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What Do You Think?

Cleaning up the Competition


by Kristy Hume

It never ceases to amaze me to see yellow-speckled faces, long toenails, messy butts and other not-so-attractive features finding their way onto the show table. They’re everywhere; 4-H shows, ARBA-sanctioned state shows, national level shows, on the youth table, and yes, even on the open table. While I am no veteran to the art of showing rabbits, I have quickly learned to take pride in the animals I am putting on the table. I am very proud to say I have taken both Best Blue Fur and Best Black Fur at the NDS 2005 and 2006, and Best Black Fur at the ARBA Convention of 2005.
There is really no reason to not groom your rabbits. You’re paying an entry fee to have someone judge your animal and the last thing you want to hear is, “That would have been your best of breed if you’d just cleaned him up a little.” It shows respect for your animals, your hobby, the judge and the event when you put a little time into your rabbit looking as pristine as possible on the table.
The basis of a well-groomed rabbit is simply in the management of your barn. Proper nutrition and sanitation are the very minimum you can provide your rabbits with to keep them clean and ready for the show table. A healthy diet keeps them in peak condition, and everyone has their little hints and tips that they swear by. I don’t know if it’s a specific element or a combination in my rabbits’ diets that keeps them in tip-top condition, but I know that what I do works for me, so I stick with it! All I can suggest is that when you discover what diet makes your rabbits happy and healthy, keep it the same and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing! As for sanitation, everyone knows that rabbits are generally very clean animals, especially the does. I find that they keep themselves immaculate if left to their own devices! Bucks, on the other hand, are a whole different story. If they’re not peeing on themselves, they’re peeing on their neighbors. I always keep a divider between my boys to stop this from happening. Other than that, I just make sure to keep my cages clean and the barn ventilated.
Cleaning up your rabbits the day of the show is really not as time consuming as most people think. Most of my rabbits are basically clean, and just need a one or two minute once over. First and foremost, I try to make sure that all the rabbits in my barn have their nails clipped routinely, but at shows, the first thing I check is to make sure my rabbits aren’t going to be leaving any battle wounds on the judge! I also like to make sure their vents are clean and that the rabbit doesn’t have a messy bottom that needs to be cleaned up.
I carry a small container of grooming tools in my show bag. Some items I use every show, every rabbit, and other tools I might use once every couple of shows. It just depends on what you’re working with.
My favorite, and probably most used item, is a product called Classicoat II. It’s a self-rinsing shampoo plus whitener that you can buy from most vendors at rabbit shows. It works extremely well on any yellow spots from rabbit urine. You just soak the spots and lather it up, use a dry paper towel to dry off the area as much as possible, then later brush it out with your hands or a soft brush so it looks nice. I also like to use this product when I have a rabbit with a sticky coat from being peed on. I just put some on my hand and then run it through the hair both directions. Again, you need to make sure you do this early enough so the rabbit is dry before you put him on the table. Judges don’t know what they’re dealing with when they touch a wet rabbit, and it’s just respectful to not make them wonder!
The hacksaw blade is growing in popularity when it comes to grooming, and with good reason. Mine is just an old, dull one my dad found for me. It works great to get any stray loose hairs, but I really like using it on the lower hindquarters of the animal. Especially when they get those little tufts of hair when they haven’t quite finished molting out. 
The lint comb is my favorite tool to put an all over sleek appearance on the rabbit. I really like using it on my grays, because the rough edge seems to help separate the hairs and give a more consistent and balanced look to their coat.
Another tool I have is a pumice stone-type grooming block. You can buy them from vendors at shows or you can find them at horse tack shops. There are probably lots of brands, but I use a “Slick N’ Easy” which is intended for horses, but works on bunnies too! If you have a rabbit with an open coat, this is the tool to grab. It gets the loose hair and leaves a nice slick appearance. It also works wonder on your molting rabbits at home!
I think this would be a good time to talk about some other coat issues in the rabbit world. First order of business: molting rabbits. A molting rabbit is going to lose an awful lot of points on coat and condition and rarely does well on the table (especially the grays who sometimes temporarily lose their ring color during a molt.) Unless you’re desperate to show the rabbit, it’s best to just leave him or her at home. Groom the rabbit often, and before you know it, you’ll have him ready to go back on the show table!
A stained/discolored coat is another biggie. I know that some of my blue bucks can almost look chocolates when they’ve been urine-stained. I have found no secret to solving this problem but to just wait it out. Sooner or later, your rabbit will molt out and get his color back. It’s just a matter of patience. However, sometimes your discolored coats come from sunlight, and the color has been bleached. Again, there’s not much you can do but keep your rabbit out of any direct sunlight and to just let him molt out!
Also, bear in mind that I only have experience in black, blue and gray Dutch, and I’m sure that there are coat and color problems with the other varieties that breeders face. I always like to admire those nice rich, chocolate coats that seem to be an unending battle to keep.
Hopefully you’ve found this article useful (and maybe even a little inspiring?) If you have any grooming tips of your own, I would love to hear them. Can’t wait to see everyone at the shows!

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