While a rabbit’s ears are one of its most noticeable (and cute) features, they’re also one of its most important body structures. Ears help rabbits stay alert for predators, keep their balance, and even regulate body temperature. Since a rabbit’s ears provide all those vital functions, it’s essential to know how to care for them.
How do we care for a rabbit’s ears?
- Know why rabbit ears are such important structures
- Practice day to day rabbit ear care
- Check your rabbit’s ears regularly
- Know how to spot the symptoms of ear problems
- Clean your rabbit’s ears with the correct techniques and products
- Know when to consult your veterinarian
In the ultimate guide to how to care for a rabbit’s ears, you’ll learn all the tricks of the trade to make sure your fluffy friend’s ears are healthy, comfortable, and working well. After all, a healthy rabbit means a happy rabbit, and a happy rabbit means a happy owner.
The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Rabbits Ears
Rabbits have extremely sensitive ears, but for good reason: they’re one of the most important body structures they have.
Thankfully for owners, caring for a rabbit’s ears isn’t a complicated task, especially if you know what to look for and how it’s properly done.
Once you know some necessary information about rabbit ears, like
- why they’re such essential structures,
- how they can be cared for
- how to check them,
- how to spot the symptoms of ear problems,
you can hop right into cleaning your rabbit’s ears with the correct techniques and the best products.
Of course, you’re never entirely alone in caring for your rabbit’s ears, either; veterinarians are almost always a quick call away to assist with questions and concerns, as long as you know when you should consult them.
Why Rabbits’ Ears are Such Important Structures
Rabbits have sensitive ears–not just sensitive buy really sensitive. This is all with good reason, though, because the ears of rabbits serve several vital functions.
Once you know just why rabbit ears are so important, you’ll be able to understand why taking care of them is so important – and how you can do so.
You obviously know that one of the most obvious functions of a rabbit’s ears is that they allow rabbits to hear. Rabbits are heavily reliant on their hearing, especially in the wild, as it allows them to stay alert to predators or threats that may be in the distance.
Even though your rabbit probably isn’t facing any predators or threats in your home, hearing is still an essential part of life.
According to “Rabbit Ears: a Structural Look,” most rabbits can turn their ears up to 270º in order to find the source of a sound. Rabbits can even sometimes focus in on and monitor two sounds at once!
Think of the last time you were exerting yourself during a hot day. You were probably sweating, right? As unpleasant as it can be, that’s one of the ways our bodies regulate our temperature.
Rabbits’ bodies regulate their temperature, too, but a rabbit’s body temperature is regulated through its ears.
Rabbit ears house a large blood supply, which allows the ears to help regulate temperature. When rabbits get overheated or begin to get too hot, the blood vessels in the ear swell with blood.
As the blood swells and circulates through the rabbit’s ears, heat is released, and body temperature decreases.
On the other hand, when a rabbit is in cold conditions or getting too chilly, the blood vessels in the ears will constrict. This constriction reduces blood flow, effectively reducing heat loss from the ears.
The inner and middle ear of a rabbit play important roles in its balance, as well as body movement and positioning.
Parts of the middle ear help detect head position and motion, while other parts send signals to the brain to let the rabbit know if he or she is upright, upside-down, or in another position.
One rabbit owner, Diane Gosnell, wrote about her experience when her rabbit Thumper’s back legs weren’t working. Diane was terrified that Thumper’s back legs had become paralyzed (what rabbit owner wouldn’t be, right?).
However, once a veterinarian examined Thumper, the vet determined that Thumper’s leg problems had nothing to do with his legs – it was all because he had developed a middle ear infection that severely impacted his balance.
Thumper’s case, while unfortunate, is an example of just how much a rabbit’s ears affect its balance and movement.
Day-to-Day Rabbit Ear Care
As you can tell, rabbits’ ears are crucial to their well-being. The fact that a rabbit’s ears help it with body functions like hearing, temperature regulation, balance, and movement is a testament to just how important it is to care for rabbits’ ears.
Some rabbit owners may overlook rabbit ear care, especially on the day-to-day, but that doesn’t make them bad owners. However, it’s best to be mindful of caring for rabbits’ ears to help prevent, find, and treat ear issues quickly and adequately.
While a lot of rabbit owners might not practice daily care for their rabbit’s ears (and it isn’t always necessary), it’s good to know some techniques and tips of caring for rabbits’ ears on the day-to-day.
