Photos by Anjie Coates
“It all started years ago with a Guinea Pig named Rumble,” Anjie Coates told me. “He belonged to a yoga instructor and would follow her movements in her classes. She wanted me to groom him. I checked the library, trying to find information on grooming small mammals, and there was nothing. I searched the internet, too. This was back in the dial-up days.”
Though information was scarce, Coates gleaned tidbits where she could. “The more I learned, the more customers with small mammals magically found me,” she shared.
Fast forward to today, and Coates has a thriving business, including many small mammals, at Furry Tails Grooming Salon & Spa in Holden, MA. She even has a special room dedicated to grooming rabbits and other small mammals.
“I groom seven to eight rabbits one day a week in this space. I have a complete set of tools there; everything I could possibly need,” Coates continues. “Rabbits are prey animals with 360-degree vision. I want all the animals that come here to have a spa day, and a prey animal cannot relax if they see other pets looking at them as if they want to eat them.”
Coates has been grooming for 34 years, and has groomed rabbits all throughout her career, but her rabbit clientele has greatly increased in the past four years. “They come to me from all over the state, and some are referred to me by their veterinarians from as far away as Maine,” she says.
Coates is currently completing a book about rabbit grooming, which will be the first of its kind. “I love talking rabbits, and I teach others how to groom them,” she continues. “In addition, I have a rabbit certification program for groomers that would like to learn rabbit grooming.”
I asked her why a groomer might want to learn this specialized skill, to which she replied, “There are six to nine million pet rabbits in the United States and only around 100 rabbit groomers. If groomers want to have a niche market and be the only game in town—possibly the only game in the entire state—rabbit grooming is that niche. Because it is a specialty market, groomers can charge much more for rabbit grooming than they can for dog or even cat grooming.
“Additionally, for the most part, I have never been bitten by a rabbit. They are really easy to bring back to balance if they become stressed. There is a method of soothing them where you pet them from the top of the nose up the head and up the ears.” (The sensation mimics the act of one rabbit grooming another.) “I often groom rabbits in tandem. My assistant’s job is to soothe the rabbit using this method. That is the area of acquiescence; it says you are the boss bunny,” she shares.
Here are some rabbit grooming tips from Coates:
- Don’t bathe the bunnies. Rabbit fur is far denser than dog or cat fur. For example, dogs may have 7-14 hairs per follicle, but some rabbits have as many as 50. This means that getting them dry takes a very long time. In addition, since most pet rabbits have not been trained to be groomed and are not socialized to the process, they can’t tolerate being dried by a high-velocity dryer. It would take so long to dry one with a regular dryer that the rabbit stands a chance of becoming hypothermic before the process can be completed.
- Don’t trim the fur on their feet. While rabbits have toes, they do not have the large digital pad that dogs and cats have on their feet. The hair on their feet and legs cushions them as they move. Cutting the fur can lead to a condition called pododermatitis, or “sore hock.”
- Don’t hold rabbits vertically. If a rabbit jumps from this position, it can hyperextend its legs behind its body, breaking its own back.
- Don’t “trance” rabbits. This practice, where someone holds the rabbit horizontally on their back, induces the rabbit to go into a state of tonic immobility. As prey animals, it is believed that this behavior was developed as a last resort to escape being attacked by a predator. However, a rabbit in tonic immobility has a dramatically elevated heart rate, which can lead to a fatal heart attack. Veterinarians may use this for a brief treatment, but it should never be used for prolonged grooming.
- Don’t put ear cleaner in a rabbit’s ears.If necessary, the skin in the ear can be gently cleaned with a moist cloth, but no fluid should be introduced into the canal. Doing so could cause severe problems with balance (i.e., vestibular disease).
- Don’t use any blade shorter than a #10, and never use a skip-toothed blade. Coates says, “Rabbits are basically fuzzy raisins. Their skin can easily feed into the space between the teeth of a clipper blade. Number four and five blades or guard combs can be used if the rabbit is not matted.”
- Don’t use cologne, waterless shampoos or leave-in products on their fur. Because they are self-groomers, rabbits will ingest anything left on their fur. In addition, they have delicately balanced digestive systems and upsetting that can cause fatal gastrointestinal stasis.
- Don’t trim vibrissae (whiskers) on rabbits. Coates says, “While rabbits have excellent distance vision, they don’t see well directly in front of their faces and have limited depth perception. Therefore, their whiskers are crucial sensory tools for them. It is possible to pluck long hairs between the whiskers gently, but you must leave them intact.”
- Do use small, very sharp trimmers for claw care. Larger clippers made for dogs make it hard to see the claw when clipping and may increase the risk of accidentally cutting the quick.
- Do check the genital scent glands. They produce a waxy substance that sometimes (especially in chubby bunnies) becomes impacted. It can be gently cleaned with a warm, wet cotton swab. But, Coates says, “They are malodorous enough to make you gag, vomit and cry.”
- Do provide rabbits with a soft, textured surface while working on them.A grippy surface they can dig their feet into helps them feel secure, while a slippery surface induces panic.
- Do maintain a quiet environment while grooming rabbits. Choose the quietest clipper and avoid loud motorized tools like Dremels. “An old-style nail file is best,” says Coates.
If rabbit grooming sounds like something you would like to learn more about, hop on over and check out Anjie Coates’ Facebook page for rabbit groomers. You will find it by typing “Professional Rabbit Groomers” into the search bar. Hoppy grooming! ✂️