In the life of every angora breeder there are times when the bunnies don’t come in to be harvested in a timely manner. Damp weather, humidity, wool mites, and seasonal shedding can all contribute to a less than perfect angora harvest. Try these tips for grooming angora rabbits to solve those matts.
Under ideal circumstances, you’ll bring the angora rabbit in, just as the coat begins to loosen. You’ll sit comfortably, with the angora on your lap, or on a stool in front of you. You pull off all the loose coat in an orderly manner and lay the coveted luxury fiber in a basket, in order. You bunny will purr and bop your hand, in pleasure for the attention that she is receiving.
You’ll check her ears for signs of mites — a dark, waxy coating in the inside of the ear canal. You’ll check her rump for signs of wool mites – – a waxy feeling to her hair, and white dandruff on her flanks, with possible matting.
You’ll check her hocks for any wear and swelling and treat with herbal salve (calendula, St. Johns Wort and Lavender). You’ll trim her nails with curved nail trimmers. Brush her remaining coat. Give her a treat and put her back in her cage or hutch.
But sometimes every angora owner gets behind or distracted by other homestead responsibilities and there are grooming problems to deal with. If you own angora rabbits this is going to happen to you at some point, so let me tell you how to deal with it.
Grooming Angora Rabbits with Matts
1. You are not a bad angora mom.
First tell yourself, you are not a bad angora mom! Every farmer or homesteaders sometimes falls behind on routine tasks. Further, young bunnies, with immature coats, often matt through the friction of daily interaction with their litter mates. Its not your fault. So simply deal with the matts as you find them, and move on.
2. Check for parasite infestation and treat if necessary.
The most common cause of grooming problems like matted coats in angoras is wool mite infestation. This is very common in winter, when the bunnies are housed indoors, and they are without fresh food. This appears as a matts around the flank and the tail head. You will see white dandruff in these areas. Your angora’s coat will have a greasy feel. If you catch it early, you will be able to get some good harvest from the uninfested parts of the coat. And then trim as much of the matted coat off as possible.
Once you’ve gotten as much of the still good coat off and harvested and the matts trimmed, sprinkle the bunny with a flea powder that is pyrethrum based, made for cats. Ivomec, an injectable, chemical wormer, will also work but its off label use for rabbits. Use it as a sq injection of 2/10th cc per 10 lb. body weight. Follow the safety withdrawal information on the label. Only use Ivomec on very severe infestations and repeat in 10 days, to get the fresh hatch.
Dealing with Wool mites in the hutch or barn:
If you find a mite infestation you will also need to treat the cage or hutch and any other bunny with close intimate contact with your patient. You can use Diatemaceous Earth to treat the cage infestation. Disinfect as necessary. In the old days barns were fumigated by burning herbs such as wormwood inside a closed up, vacated barn. (Don’t do this with your livestock still inside.) The strong vapours and smoke suffocated insect pests and cleansed the air. If you have free standing hutches, you can also whitewash the legs of the hutches and both inside and outside the cages. The lime in white wash cleans wood of larvae and eggs, as well as disinfecting the barn.
3. Clip off matts
I use hair cutting scissors and put the fingers of my left hand between the bunny’s skin and my scissor blades, with the matt upright between my finger, and then clip off the matt within 1/2 inch of the bunnies skin. Don’t pull up on the matt. Angora’s have very loose skin and if you pull up, you may cut the bunny. I don’t try to get right down to the skin with the scissors. Once the bulk of the matt is clipped, you can often tease out the rest of the matt by brushing. Toss the matts, especially if there is mite infestation.
4. Clip the remaining coat
If you have a severe mite infestation, or if you are working with a juvenile rabbit, whose adult coat is not yet in, clipping off the entire coat and tossing the harvest, might be your best option. Juvenile coats are notorious for matting in high humidity, or when several bunnies are housed together in the same hutch. Trim it up and wait 3 months for the new coat to come in. You’ll be much happier and so will the bunny.
5. Do it now.
While it is tempting to postpone the task of removing matts, the longer you wait to attend to the problem, the worse your bunny will feel, and the more waste you’ll find in her coat. If there is a compounding mite problem, waiting could negatively impact the health of your bunny as well. Suck it up and clip the coat off. Treat any health problems that you find. And start over allowing the bunny to grow a fresh coat. In the meantime, give your bunny a diet that is high in roughage and make sure that its mineral needs are met. Bunnies with adequate nutrition rarely suffer from parasite problems.
Dealing with wool impaction, a complication of matts.
Bunnies with matted coats or a coat that is ignored when it is ready to harvest, leading to matts, can become impacted with wool. In cats, this looks like hair balls and the cat just coughs them up. But rabbits don’t regurgitate their food and so can become wool blocked by hair that they lick off their coats and then don’t pass. Wool block is a life threatening angora emergency. If not caught soon enough, your bunny can get enterotoxemia, where the gut produces toxins in response to food that is blocked and not moving through. The gut shuts down completely. There is a sloshy sound when you handle the rabbit. The rabbits stops both eating and drinking. A bunny can die within 12 hours, if enterotoxemia is allowed to go untreated, poisoned by the toxins in their own gut. Don’t let wool block get this far.
You can prevent wool block by feeding a diet high in roughage. Grass hay, oat straw, wheat straw, whole grains, bird seed, green grass and herbs can contribute to a healthy food transit in rabbits. Since we stopped feeding commercial pellets we’ve seen a lot less wool block in our angora herd. Commercial pellets contain binders and fillers as well as GM ingredients that cause problems in the normal digestion of angora rabbits, as well as problems in their reproductive health. They are high in genetically modified soy, which is an endocrine disruptor.
If your bunny goes off feed, the first sign of wool block, remove pellets immediately and give them some of the above high-roughage foods to get their gut moving. 1/2 tsp. of olive oil, orally, given in a 3 cc syringe, dribbled in the mouth, can help move the impaction through.
Some breeders recommend fresh pineapple or papaya for their enzymes that help in digesting the wool ball, in the gut. If your bunny will eat it, its worth a try. Only fresh pineapple will work or papaya and pineapple herbal pills (see below). Canned pineapple has had its enzymes killed by heat.
Back to you:
What challenges do you face with raising your own angora bunnies?
This is part of a series on Angora Rabbit Care and Feeding