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Home > Rabbits > How to Prevent and Get Rid of Hairballs in Rabbits: Vet-Reviewed Tips

How to Prevent and Get Rid of Hairballs in Rabbits: Vet-Reviewed Tips

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Rabbits are fun pets to care for. They do not take up much space, they do not need outdoor walks, they will never raid the fridge, and they enjoy interacting with their human companions. However, they can get hairballs, which can be kind of gross.

Luckily, there are a few things that we can do to prevent and get rid of hairballs in rabbits so they remain the cute and cuddly pets that we love. But first, we need to know what causes hairballs, what the signs of hairballs are, and what dangers, if any, are present if hairball prevention is ignored. Here is everything that you need to know.


The Causes of Hairballs

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Rabbits must groom themselves and each other using their tongues. During the grooming process, rabbits ingest hair that ends up in their digestive tract. Most hair is passed through the system and excreted. However, some rabbits have trouble passing the hair, and that hair builds up within the digestive system until it turns into a hairball.

It is important to understand that rabbits cannot regurgitate their stomach contents. Therefore, any hair that is not excreted through the digestive system will stay in the rabbit’s body. The hair can mix in with food and bodily fluids, turning into a matted mess that can become dangerous.

Rabbits that do not eat enough fiber have a high risk of developing hairballs because it is tougher for hair to pass through their system. A lack of fiber in the diet can also cause rabbits to chew on their hair, which creates excessive hair being ingested, thus increasing the chance of hairballs developing.

Boredom is another cause of hairballs. When a rabbit has nothing to do and no toys to play with, they will excessively groom themselves and each other to create their own engagement and activity. Again, this creates more hair for the digestive system to handle. Any unnecessary hair that gets into the digestive system will compound any hairball problems that a rabbit might be having.


The Signs of Hairballs

A rabbit held by a vet
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If hairballs develop in a rabbit’s stomach, they can block the intestines and result in severe problems, including death. Therefore, it is important to understand what the signs of hairballs are so the problem can be identified and addressed before it is too late. The most common signs of hairballs in rabbits include:

  • A lack of appetite
  • A loss of weight
  • Disinterest in playing and chewing
  • Loose droppings or a lack thereof
  • Excessive hair in droppings
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • A distended abdomen
  • A dry, flaky coat

If you notice any signs of hairballs, it is important to schedule a checkup appointment with your veterinarian as soon as you can. The best case is that your rabbit has another issue that is easy to address. But if your rabbit has developed a dangerous hairball, your vet can determine what, if anything, can be done.


Preventing Hairballs

rabbit grooming_denys kurbatov_shutterstock
Image Credit: denys kurbatov, shutterstock

The prevention of hairballs is the best way to ensure that your rabbit does not succumb to one in the future. The best way to prevent hairballs is to groom your rabbit regularly. The less hair that your rabbit ingests when grooming themselves, the less chance they will have of developing a hairball at any given time.

It is also important to make sure that your rabbit has plenty of wooden blocks to chew on and toys to play with. This will keep them from overgrooming themselves due to boredom. Another effective way to prevent hairballs is to feed your rabbit a high-fiber diet. Make sure their diet is at least 80% hay, their commercial feed is about 5% and made predominantly of grasses and provide 10% of leafy greens, and a maximum of 5% of snacks, such as broccoli and carrots. Making sure that your rabbit has access to unlimited, clean water will help ensure that they stay hydrated so their digestive system can perform properly and remove the hair that gets in there.

Also, regular exercise is important because it keeps the digestive system moving as it should. You can encourage exercise through interactive play and by providing them with enough space, as well as environmental enrichment opportunities.


Getting Rid of Hairballs

vets checking up a rabbit
Image Credit: Sakan.p, Shutterstock

If a hairball does develop, several things can be done to get rid of it, but you will have to rely on your veterinarian. First, your vet may try to provide your rabbit with IV fluids if they are dehydrated to get their digestive system going. With any luck, your rabbit will then be able to pass the hairball on their own.

If necessary, your veterinarian will administer gastrointestinal stimulants and enzymes to encourage the natural breakdown and processing of the hairball. If all else fails, your rabbit will need hairball removal surgery, which involves opening the rabbit’s digestive system and manually removing the hairball.


In Conclusion

Hairballs, while a natural occurrence, can certainly put your rabbits’ life at risk. Prevention is the best approach to this issue, and now that you know all about hairballs in rabbits, you can take the necessary steps to reduce the chance of their development. Taking care of the details, you can help your rabbit enjoy a happier, healthier, and higher-quality life as time goes on. You also know what must be done if your rabbit does have a hairball.

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Featured Image Credit: JackieLou DL, Pixabay

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