There are advantages to being the dominant rabbit. They get to eat first. A submissive rabbit will guard their dominant partner while they sleep. Dominant rabbits can demand grooming at any time.
Even submissive rabbits have their limits, though. Rabbits sometimes like to try their luck. The submissive rabbit may tug out fur. This is a challenge for leadership. Sometimes the roles change. More often, the animals just fight.
The dominant rabbit may pull out their subordinate’s fur as a punishment. This could be because they’re jealous. You may have petted the submissive rabbit first, upsetting the rabbit hierarchy.
Whatever the cause, this behavior needs to be nipped in the bud. Separate the two rabbits temporarily, and let them cool off. Reintroduce them, and wait for an apology.
If they apologize to each other, things are fine. If not, then the bond may be lost. It’s difficult to re-bond two rabbits once they fall out. They will likely need to live in separate hutches from now on.
My Female Rabbit is Pulling Fur Out of a Male
Female rabbits are invariably the more dominant in any mixed-sex pairing. If you bring a male rabbit into a female’s hutch, they’ll rarely be anything but submissive.
All the same, this dynamic will need to be established. The female will likely stamp her authority on this intruder. This is likely to involve tugging fur, at least initially. The behavior should pass.
Another explanation could be that the rabbits have mated, or the male has caused a pseudopregnancy. Females line a nest with their own fur. They won’t shy away from making a male contribute his share of fur too, though.
My Male Rabbit is Pulling Fur Out of a Female
This is less likely to happen than a female barbering a male. Male rabbits are usually content to submit to their female counterparts. It can happen, though.
The most likely explanation is that the male rabbit is unneutered. Until this process is complete, male rabbits are territorial, frisky, and aggressive. Neutering calms them down significantly.
If the rabbit is fixed, you may need to observe their behavior. There may be something about the female that bothers them. They may just be a big bully. Either way, the hutch share may not be a sustainable long-term option.
My Rabbit is Eating the Fur They Pull Out
Rabbits eat small amounts of their own fur all the time. It’s a natural part of grooming themselves. They’ll only be swallowing small quantities, though. You’ll see this reflected in their waste. Strings of fur will weave into their poop.
This is because the hair was small enough to bypass the digestion process. It went straight through. Larger clumps of hair will not be able to do this. Neither can they be easily digested. They’ll sit in the rabbit’s digestive tract.
This can cause a digestive blockage. This is dangerous and even fatal. The rabbit cannot eat properly, and is at risk. At the first warning signs of a gastrointestinal obstruction, see a vet. These symptoms include:
- Diarrhea, or uncharacteristically tiny droppings
- Struggling to swallow, and by extension, failing to eat
- Distention and swelling of the belly
- Lethargy, potentially leading to collapse when attempting exercise
As for why a rabbit would eat their own fur? There are two primary explanations. They are hiding evidence. If the rabbit is barbering through stress, this is possible. They don’t want to get in trouble. If they’re barbering because they’re frightened of predators, this will also hide the presence.
Alternatively, your rabbit may be lacking dietary fiber. They feel something is lacking in their food, and seeking to replace it. Pile up more hay in their hutch to rectify this behavior.
A rabbit will always pull out a little of their own fur. They’ll do so by accident, while the groom themselves. They’ll also do it deliberately on occasion though, for a variety of reasons.
If your rabbit is pulling out their hair, there will be a reason for the behavior, and often they’re sending a message. Try to understand what this message is, and take the necessary action.