Owners often notice color changes to a rabbit’s fur. Rabbits appear to change color entirely, sometimes several times a year. This can be disconcerting, as it may look like your pet has undergone a complete change or there may be a yet-to-be-detected health problem.
It’s an evolutionary survival mechanism, borne of rabbit’s status as prey animals. Rabbits molt several times a year. Their fur grows then grows back a different shade, camouflaging them from potential predators. The only time to be cautious is if your rabbit is turning yellow. This can be due to urine staining, which is dangerous and should be cleaned up quickly.
We will look closely at molting in rabbits, and what it may mean for your pet. This will explain why a change in color to a rabbit’s fur is nothing to worry about.
Can Rabbits Change Color Suddenly?
Rabbits frequently change color over the course of the year. Also, a baby rabbit may change color multiple times before they reach adulthood. This is all completely natural. It’s a result of your rabbit molting, and adapting to the change in seasons.
A rabbit is born without any fur. It will typically experience their first molt at the age of 4-5 months. At this milestone, rabbits shed baby fur and grow what is known as an immediate coat.
This will not necessarily be the same color as their baby coat. Around three months after this, the rabbit will molt again and grow their adult coat.
Once a rabbit has its adult coat, it will not necessarily stay the same color. Rabbits molt every three months. This coincides with the change in the seasons, and maintains appropriate body temperature. A rabbit will need a thicker coat in the winter than in the summer.
Also, a rabbit’s fur may change color for their protection. This is more common in wild rabbits than domestic pets, but it applies to all rabbits.
It’s a natural reaction to light exposure. In the summer, a rabbit will experience more sunshine and longer days. This triggers a response in the rabbit’s body, encouraging the melanin found within.
Typically, a rabbit will have darker fur during the summer. In the winter, as the days grow shorter, less melanin is activated. This, in turn, means that a rabbit’s new coat will lack pigmentation. In snowy climes, it’s quite common for a rabbit’s fur to turn completely white.
How Do Rabbit’s Molt?
Rabbits molt every three months, whenever the seasons change. The process can last anywhere between two and six weeks.
Molting often starts at the head, and slowly moves down the body. However, no two rabbits are the same. Some rabbits lose all their hair at once, while others will shed in clumps.
This means that you may notice bald patches on your rabbit’s coat during shedding. As long as the fur grows back quickly, this is not a concern.
However, if the bald patches last longer than a day or two, see a vet. This suggests that your rabbit is tearing out their fur, possibly through stress.
While your rabbit molting, they will need to be brushed regularly. This should be done at least twice a day, in short, bite-sized chunks.
Rabbits are very easily stressed, so if your pet appears distressed, give them a break. Use a wide-toothed comb with blunt ends. Combs and brushes with sharp edges are too harsh and painful for a rabbit’s sensitive skin.
Rabbits groom themselves regularly, especially while molting. This means that they can ingest hairballs. This is especially likely during the summer, when rabbits shed substantial amounts of fur. Ensure that your pet has plenty of hay to eat, as this will ease their digestion.
If you want to speed up the process of your rabbit’s molting, add a little extra protein to their diet. The right amount of protein will help your rabbit burn through the shedding process.
Too much, however, will slow down their digestion. This can be very dangerous, especially during molting. If a rabbit is not digesting their food, any fur they swallow becomes trapped.
As rabbits are incapable of vomiting, this can be dangerous.
My Rabbit’s Fur is Getting Lighter
A rabbit’s fur will typically lighten during the winter months. The less exposure a rabbit has to the sun, the lighter their fur will grow.
This will often be very noticeable, as a rabbit’s winter coat can be very thick indeed. This is also a defense mechanism, so your rabbit can blend into their environment easier.
While not a domesticated pet, snowshoe hares are the best example of this. As National Geographic explains, these animals have brown fur during the summer.
When winter arrives, however, they shed this coat and become completely white. This ensures that predators cannot easily spot the hare in the snow. When the spring arrives, and the snow melts, the hare molts again and returns to brown.
This coloring, too, is a reaction to their natural environment. The snowshoe hare is often found dwelling in dense forestry.
It can sometimes be challenging to manage a rabbit’s sunlight exposure during the winter. A domesticated bunny living in a hutch has less exposure to sunlight than a wild rabbit.
Despite this, it’s rarely safe to allow a rabbit to roam free. Exercise is important, but must be managed carefully. Rabbits are prone to pneumonia, as PetMD explains. A rabbit that gets cold or damp will be particularly at risk. Limit your pet’s exercise to carefully supervised indoor areas.
My Rabbit’s Fur is Getting Darker
Just as a rabbit’s fur lightens during the winter, it darkens during the summer. This is due to the melanin in their body reacting to sunshine.
A rabbit will shed a substantial amount for fur during their summer molt. This could leave them vulnerable to cold. Dark fur absorbs the sun better than light, ensuring that your rabbit maintains a comfortable temperature.
Sunlight is important to rabbits. Contrary to popular belief, rabbits are not nocturnal. Instead, they are naturally crepuscular, meaning that rabbits are most active at dawn and dusk.