Make Sure Your Rabbit is Cleaning Its Ears
Rabbits don’t always need their owner’s help with ear cleaning and care; they’re relatively self-sufficient when it comes to ear care.
Still, you should keep an eye on your rabbit every day to make sure he or she is cleaning its ears on its own. Rabbits clean their ears with their back toenail, which helps remove built-up wax and dirt.
If your rabbit doesn’t look like it’s taking action to clean its ears, you’ll probably want to move on to the next tip for day-to-day ear care, and even begin cleaning your rabbit’s ears on a regular basis.
It’s important to note that some rabbit breeds, especially those with lop ears, will most likely need help from their owners to clean their ears. Because lop-eared rabbit breeds have long, drooped over ears, they aren’t able to get a back toenail into their ears easily or at all. They require their owner’s care and assistance.
Check Your Rabbit’s Ears Daily
Try to check your rabbit’s ears daily, especially if he or she doesn’t seem to be caring for his or her ears.
Checking your rabbit’s ears is relatively quick and straightforward, especially if you’re holding your rabbit or hanging out with your rabbit already. We’ll discuss how to check your rabbit’s ears in-depth in the next section, so you can learn how to do so correctly.
Avoid Handling Their Ears Roughly
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: rabbit ears are sensitive. They’re also very delicate and can be easily injured by any rough handling.
It hopefully goes without saying, but always avoid any rough handling with your rabbit’s ears. Never pick your rabbit up by its ears or tug on its ears. Even slightly rough handling can damage a rabbit’s ears.
Assist Your Rabbit’s Ears on Hot Days
This tip is especially pertinent to those who live in areas where temperatures get very hot. Your rabbit’s ears can help regulate their temperatures when they get too hot or too cold, but on days where temperatures involve extreme heat, you can help them even more.
On particularly hot days, take a cloth that’s damp with cold water and rub it gently on your rabbit’s ears. The cool towel will help them cool off more quickly and effectively through the process of evaporative cooling – and make your rabbit much more comfortable.
How to Check Your Rabbit’s Ears
You read that you should try to check your rabbit’s ears daily. If that’s not possible, you should try to check your rabbit’s ears at least every couple of days or so. How do you go about checking your rabbit’s ears?
Make Sure Your Rabbit is Comfortable
According to veterinarian Catherine Thomas, it’s important to make sure your rabbit is in a comfortable position before you begin checking his or her ears. That way, your rabbit won’t get hurt or put in an uncomfortable position if he or she tries to wriggle away.
Keeping your rabbit comfortable throughout the process of checking his or her ears will also create a better experience for your rabbit; he or she will likely be calm or even unbothered by the ear checking process.
Check the Outer Ear and Ear Canal
The outer ear and the ear canal are the parts of the rabbit’s ears that are visible when looking inside the ears.
Veterinarian Catherine Thomas notes that as you look at the outer ear (the part that sticks up or flops down), it should be clean with no visible scabs, wounds, scales or flakes.
Next, look into your rabbit’s ear canals. Healthy ear canals are indicated by a small bit of wax in a pale, creamy color. A large amount of wax or discharge that is also a different color than pale cream may indicate an ear problem.
Check for Lumps
Lumps and bumps around, on or in a rabbit’s ear, aren’t normal, and you should check for lumps on and around your rabbit’s ears before or after you check the outer ear and ear canal.
To do this, gently feel around the base of your rabbit’s ear right before the opening. Make sure to check and see if there is any swelling or any lumps or bumps.
It’s important to note that sometimes swelling can be around the entire area of the ear, and it may be tough to pinpoint an unusually swollen area.
Consult Your Veterinarian with Any Questions
As we mentioned previously, the great thing about caring for rabbit’s ears is that you’re most likely never alone–veterinarians are there to assist should you have any questions.
If you noticed an unusual amount of wax, an oddly colored wax or discharge, swelling, lumps or bumps in or around your rabbit’s ears, make sure to call your veterinarian with any questions you may have. As the old saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Know How to Spot the Symptoms of Ear Problems
It would be hard to tell if your rabbit’s ears need care and how to care for your rabbit’s ears if you didn’t know the symptoms of common rabbit ear problems.
That brings us to a vital part of caring for a rabbit’s ears: knowing how to spot the symptoms of ear problems.
If your rabbit is a breed with lop ears, knowing how to spot the symptoms of ear problems is especially important.
Lop-eared rabbits are at an even higher risk for ear problems because the shape of their ears makes for a moist environment where germs, mites, and bacteria can thrive.
