How to Clean a Pet Rabbit's Scent Glands

Learn how to clean a pet rabbit's scent glands in this Howcast video featuring bunny lover Amy Sedaris and rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter.

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Rabbits make wonderful pets. If you're thinking of getting one, check out these videos: Actress Amy Sedaris, who is a loving mom to her own pet bunny, helps rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter, Ed.D., LVT answer all your questions about how to take care of a pet rabbit. It's not always easy, but it's worth the work.

 
 

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This is a little bit of an unusual topic. We're going to talk about rabbit scent glands. Rabbits have scent glands in their genital area that are usually not visible. There are two tiny slits on either side of the rectal opening, and you actually have to manipulate the skin to be able to see them. In those two little tiny glands, you will find a waxy, dark substance, that smells, to me, like a combination of skunk and coffee, and that's a healthy smell. It really does smell like that. A lot of people have told me that they have the same perception. So, fortunately for us, this is really unusual, fortunately for us, Bean [SP] has not been the best at keeping his scent glands clean lately. Usually rabbits do a very, very good job of cleaning their own scent glands. I don't mess with scent glands, or try to clean them, unless I see that the rabbit's having trouble cleaning them. If he is, then I take a q-tip, like one of these, and I dip it in some tepid water, which we have here, and put it on a towel, and now we're going to do a really personal job here for little Bean. Let me show what's going on down here. He has a little bit of waxy substance. I'm hoping that you can see this close up. I'm going to open a scent gland on one side, and you can see where the waxy, tarry substance comes out. You can use a little bit of oil or water here, to moisten it. Sometimes it takes several passes to get it soft enough, and you just pull it forward. Let me get my water over here, since I'm right-handed, and moisten it enough to soften it. And you can usually work it out with a q-tip, or even scrape it out, if you have long enough fingernails, which I barely do. Sometimes, a scent gland secretion will become hard enough that it gets a little stuck in there, and you actually can dip the bunny's but into a little pan of water to soften it. This is a hard secretion, and here it comes. With short nails it's a little trickier, but there it is. This is the waxy, lovely, lovely smelling skunk and coffee, and this is a little minor clean-up job in here. I'm going to check the scent gland on the other side now to see if there's wax in that one, and there is. See, you haven't been very fastidious lately, have you? If I had long nails, this would have been off in a flash, but I have short nails. So, I can't scrape it that way. And there we are again, a nice piece of wax. And we're all done. Bean will clean this up himself, this little residual stuff. I'll give it a swab here. I'll dry it off. And now you're fresh, fresh and clean. You beautiful boy.

Expert

  • Mary E. Cotter

    Mary E. Cotter, M.A., Ed.D., LVT is the founder of the NY-based Rabbit Rescue & Rehab. She serves as chapter manager of the NYC House Rabbit Society and is vice president of the International House Rabbit Society. Involved with rabbit rescue since 1982, she speaks and writes frequently on rabbit-related topics, addressing owners, veterinary professionals and shelter workers. Mary is an adjunct assistant professor in the veterinary technology department of LaGuardia Community College (City University of New York) and co-manages a 7,000-member Internet mailing list focused on rabbit health, care and behavior.