by Dana Krempels, Ph.D.
House Rabbit Society of Miami
If your rabbit has a messy bottom due to either runny stool or urine leakage, the most important thing to do is to determine the source of the problem, starting with a full exam by your rabbit-experienced veterinarian, and including a full dental examination and blood chemistry and cell counts.
A messy bottom is both uncomfortable and unsanitary, inviting worse problems such as skin scalding and even fly strike. While your vet does the detective work, it’s up to you to keep the bunny comfortable. One way is with a careful, gentle “butt bath” to keep caustic bodily fluids away from the skin. There are two methods one can safely use to clean a messy bunny, and of the two, a DRY BATH is preferable. If the bunny is extremely soiled and very smelly, a wet bath may be necessary. Instructions for this procedure follow those of the Dry Bath.
Dry Bath Procedure
1. Purchase a container of Baby Cornstarch Powder (DO NOT use Baby Powder or any sort of powder that contains talc, as talc is a respiratory irritant and may even be carcinogenic!) from the grocery store baby section. You can use either unscented or scented cornstarch powder. DO NOT use commercial flea powders or other pesticides on your bunny. Use only baby-safe cornstarch powder for best, safest results.
2. Place bunny is a comfortable position so that the soiled parts are easily accessible. This may involve placing him in your lap on a bunched towel so that he feels secure, or simply laying him on the floor in a comfortable position, if he’s calm and won’t try to run off.
3. Liberally apply the cornstarch to the soiled areas, and gently work the powder down into the fur, around messy poops, and down to the skin.
4. Work the powder around any stubborn clumps of debris gently. As the cornstarch coats the mess, it will slide away easily.
5. Once the largest bits of mess have been removed, use a soft-tipped brush to gently loosen any remaining dirt and debris.
6. Pat the powdered areas well to remove loose powder.
Bunny should be clean and fragrant in just a few minutes! Rabbits generally enjoy a dry bath, and will sit quietly as the soothing powder takes away the sting of urine burn.
Wet Bath Procedure
If your bunny’s bum is very messy, wet, and smelly, it may be necessary to give him a wet bath. Here’s how to do it:
1. Purchase hypoallergenic, non-medicated pet shampoo from your veterinarian or pet supply store. Hy-Lyte is a good choice, but any similar product will work as well. DO NOT USE ANY TYPE OF HUMAN SHAMPOO ON YOUR RABBIT. Rabbit skin is far more delicate and sensitive than human skin–especially the scalp. Even baby shampoo is far too harsh, and can make the problem worse, not better.
2. Fill a bathroom sink to about 2.5″ depth with lukewarm water.
3. Mix in about a tablespoon of shampoo, and mix well.
4. Being firm and gentle so that the bunny cannot jump and injure himself, lower his rear end into the lukewarm shampoo/water, and gently lave the solution onto the soiled areas until they are clean. If the bunny is very messy, you may have to change the water and do this twice.
5. Rinse with lukewarm, clear running water very thorougly, leaving NO shampoo residue.
6. Towel dry carefully, being sure not to rub to hard against irritated skin.
7. Blow dry on low, keeping your hand close to bunny’s skin so that you can tell if the air flow is too hot. The last thing you want to do is burn already inflamed skin!
8. When bunny is fluffy-dry, carefully clip away the fur on the areas where the skin is irritated. If you can’t see the skin, or are doubtful where skin ends and fur begins, then *do not clip!* Rabbit skin is *very* thin and stretchy, and even a small wound can expand to alarming proportions!
9. Apply a soothing balm, such as Calendula (from the Health Food Store) or triple antibiotic ointment (e.g., Neosporin, but NOT Neosporin Plus, which contains lidocaine and is not recommended).
10. Repeat as necessary, but do not continue if rabbit seems unduly stressed by the experience. Whenever you handle a bunny, it’s important to be firm, gentle and ready to release the bunny at ground level if she starts to struggle violently. As you probably know, one good kick can dislocate or even fracture the spine. Always keep the bunny’s safety *first* in mind if you attempt a project like this.
And remember, the “butt bath” is nothing more than treating a symptom of a greater disorder. The most important thing to do is to discover why your bunny has urinary incontinence or runny stool problems, and get to the root of the ultimate cause for a complete cure.