Symptoms of Ear Infections
Like humans and many other animals, rabbits are susceptible to ear infections. Veterinarian Catherine Thomas notes that ear infections in rabbits are characterized by:
- The rabbit tilting its head to either side
- Behavior changes like teeth grinding and irritability
- Loss of appetite
- Discharge from the ears
- Cold-like symptoms
- A foul odor coming from the rabbit’s ears
Catherine also says that ear infections unfortunately often go undiagnosed because many rabbits may not display obvious symptoms.
However, if you’re regularly checking and paying attention to your rabbit’s ears, you will hopefully be able to pick up on any worrisome symptoms or changes in your rabbit’s behavior or appearance.
Symptoms of Ear Mites
The symptoms that accompany ear mites are often much easier to spot than those of ear infections. Ear mites may be present in a rabbit if:
- The rabbit is scratching its head and ears excessively or more than usual
- The rabbit is losing hair in spots around the neck, abdomen, and/or feet
- Lesions have appeared around the neck
- A thick, brown fluid is present in the ear canals
Ear mites are an immediate cause for concern. If you suspect your rabbit has ear mites, call or visit your veterinarian so your rabbit can receive treatment.
How to Clean Your Rabbit’s Ears
If you’ve been checking on your rabbit’s ears and have noticed that there is an abundance of dirt, dust, and other materials – or even if you think your rabbit’s ears could use a routine cleaning – it’s time to clean out those ears.
There are quite a few methods for cleaning a rabbit’s ears, and no two pet owners have the exact same process for doing so. However, there are some main points and tips to follow.
Then, as you see fit, you can adjust your ear cleaning routine for the comfort of both you and your rabbit as you go along.
Step 1: Get the Right Products
You’ll need a few simple products to clean your rabbit’s ears. Thankfully, they’re both easy to find and easy to use, which is great for everyone involved.
Ear Cleaning Solution
One of those simple products is an ear cleaning solution.
There are a lot of rabbit ear cleaning solutions out there, so it’s best to do your research and purchase an ear cleaning solution you’re comfortable with using on your rabbit.
If you’re unsure, you can ask your veterinarian for recommendations on ear cleaning solutions to use.
In this YouTube video on how to clean rabbits’ ears, vet Antonio Rodríguez explains that you can use any ear cleaner for small mammals on your rabbits. That means ear cleaners for ferrets, kittens, hamsters, puppies, and hamsters will all work for rabbits.
Some top-rated and recommended ear cleaning solutions (available from Amazon) are:
- Marshall 4-Ounce Small Animal Ear Cleaning Solution
- ZYMOX Pet King Brand Otic Pet Ear Treatment with Hydrocortisone
- Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner, 8 oz
- Bodhi Dog Natural Pet Ear Cleaner
- Oxyfresh Pet Ear Cleaner
This product is simple, and you can get it just about anywhere: cotton balls. Make sure to have a bag of cotton balls on hand when getting ready to clean your rabbit’s ears; you can get them from wherever you choose!
Step 2: Prepare and Contain Your Rabbit
Once you’ve got the necessary products for rabbit ear cleaning, you can move on to the next step: preparing and containing your rabbit for his or her ear cleaning.
First, make sure your rabbit is happy and calm. You may want to play with him or her before doing the cleaning. You also may want to clean your rabbit’s ears in a place they feel most comfortable, like on your lap or a blanket.
Troy Animal Hospital notes that rabbits don’t like to be held high off the ground. So, when cleaning your rabbit’s ears, it’s recommended to sit on the ground with your rabbit or put your rabbit on a low table for ear cleaning time.
Troy Animal hospital also recommends getting your rabbit used to being touched, especially around the ears, head, and neck.
Your rabbit will need to be contained while you’re cleaning his or her ears so that everything goes properly. Again, it’s essential to keep your rabbit in a comfortable position if possible.
Your rabbit may get anxious or frightened during ear cleaning and may struggle or get upset. Keep this in mind as you go about the ear cleaning process.
If your rabbit is biting, or scratching during the ear cleaning process, take a break and try again a bit later. Biting and scratching are signs of stress from the rabbit and can lead to accidental injury.
Step 3: Gently Go Through the Cleaning Process
There are a few different methods for the actual rabbit ear cleaning process, which we’ll discuss in detail. No matter which method you decide to go with, make sure to always handle your rabbit and his or her ears gently.
