How to Care For Your Angora Rabbit
I started raising Angora rabbits because I wanted a source of fiber for my spinning projects. Sheep were out of the question, but I thought I could handle a rabbit. After seeing these darlings for the first time, I couldn't resist and I ended up adopting four of them. They are affectionately known as the "Wooly Wabbits".
Angora rabbits are relatively easy to care for. They don't require vaccinations, and it doesn't cost much to feed them. Keeping them well groomed is the biggest chore in order to maintain a coat of fur that is matt-free and clean. I wouldn't recommend adopting an Angora rabbit if you are not willing to take the time to thoroughly brush or blow out their coats at least twice a week. Although, I have found that my German angoras require less grooming, which is why they are my favorite breed.
Here are a few tips to help keep your bunny healthy and happy.
There are a number of ways to maintain your rabbit. Some owners keep their rabbits outdoors, in their garage or basement, or in the house. Here are a couple of things to consider.
Outdoors: Keep outdoor cages off the ground and make sure they are sturdy enough to withstand a predator attack. The cages should also provide a shelter from the weather - rain, snow, heat, etc.
Indoors: My first rabbits lived indoors in a spare bedroom, inside 30x36x18" wire cages stacked 2x2. I buy my cages from a company called Bass Equipment Company in Missouri. Of course you can also build your own. The cages have a wire mesh floor and a durable plastic drop pan that slides underneath the cage. I line the pan with disposable cage liners that I purchase also from Bass, which makes it easy to clean by simply rolling up and disposing it. I clean their cages every 2 days. It is important to keep the cages clean, because a heavily soiled cage is very irritating to your rabbit because of the ammonia in the urine, plus you don't want their brand of perfume smells in the house. My rabbits live in their own separate "bunny condo" (cage). I wouldn't recommend putting more than one rabbit in a cage unless they are from the same litter and still very young. Two sisters may get along together in the same cage but they may also get territorial. My two bucks fight each other or are very amorous with one another when they are together- not a pretty sight, so I always keep them separated.
The most important part of angora care it the feeding. Angoras need extra protein to support constant wool production. I feed my rabbits 18% protein commercial rabbit pellets which can be bought at any pet store that carries rabbit supplies. Up until 4-6 months you can full feed your rabbit at any time with pellets and Timothy hay. After 6 months your rabbit is an adult and their food needs to be cut back. A good daily formula to follow for pellets is: approx. 1/2 - 3/4 cups of feed for English angoras and approx. 3/4 - 1 cup of feed for French, German, and Satin angoras
Hay: I feed my rabbits Timothy hay to add roughage to their diet which helps prevent "wool block". Twice a day, I stuff a hand full of hay into both ends of an empty toilet paper roll tube. I tried using a hay feeder but they would knock the hay into their cages and it gets in their fur. For some reason they really like having the hay in the tube. Sticking it in the door is another option.
Water: Always make sure you rabbit has fresh water every day. I hang their water bottle on the outside of the cage.
Treats: I only give my rabbits treats once a week. On Saturday, I take away their pellets and give them a gourmet meal of bananas, broccoli, and papaya, plus extra hay. This helps to keep their digestive system healthy and to prevent wool block. Begin this kind of supplementation at 4-6 months of age. Babies' systems are delicate, so be careful to introduce new items slowly into their diet. I also recommend giving your rabbit Papaya tablets (to prevent/relieve Wool Block) 2-5 tablets once a week. They are available in health food stores and sometimes in the vitamin section of grocery stores.
My grooming tools consist of a small and large pet grooming brush (wire-bristles), a small-tooth comb for combing out matts, a small pair of scissors for cutting out matts, and nail trimmers. If you are raising show rabbits, a blower is optional. I raise my rabbits for wool production only, therefore I give them a good brushing twice a week to keep them free from tangles and mats. Removing their loose hair helps prevent Wool Block. On the other hand, show angoras need to maintain the density and length of wool to score well. Special grooming techniques, including the use of a blower are used to open up the coat and to keep as much hair as possible on the rabbit. Using a blower once a week is usually sufficient. Blowers can be found in dog grooming or horse supply catalogs and shops. It is very important to regularly groom your rabbit to keep it free from matts and tangles if you intend to use its wool for spinning or felting.
