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Why Do Rabbits Have a Dewlap?
Common questions we get from many new rabbit owners are: why do rabbits have a dewlap, and what exactly is it? A dewlap is a fatty flap or roll of skin under the chin of rabbits. You will usually see them on female rabbits, but some males have them too. Its primary function is to assist the rabbit in preparing to give birth, and it can be less pronounced in spayed and neutered rabbits. Keep reading while we take a closer look at what rabbits use their dewlap for and how it differs from one breed to the next.
What Is a Dewlap?
A dewlap is a fold of fatty skin under the chin of your rabbit. Some new owners might mistake this flap of skin as a sign the rabbit is getting overweight, but it is a natural occurrence. However, if your rabbit is overweight, the dewlap will be larger than it would ordinarily be, but it will not affect its function. If you feel like the dewlap is so large that it is interfering with the normal life of your rabbit due to obesity, we recommend contacting your vet for a weight loss plan that is safe and effective.
How Do Rabbits Use Dewlaps?
A female rabbit uses her dewlap to get the hair she needs to line her nest in order to keep the babies comfortable and warm. The size and shape of the dewlap create a convenient way for the rabbit to remove her hair as she builds the nest. It will form as the rabbit reaches sexual maturity, and it’s a good way to tell if your rabbit is ready for breeding.
Dewlaps By Breed
While you will find dewlaps on many rabbit breeds, they can be different sizes depending on the type of rabbit. Large breeds like the Flemish Giant and the French Lop often have large dewlaps. You will even find dewlaps common among French Lop males. Breeds expected to have a small dewlap include the Giant Papillon, Self-Rexes, and Havana’s. There are even rabbit breeds that don’t have any dewlap, including the Himalayan, Polish, Tan, and Netherland Dwarf.
No one is quite sure why male rabbits have dewlaps since they do not pull out their hair to make nests. However, many experts notice that getting your pet spayed or neutered has a big impact on the size of the dewlap. Males neutered before puberty have larger dewlaps and more estrogen in their bodies. Waiting until after puberty to neuter will result in a rabbit with less estrogen and a smaller dewlap. Females are the opposite. Getting her spayed early can result in a smaller dewlap than might develop in a rabbit spayed later.
Sometimes female rabbits will begin to build their nest, even if you have them spayed. No one is sure why they build this nest, but if you are a first-time pet owner, it can be startling to see your rabbit pulling the fur out of her dewlap to make a nest. However, there is nothing to be concerned about, and your rabbit will be fine. The only time you would need to take your rabbit to the vet is if you notice your rabbit is damaging the skin as they pull it out.
One of the biggest problems concerning large dewlaps, especially on overweight rabbits, is that it can make it hard to groom themselves. Dewlaps can also get in the way of your rabbit’s food bowl. If your veterinarian feels your rabbit is overweight, putting it on a diet can help make its daily activities much easier. Frequently brushing your rabbit can help keep it clean, especially during shedding season, but you should not give your rabbit many baths as it could scare them and dry out their skin.
Another major issue with a large dewlap is that it can get wet, and the moisture can get trapped in the fold, allowing bacteria to grow. This wet skin will get irritated and itchy, creating a stressful environment for your rabbit. It might even get infected. The dewlap can get wet when your rabbit is taking a drink from its water bowl. It can also get wet if your rabbit drools from a medical procedure or other condition. Symptoms of a wet dewlap include a loss of hair that exposes red, inflamed skin below. Your vet will use an antibiotic powder to soothe the skin, but you can prevent it by trimming the hair so it dries faster and using water bottles instead of bowls.
The dewlap provides a female rabbit a convenient way to get the hair she needs to build a warm and comfortable nest. Despite how it looks, the rabbit is not in danger unless you see signs of injury under the fur. Spayed rabbits will have much smaller dewlaps in intact females, but they will still be present. Obesity can cause the dewlap to become so large it is difficult to manage and can even prevent the rabbit from eating and drinking. If your rabbit has a large dewlap use a water bottle instead of a dish to reduce the risk of a wet dewlap.
We hope you have enjoyed reading and have learned some new and interesting facts. If we have helped you understand your pet better, please share this guide to why rabbits have a dewlap on Facebook and Twitter.
Featurd Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.