picture of Litter

Grooming English Angoras

by
Betty Chu

Basic Tools

The types of grooming tools needed are dependent on how serious the owner is in showing English Angoras. If one is planing on keeping the rabbit as a pet or for the purpose of growing wool, the basic tools are a steel comb with wide-teeth (six or eight teeth per inch by one inch protrusion) and slicker brush. If one shows occasionally but is not seriously competitive, the tools needed are the above comb and brush, a bulb-tip pin brush and a strong plastic regular hair comb with fine teeth. If one shows frequently and seriously, in addition to the above mentioned tools, one also needs a strong blower and a grooming table with lazy-susan turn table at the top.

The reason that there are different tool requirements is that if one wants to be competitive in showing English Angoras, in addition to having good stock, it is necessary to find ways to keep the wool on the rabbit as long as much as possible without matting. The additional tools such as a blower is utilized to accomplish these goals. On the other hand, to keep an English Angora as a pet or as a wooler, one does not want to keep the wool on the rabbit for a long time; thus a comb and a slicker brush will accomplish the task.

Frequency of Grooming

The ideal frequency for grooming an Angora rabbit varies. It depends on the age of the rabbit, the quality of the rabbit, the condition of the rabbit, and the planned purpose for the rabbit. It can be analyzed as follows:
  1. The age of the rabbit:

    picture of Litter Up to eight weeks of age, generally no grooming is necessary. Groom once a week between eight weeks to four months old, every four to five days between four to five months old, and twice a week between five to ten months old. At about ten months or older, a plucking or clipping of the wool is usually done. Generally speaking, when the rabbit is more than one year old, it tends to have more guard hair and thus has less matting and needs less grooming. It usually takes less than 15 minutes to groom a rabbit if it is done once a week, while it takes more than an hour to groom the same rabbit if it is done once every three weeks. It is far better for the owner and the rabbit if grooming is done more frequently.

  2. The quality of the rabbit:

    Some rabbits matt a lot, some don't. Some matt from the inside out (from the wool next to the skin to the surface, or felting), some from the outside in. The ones that matt a lot, especially from the inside out, should be groomed more often. The rabbits that don't matt as often and have their matts appearing on the surface first may be groomed less frequently. If kept for wool, with the right texture, some older rabbits may have their wool harvested every 3-4 months without much grooming in between harvests.

  3. The condition of the rabbit:

    If the rabbit is in full coat, more frequent grooming is called for. If the rabbit has been frequently plucked or clipped, one may not need to do much grooming.

  4. The planned purpose for the rabbit:

    If one plans to show a rabbit, one should be prepared for a show at least two months ahead of time. It takes frequent and careful grooming to keep the rabbit in tip top shape. The grooming tips described in this article are geared toward show rabbit grooming. If one keeps a rabbit for wool, for a pet, or for breeding, it is wise to keep the rabbit in short coat. By doing so the owner will have less burden of grooming and the rabbit will have less chance of being matted.

There are two different methods of grooming , one method which is suitable for someone who does not own a professional grade blower and one method for the one who owns one. The following is the method which has been used for many years before the blowing method came into light:

Grooming with a comb and a brush:

To present a perfectly conditioned rabbit in a show takes planning for the show and understanding of your rabbit. After selecting the pick of the litter for keeping, grooming starts at eight weeks old. Use the wide-tooth steel comb to comb through the entire bunny. At this time the bunny has more hair than wool so not much grooming is involved. Basically, make sure that there is no tangling behind the ears, sides, and feet. It is helpful to frequently lay the bunny on your lap with its back down to familiarize it with the position of grooming the tummy and the legs. By starting early, the bunny gets the habit of staying still for grooming.

picture of three As the bunny starts to have wool, start to use the slicker brush. Put the rabbit on your lap, use your left hand to press the side wool upward, and the right hand with the slicker brush to brush the wool from the bottom up layer by layer. If any matt is found along the way, use your fingers to tear the matt apart and then use the steel comb to comb it through. One important thing to remember while using the steel comb - always use your fingers to secure the base of the wool. It keeps the wool on the rabbit instead of on the comb, thus preserving the wool density.

After doing the layer brush through the sides and the shoulders, turn the rabbit on its back and brush the legs, tummy, and chest. Unless there are matts, use the slicker brush as much as possible to preserve the density. On the legs it is better to keep shorter but more complete wool coverage than longer but spotty wool coverage. I usually clip the wool short on the legs if it is at least three weeks away from the show. How much to clip depends on how long before the show and how fast the wool will grow back. There is no set rule, you just have to experiment a little to know the particular rabbit you are showing at the time.

After the tummy, chest and legs are all brushed, put the rabbit on the grooming table. The next tool to use is the bulb-tipped pin brush. The bulb-tipped pin brush can penetrate all the way down into the base of the wool without taking too much wool with it. Use the pin brush to thoroughly brush the rabbit; sides, shoulders, back, chest, behind the ears, tail, tummy etc. Now go back to the slicker brush. The slicker brush is used to brush the surface part of the wool. By using the slicker brush again, the surface will fluff up. After that, use your hand to check through the entire rabbit. If you feel any lumpy wool, go through with the pin brush and the slicker brush again. If not, use a regular plastic hair comb to comb the very tips of the wool back and forth, over and over again. The procedure serves two functions: it removes the loose hair, thus lessening the chance of woolblock, and it smooths the surface of the wool thus giving the coat a finished look.