Method 1: Cleaning Solution Directly in the Ears
The rabbit ear cleaner you purchased should have a nozzle, applicator, or tip suitable for going directly in your rabbit’s ear to dispense the cleaning solution.
In this rabbit ear cleaning method, you’ll take the following steps:
- Lift or hold your rabbit’s ear and simultaneously spray or pour cleaner inside the ear (whichever your cleaning solution bottle allows).
- While holding the top of the rabbit’s ear, gently massage the base of the ear to help dislodge dirt and other particles in the ear.
- Take a cotton ball and gently wipe out the rabbit’s ear from the canal to the tip. You can repeat multiple times if needed. Do NOT push too deep inside the ear or put much pressure on the cotton ball, as this could lead to injury.
- Repeat for the other ear.
For a short demonstration on how to clean out your rabbit’s ears with this method, view the YouTube video How to Clean a Rabbit’s Ears by Tai Wai Small Animal & Exotic Veterinary Hospital.
Method 2: Cleaning Solution on a Cotton Ball
This method requires the same products but uses them a bit differently. For this method, take the following steps:
- Pour or spray the ear cleaning solution on a cotton ball. The cotton ball should have enough solution to be somewhat damp.
- Lift or hold your rabbit’s ear and gently wipe out the rabbit’s ear with the soaked cotton ball from the base of the ear to the tip of the ear. Depending on the conditions of your rabbit’s ears, you may need to repeat this step more than once.
- Repeat on the other ear.
Know When to Consult Your Veterinarian
Another critical component of caring for a rabbit’s ears is knowing when to consult your veterinarian.
You should consult your veterinarian if you see any of the following traits or behaviors emerge in your rabbit:
- Signs and symptoms of an ear infection
- Signs and symptoms of ear mites
- Unusual discharge or odor coming from the ears
- Issues or changes in mobility, movement, and balance
- Head tilts
- Drooping of one side of the face
- Any other traits or characteristics that don’t seem normal in your rabbit or your rabbit’s ears
Remember, when it comes to your fluffy friend, it’s better to be safe than sorry. When in doubt, contact the professionals!
Tips for Keeping Your Rabbit’s Ears Healthy
Again, a healthy rabbit means a happy rabbit, and a happy rabbit means a happy owner.
Keeping your rabbit’s ears healthy can help prevent ear problems from developing, and paying attention to your rabbit’s ear health can help catch any ear problems in the early stages.
The following are tips for keeping your rabbit’s ears healthy.
Get Your Rabbit Accustomed to Ear Cleaning at an Early Age
Getting your rabbit accustomed to ear cleaning at an early age has several benefits. Not only will it keep your rabbit’s ears healthy and keep you alert to any changes in your rabbit’s ears, but it will also make the process of cleaning your rabbit’s ears easier.
If your rabbit is accustomed to ear cleaning at an early age, he or she is much more likely to be comfortable with ear cleaning and care. When rabbits are calm during ear cleaning and care, there’s much less of a chance of injury.
Make Sure to Clean and Change Bedding Frequently
Rabbit owners may not realize that their rabbit’s bedding can be the culprit of ear problems.
When a rabbit’s bedding isn’t cleaned frequently enough, bedding and mites can accumulate. Since the rabbit lives in that bedding in which bacteria and mites have collected, the bacteria and parasites can make their way into the rabbit’s ears.
Cleaning rabbit bedding frequently and thoroughly will lessen the chances of bacteria and mites getting in your rabbit’s ears, thus keeping the ears healthy!
Get Dustless Bedding
The type of bedding you provide for your rabbit also matters. Everything about your pet on YouTube recommends buying dustless bedding, so mites can’t thrive. They also recommend newspaper bedding, which they use for their rabbits.
Alternatives to dust bedding include (available from Amazon):
- Small Pet Select All Natural Pellet Bedding
- PIVBY Grass Mat for Rabbits
- Small Pet Select Aspen Bedding
Dustless bedding won’t create an environment where bacteria and mites can live and thrive as easily, which can help keep your rabbit’s ears healthy.
Our furry rabbit friends are arguably some of the cutest in the animal kingdom. All that cuteness still requires care, though – especially when it comes to the ears.
Rabbits’ ears need to be cared for and checked on relatively routinely, and you should always try to be aware of their rabbit’s ear health.
That way, you can take the necessary steps to keep your rabbit’s ears clean, note if there are any symptoms of ear problems, and take the rabbit to the vet for further care if necessary.
Once you know how to check on and care for your rabbit’s ears, those ear problems may just hop right away.