This is my method of grooming that works with my rabbits, you will probably also find a way that works for you. I start out first by setting the rabbit on my lap and brushing the top hair on its back and sides. To do the stomach and legs I gently take hold of the bottom part of the rabbit's ears and the scoff of its neck and roll it over on its back. (Holding the rabbit this way immobilizes it the same way it does with a cat, it won't hurt the animal if you do it gently.) I hold the rabbit in between my knees and brush the stomach, bib and legs. I use the comb the work out tough matts and if all else fails I cut them out. (Be sure to point the tip of the scissors away from the rabbit to avoid injuring it.) Your rabbit will usually surrender peacefully to their grooming time if you make it a regular practice.
Most angoras will naturally shed their coat 3-4 times a year, basically every 90 days. The German angora do not molt their wool like the other breeds, so shearing the rabbit is common practice. But, I have always been able to hand harvest my German angoras. I can easily remove the wool from their back, bib and stomach. But, I clip it from their legs, ears, tail, and face.
When you start seeing clumps of wool sticking to the cage or the rabbit dragging strings of wool behind it, then the wool is probably ready for harvest. It usually takes me about 1-2 hours of grooming time per rabbit. Sometimes I split the harvest between two days. I usually hand harvest my rabbits, which is gently pulling the loose fiber from the rabbit with my fingers. This does not hurt the rabbit because it is wool that the rabbit is shedding naturally, pretty much like a dog shedding its coat. I store the wool in between sheets of tissue paper inside of a sweater box or paper bag. If you are planning to sell the wool, make sure to lay the staples of wool parallel to each other in the same direction. It is important that the staples stay neat.
If you are planning on spinning your bunny's wool, try to let it grow at least 3 inches long, 4 inches or more is better as long as the rabbit remains healthy. Groom the rabbit at least 2-3 times a week to keep it clean and tangle-free.
The natural self-grooming process for an Angora rabbit is the same as for a cat. They lick their coats to keep it clean. When their coats start to shed, they will most likely ingest any loose fibers. Unlike a cat, your rabbit will not be able to regurgitate the fiber from its stomach, and a large build up will clog its digestive system and intestines. When this happens your rabbit will stop eating its food and drinking water because it thinks it is already full. If left untreated, your rabbit will starve to death. One sure sign of wool block, besides a loss of appetite, is when your rabbit's feces become very small and dry. The stool of a healthy rabbit is large, round, and moist. In extreme cases, defecation and urination will cease all together. Therefore, you should always pay close attention to how your rabbit is eliminating. Secondly, if your usually happy and playful bunny all of a sudden becomes lethargic and loses its appetite, it probably doesn't feel well.
The first thing you should do when you suspect wool block is consult a veterinarian who specializes in rabbits. If that is not possible, I would like to share what has successfully worked for me. Immediately take away your rabbit's pellets and feed it more hay. Also, adding a little frozen pineapple juice to its water helps increase stomach enzymes. If that doesn't work give your bunny mineral oil (I have also used Canola oil). The only way that you are going to get your rabbit to ingest the oil is by feeding it with a syringe - like the ones in the drugstores for kids. I usually turn the rabbit on its back, tilted up a little, and administer one syringe full of the oil, twice a day. If your bunny stops drinking water, you should also give it water with the syringe. If there are no significant changes after 1 1/2 days, then you should shave the fiber off of the rabbit, and continue force feeding it.
My method for dealing with wool block can probably be considered an early detection method. In extreme cases, saving the life of your rabbit may mean consulting a veterinarian or using intravenous feeding. I hope you will never have to experience wool block with you rabbit. It can be scary but it can be reversed if detected soon enough. Keep a close eye on your rabbits.