Lately I've noticed a handful of videos, and pictures, of rabbits being bathed making their rounds on the internet. It's easy to understand why. On first glance, especially to anyone inexperienced with rabbits, the images may appear harmless and, in some instances, pretty adorable.
But to bunny lovers, such as myself, these videos/pictures are pretty cringe worthy. The main reasons being because in normal circumstances, healthy rabbits shouldn't ever require baths, and because bathing them can actually be a pretty traumatic experience for them. Anyone who knows bunnies knows that stress is the enemy! The saying "scared to death" can, unfortunately, be quite literal for rabbits.
Rabbits, like cats, are self cleaning. They spend lots of time each day grooming themselves, and if you are lucky enough to have multiple rabbits, each other. Healthy rabbits should never require baths. Of course if you own long haired rabbits, brushing them can help prevent mats and remove loose fur. Sometimes older, obese, or ill rabbits will need some help keeping their rear ends clean. However even in those instances, rabbits should never be fully immersed in water. The House Rabbit Society has a great video on how to give rabbits butt baths, if needed. If other areas need to be cleaned, they should be spot cleaned only. Wet or damp cloths can be used for areas other than the butt. Make sure to never get water in your rabbit's ears, as this can lead to ear infections.
If your rabbit is dirty enough to need a bath, and/or is not grooming himself properly, then something is wrong. It's usually best to seek advice from a rabbit savvy vet, in order to get to the root of the problem rather than just managing a symptom.
Even when giving butt baths you always want to make sure you thoroughly dry your rabbit afterwords. Rabbit fur is very plush and can take a very long time to dry on its own. Having wet fur for an extended period of time can lead to issues such as irritated skin, and hypothermia.
Many of the images/videos I've seen of rabbits getting baths show the rabbits laying on their backs. Many people mistake this as the animals being relaxed, when in reality these rabbits are experiencing what's known as tonic immobility, a fear motivated defense mechanism. Long story short, it's pretty much the opposite of relaxation!
It's, unfortunately, not all that uncommon for rabbits to die of stress/fear. This can happen due to heart attacks caused by periods of intense fear. Stress can also cause GI issues, which is one of the top causes of death in pet rabbits.
Once again, rabbits should never require baths and if they do, it's important to figure out why. Even butt baths and spot cleanings can be stressful to some rabbits, and they are really just ways to manage a symptom. For the health of your bunny it's important to discover and treat the overall cause, if possible. And if you see family and friends sharing 'cute' images of rabbits immersed in bath water, help to spread the word - no baths for bunnies! After all, pictures of rabbits in baths may be cute to the untrained eye, but healthy, happy, rabbits are way cuter!