GROOMING Rabbits and Guinea Pigs

How many of us have fallen for a beautiful fluffy baby rabbit or guinea pig and bought it on impulse? Far too many of us I suspect! It’s not long before such a gorgeous creature becomes a real chore, with tight mats forming all over the body and the resulting dirty tail giving a high risk of flystrike. However, help is at hand!

Grooming Long-Haired Rabbits

If you have not kept a long-haired rabbit or guinea pig before, think long and hard before taking one on.  The care and maintenance required to keep such an animal healthy and happy can be daunting, especially if you are not skilled at handling your pet.  Holding the animal gently but firmly with confidence is essential to groom, clip or trim any pet, especially small ones like rabbits and guinea pigs.

Unless you intend to exhibit your rabbit, the most straightforward way to manage long fur that frequently mats is to cut it short. Rabbits were not meant to be long-haired, so your rabbit will thank you for ridding him of the weight and excess heat long fur generates (especially in the summer).  This will enable him to groom properly again and allow freedom of movement usually denied to long-haired individuals. Furthermore, most rabbits hate being brushed, and although some will learn to tolerate the procedure, returning the fur to the length it was meant to be in the first place makes much more practical sense.

This, however, does not always apply to the Lionhead breed, as proper lionheads only have fringes around the head, shoulders and rump area and should not have lots of fluffy fur anywhere else. This type of rabbit is illustrated below and usually does not pose much of a problem, apart from the need to occasionally de-tangle the fringes from twigs or bedding.

Angora-type rabbits or cashmere’s with excess wool in the coat DO, however, present significant problems, such as the breeds shown below:

Methods of managing the fur

1.      Use basic equipment such as a double-bladed cat comb, a brush (various types), and short-bladed sharp scissors.

2.       Invest in electric clippers with a special Angora blade.

3.      Book the rabbit into the vet or the local dog clipping salon and have the professionals tackle the job for you.

The first option is only viable if you can handle your rabbit firmly and keep him still while you do the task.  Do not attempt to proceed if this is not the case, as you could easily end up chopping off a tail or cutting into the skin. The comb, brush and scissors method is particularly useful for small areas of matting, such as around the tail.  There is also a fur stripping de-shedding grooming tool available from vets and some pet stores, but it does not work well on matted fur and is most used to remove old fur from an ordinary coated rabbit during a moult.


Before you start, you may wish to wash the area if the rabbit is covered in sticky droppings because it can be challenging to see what you are doing otherwise.  Persistent soft droppings are often linked to inadequate diet, so if this continues to be a problem after the rabbit has been tidied up, this must be considered a separate issue.  See the article on diet and feeding in the rabbit care article.  If you are ready to start stripping a matted rabbit, hold the rabbit comfortably on your knee, holding him almost upside down with his head resting on your left arm (if you are right-handed), as shown in the photo below.  Be aware that the rabbit should not be placed flat on its back but resting comfortably on your arm so its head and shoulders are raised.


Start with a thorough examination of the matted area to make sure you know exactly where the feet, genitals and tail are, and then gently start snipping underneath the mats.  Take great care at all times to trim above the skin.  Some mats are very close to the skin, so you must take time and slowly and gently slip the scissors in the gap between skin and fur and nibble and tease away until you free the matted fur to remove it.   Use a combination of scissors and comb, work away at an area until it is cleared, and then move on to the next area.  You often end up with what appears to be more fur on the table than on the rabbit (see photo below).


Sometimes, you need to vary the position of the rabbit so you can get the best access to the particular part of the body that you are working on at the time.  A tricky area to work on is the dewlap (the pouch underneath the chin of some rabbits, especially common in females).  You have to position the rabbit correctly, which is difficult, especially if you are not used to handling rabbits.  Some of the dewlap can be reached by sitting the rabbit on your knee in the usual upright position and working from the shoulders inwards. Still, the area in the centre (directly underneath the chin) is often only reached by having the rabbit upside down on your knee with the hind legs nearest you and the head furthest away.  However, only keep the rabbit in this position for a short time, as many rabbits find it stressful, even though they may not show it at the time.


However, many rabbits will lie in this position for quite a while, and so long as you work efficiently but slowly and gently, you should be able to finish the task before he “wakes up” and decides that enough is enough!  However, this position should only be used for the very minimum of time, as although the rabbit may appear calm, it is likely to feel very stressed to be in such a vulnerable position.  Rabbits with respiratory issues should not be held in this position but in a more “sitting up” position to aid breathing.

The first option (scissors and comb) can be used with the clippers for tricky areas, such as around the tail and face, if the clippers can’t be used in those areas safely.  Practice on an easy bit first until you feel confident to go ahead.  It is easier to place the rabbit on a table with a non-slip top and work from there when using clippers, but make sure the power cable is carefully out of reach of nibbling teeth!  The photo below shows rabbits after they had been clipped.