Many domesticated rabbits, however, evolve to become diurnal, or active during the day. This is presumably a reaction to being born in captivity. Rabbits born in pet stores will grow used to being fed and handled during business hours.
You should expose your pet rabbit to as much sunlight as possible. This needs to be done safely, however. If you exercise your rabbit by letting them run free in your yard, supervise them.
Even the most content domesticated rabbit can make a break for freedom. You’ll also need to ensure that no other pets are in the vicinity. Also, watch what your rabbit eats very carefully.
They’ll naturally want to nibble on grass and plants. If these have been treated with pesticide or herbicide, your rabbit will quickly get very sick.
Pet owners will also notice that baby bunnies often darken as they age. This is, again, perfectly natural. It’s all down to sun exposure. A fair-haired human infant may develop brown hair as a toddler. Rabbits are no different in this regard.
My Rabbit’s Fur is Turning Yellow
There are two possible reasons for a rabbit’s fur to turn yellow.
Too Much Sunlight
The first is that their fur is rusting due to excessive sunlight. While the sun is vital to rabbits, they can have too much of a good thing. A darker fur coat will start to ‘rust’ in the light.
It’s essential that your rabbit’s hutch has a shaded area that your pet can retreat to. Rabbits typically know what temperature is good for them. If you provide this shade, they’ll make use of it.
Urine Stained Fur
The yellow that you see is staining from your rabbit’s urine. Rabbits tend to enjoy spending time in their litter box. It’s not uncommon to find a rabbit eating hay while eliminating.
This can forge a link in your pet’s mind. You may find them hopping into their litter every time they enjoy a snack. Many rabbits also like to play, and even sleep, in their litter box. Naturally, this means that they’ll spend a lot of time exposed to their own pee.
Never rush to give your rabbit a full bath in such circumstances. Some bunnies enjoy this, and find it relaxing. Others, however, find it extremely stressful.
If you can bathe your bunny, run around 3 inches of warm water in the sink. Add a tablespoon of cat shampoo to the water, as this is usually safe for rabbits.
Gently dunk your rabbit’s stained areas in the water, and massage the impacted areas. The paws and derriere are most likely to be stained. Once you’re done, gently but thoroughly dry your rabbit off. Never allow a rabbit to stay damp as they can very quickly develop pneumonia.
If you are unable or unwilling to bathe your pet, you have two other options. You could try a dry bath. Use baby cornstarch powder for this, but ensure that it does not contain talc.
Talc can sometimes cause breathing difficulties for rabbits. Just rub the cornstarch powder on the stained areas, as this will absorb any urine.
You can do wet spot cleaning. Just mix a small amount of white vinegar with water, dabbing it on the stained fur. Upgrade the vinegar to hydrogen peroxide if the stains are particularly stubborn.
Whatever method you choose to clean your rabbit’s fur, it’s important that you do so. Leaving urine stains too long can lead to a condition called urine scalding in rabbits.
This involves the urine burning your rabbit’s skin. This causes the fur to fall out, and is very painful. In addition, urine stains in your pet’s fur can attract flies.
If these insects lay eggs, it leads to flystrike – a devastating and frequently fatal condition. As Vets Now explains, flystrike involves these eggs hatching maggots, which can devour a rabbit’s skin. If you ever notice maggots on or around your rabbit, rush them to the vet.
My Rabbit’s Fur is Turning Gray
Some rabbits enjoy a natural, dignified gray tone to their fur. However, just like humans, bunnies also gray as they age. A rabbit is considered to be elderly once they reach the age of 5 human years.
Don’t worry, though. The lifespan for a healthy domesticated rabbit can be up to 14 years. If you care for your senior rabbit appropriately, they’ll still be happy and healthy.
Signs that your rabbit is growing a little older include:
- Less mobility, and more time spent napping.
- Fluctuations in weight. Some rabbits grow obese as they are eating the same, but exercising less. Other senior rabbits lose interest in food.
- Lack of interest in grooming, or falling over while doing so.
- Eliminating outside the litter box. This will be because it’s hard for an arthritic rabbit to climb in.
- Abscesses on the skin.
- Reduced responsiveness, potentially due to failing eyesight and hearing.
The steps that you can take to keep your graying rabbit content include:
- Reduce pellet feeding, and increase vegetable intake.
- Regular spot cleaning to counter the lack of grooming.
- Provide a low-lipped litter box that is easy to access.
- Regular veterinary check-ups to ensure that organs are functioning appropriately.
While rabbits age faster than we’d like, they’re still fantastic pets in their senior years. Caring for an older rabbit is a pay-off for the years of joy they provide.
Rabbits changing color can seem a little frightening at first, but it’s perfectly natural. If your pet remains the same color throughout their life, they’re a genetic anomaly. Provided your pet is not looking yellow, they’re perfectly fine.
When your cat starts to change shade, step up their grooming, It may seem that your rabbit is permanently molting, but it’s essential care.
Remember that your bunny changes color for a reason. It’s all down to biology, and part of their annual hormone cycle. There’s no need to rush to a vet when your white rabbit develops brown patches in the springtime.