Rabbits moult regularly. The baby coat is replaced by an intermediate coat by about 4-5 months of age, although most owners notice this first coat change.
Following this, from 5 months onwards, the adult coat develops. From this point on, subsequent moults are usually far more noticeable. Wild rabbits moult fully twice a year, but domestic rabbits have more variable moult patterns. Some rabbits can moult almost continuously.
A typical rabbit moult begins on the head, progresses down the neck and back and then towards the stomach, but some rabbits moult in patches all over their bodies with no distinct pattern. Dark coloured rabbits sometimes have a noticeable "tide mark". If you blow into the fur of a moulting rabbit, the skin appears dark in colour where the new hairs are growing through. All these are perfectly normal. However, there are a few problems associated with moulting that owners need to be aware of.
Moulting rabbits need daily grooming to reduce the amount of hair passing through the digestive system. True hair balls are fairly UNCOMMON in house rabbits (they tend to occur in bored pet rabbits without access to hay) but all rabbit owners need to be alert to signs of a sluggish digestive system which allows hair to accumulate in the stomach and cause problems. Constant access to hay is absolutely vital to keep the guts moving normally.
It would be a good idea to check your rabbits droppings daily. Droppings that are small and dry, or strung together with hair, should ring alarm bells. If you find them, but your bunny is lively and behaving normally, you can give a small dose (5 - 10ml) of liquid paraffin, which may prevent problems developing. However, if your rabbit is subdued
or unwell in any way then he may be developing
gastro-intestinal stasis (gut slowing) which needs urgent veterinary attention. There's more information on GI stasis elsewhere in this website.
Pineapple juice was traditionally used to treat “hair balls”, but is rarely recommended these days. The rationale for using pineapple juice was that the enzyme contained within it, papain, “would help break down hair balls”. However, many experts are sceptical about the role of pineapple juice. Firstly, as mentioned already, true hair balls are very rare. Secondly, papain cannot possibly digest hair (although it may help break down the mucus and food that binds hair together in the guts, and the fluid is always useful in helping to re-hydrate the stomach contents) and thirdly, pineapple juice is acidic and can cause irritation to the rabbit's lips. Papaya tablets are little more than sugary treats, which should be avoided.
Sticking in moult
The moulting process can get "stuck". This usually happens on the flanks, just above the tail, and on the belly. Use a cat moulting comb to remove the dead loose hair.
Houserabbits living in centrally heated homes often moult incessantly, especially heavy coated breeds. This is an annoying side effect of keeping pets indoors (heavy-coated dogs living indoors do the same) and there is nothing you can do except groom your bunny and vacuum your home daily!