The second option is to use a set of electric clippers.  You are best off buying clippers specially made for animal fur, as human clippers do not cope very well with the wool in the coat of a fluffy rabbit.  Purchase an Angora blade at the same time, and this will make the job easier.  Clippers are handy if the whole rabbit needs to be stripped down.

The third option is to book the rabbit into a vet or professional dog grooming salon and let them sort out the problem, although you will pay a high fee for the privilege, which will need to be repeated several times a year.  Some vets will suggest sedation before the clipping, which enables them to strip the rabbit down very quickly and reduces the stress factor for the bunny concerned.  However, rabbits can get used to routines, and if they need to be stripped down regularly, some will soon learn to sit still and put up with it.

Some mobile services will come to your home, which has the advantage of not causing the rabbit additional stress by having a journey first.  Some rabbit rescues will also carry out grooming and de-matting, often for just a reasonable donation, so they are worth considering if you feel you can’t strip the rabbit down yourself.

Before you consider any of the options above, please remember what time of year it is, as an Angora kept outside will feel the cold if you strip it down in the middle of winter!  If the rabbit is kept inside, this is not so much of an issue.  Also, don’t necessarily expect to get the whole rabbit done in one sitting, as some rabbits will only tolerate ten minutes, whilst others will lie comfortably for half an hour or more.  It is best to split the task into manageable sessions rather than risk stressing the rabbit too much and ending up with gut stasis or other stress-related conditions.

Can’t Cope, Won’t cope …

If you cannot keep your long-haired rabbit’s fur managed so it stays clean, dry, and mat-free, the only viable option is to try to find them a new home with someone who has the experience to care for the animal properly.  It is far better to admit defeat than to neglect the needs of the rabbit or guinea pig to such an extent that it is distressed or dies of flystrike or infection.

However, passing the animal on to someone without ensuring the home is good would be far worse.  The best option may be to try a local rescue centre rather than trying to find a home privately, as they should have the expertise to resolve the problem quickly and efficiently.  It always gives me great pleasure to witness a rabbit or guinea pig after they have been shaved or clipped, as it is clear they have had an enormous weight lifted literally from their shoulders as they run around in sheer delight!

Finding a new home for a woolly-coated rabbit can be challenging due to the need to trim the fur regularly, so some of these little rabbits can end up in rescue centres for a long time before someone comes forward to take them on.

Dirty Bottom Problem …

This topic is covered thoroughly in the rabbit care article elsewhere on the website. Still, from the basic practical point of view of cleaning up a rabbit with a hardened, compacted ball of faeces stuck to its tail, the safest way to start is to soak it off by sitting the rabbit’s bottom end in a bowl of warm water.  You may have to steady the rabbit, as not all sit still!  They must soak for 5-10 minutes until the ball has softened enough to come away when gently manipulating it with your fingers.



Once the ball has come away, the rabbit may need a gentle and careful trim with short-bladed scissors around the tail area and then thoroughly dried with a towel.  This is only treating the symptoms and not the cause, so do have a read of the appropriate section in the rabbit care section on the website.

Grooming Long-Haired Guinea Pigs

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The good news is that long-haired guinea pigs are far easier to cope with than fluffy, long-haired rabbits!  The fur does not become woolly, so it does not develop the same severity of matting of an angora-type rabbit, but the tangles can still be bad enough to need regular attention.  The photo below illustrates a guinea pig that requires extra care to keep the fur in check and tangle-free.


I never use clippers on guinea pigs as I prefer small-bladed scissors and the cat comb to tease out any mats and tangles.  They are relatively easy to remove; ease the scissors between the skin and the matted fur and gently nibble away until the mat is free for removal.  Most of the mats tend to be around the rump area, but you can also get some forming on the tummy and around the legs, so you need to be able to gently turn the guinea pig upside down to get access to these tricky areas.  As with rabbit grooming, ensure you know where all the “bits” are before snipping!  The guinea pig shown below has just had her fur trimmed.

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The photo below shows what a serious situation it is to own a long-haired guinea pig and not keep the fur in check.  Not only did this guinea pig have a massive, heavy, smelly lump attached to him, but he could quickly have died from fly strike in the summer months as the flies could have laid eggs in the “attractive” mass.


There are many different breeds of guinea pigs; some are semi-long-haired, so they only need a trim every 3-4 weeks around the rump area to keep them neat, tidy and clean.  This only takes a couple of minutes and is relatively easy to do.  An example of this type of piggy is below – he is an Abyssinian crossbred, hence the rosettes in his fur.

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I hope this article helps you to groom your furry friends correctly and gives you the confidence to know that you CAN cope!  However, if you feel you cannot provide the care needed to keep your long-haired pet healthy and happy, finding a new, suitably experienced home may be something to consider. Alternatively, speak to your vet about charges to regularly do the fur maintenance for you.

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