If the above procedure is repeated once a week from the time when the rabbit reaches ten weeks old, with a good quality rabbit you may start seeing results on the show table as early as when the rabbit reaches an age of three and one half months. The procedure should take about a half hour after one gets used to the routine.

Grooming with a blower:

The British Angora breeders for many years have been using their vacuum cleaner's blower option (a clean one, of course) to help keep the Angora coat in shape. There was an article written by a British breeder published in the Summer 1988 newsletter of the Northern California Angora Guild newsletter Matts and Fluff discussing her vacuum cleaner method.

In the late 1980s, California breeders started using hair dryers to help find matts and felt underneath the heavy coats of their rabbits. The hairdryer is also used to fluff their rabbits' coats just before going on to the judging table. I have been using my hairdryer to help my grooming since 1985. In 1989 ARBA convention in Tulsa, Susan Conley of Ojai, California used a professional-grade dryer designed for sheep-drying and dog-drying to "blow" the coats of her rabbits. She did so everyday for 6 continuous weeks before the convention. The result was remarkable. Her rabbits' coats were very long and in perfect shape with neither felting nor matting. Such method, pioneered by her in the US, become the most "in" method for the English Angora breeders. (For your information, Susan is originally from England.)

First of all, where does one find such a blower? How strong should the blower be? Such blowers usually can be found in veterinary supply catalogs under dog grooming section. The price range between $120 and $400. The higher priced ones do not necessarily mean a better one because the features carried by the high priced ones may not be relevant to an English Angora owner. The requirements for English Angora blowing is strong blowing power with cool or slightly warm air. Hot air is not only unnecessary but also damaging to the Angora wool. It is difficult to describe the strength. The one that I own, Mini Circ, has 60 cycles, 120 volts and 9.5 amps. I also own another one, Air Force 3, with 4.0 amps, a lighter weight to be brought to the shows. The blowing power should be strong enough to open up the coat - a regular hair dryer is not comparable.

Starting with a 3 month-old rabbit, twice a week, I would put the rabbit on the turn-table grooming stand, turn on the blower using one hand to hold the blower hose, and blow into the rabbit's coat, while the other hand holds on to the rabbit's ears and the skin behind the ears. To hold on to the rabbit's ears accomplishes two tasks - one, secure the rabbit in place since the blowing power is so strong that it may startle the rabbit and cause him to fall off the grooming table; two, protect the rabbit's ears from the strong blowing power. When the blower is on, I look for any webbing or felting underneath the wool. If the wool is not opening up in a totally divergent way, there is webbing and felting. Blow at these spot for a while. If these areas are not too severe, the wool will gradually open up, the pills from the webbing and felting will surface to the top of the coat, and I'll take my hand temporarily off the rabbit's ears to pull the loose wool away. If the felted areas are not improved by blowing, I'll stop the blower and use my steel comb to comb out the tanglings. Of course the principle of holding the base of the wool still applies. I repeat the blowing on the entire rabbit by gradually and gently move the turn-table into a desirable direction. If done regularly, it should not take more than 5 minutes to blow through the entire coat of the rabbit. If the blowing is done regularly, the chance of having a big webbed or felted area is not very high. After blowing, I use my steel comb to go through the top bangs, the neck behind the rabbit's ears and the cheeks since the blower nor the cannot take out the little tangles in such places, then followed by a slicker brush on the tips of the wool. At the end, I use my fine tooth plastic hair comb to smooth out the very tips of the coat. It takes me about 5 minutes to go through the brushing part.

There are a few points to know in regards to the blowing method. First, one will be very surprised by how dusty the rabbits are. If the rabbit has never been blown at before, there will be a blast of whitish dust flying off the rabbit. The groomer may be covered by this white dust from head to toe; the white dust even sticks on one's eyelashes. If you are slightly allergic to rabbits, make sure to wear a mask. Second, due to this white dust and the wool flying off during blowing, it is advisable to do it outdoors. When I first started, I did the blowing in my garage. Within one week, my garage did not need any decoration for a Halloween party - the wool stuck every place looking like spiders had worked overtime. The white dust was so fine that it renders a vacuum cleaner useless. Susan Conley told me that when she started blowing she did it in her bedroom and could not initially figure what was happening to her walls. If possible, do it outdoors, far away from everything else. Near where I do my blowing now, there is a pine tree. This pine tree looks like a Christmas tree decorated with Angora wool. Third, the reason why a turn-table grooming table is recommended is that the blower's hose is quite clumsy to drag around. It is easier to turn the table in order to put the rabbit into a position to accommodate the blower.

Blowing does not replace brushing altogether. It is a very useful complementary tool. It does help open up the coat, make the coat look clean and crisp, and reduce the time required for each individual grooming. Blowing does not change the genetics of a rabbit. If one's rabbit does not have the genetic traits of having dense coat with good texture and length, the blower certainly cannot change that. Blowing does not replace good nutrition and management. If one's rabbit is not well fed and kept clean, blowing cannot change that either. Last but not least, blowing/grooming has to be done on a regular basis. No blower, regardless of the strength , can open up a coat which is already matted.


Copyright © 1998 by Betty Chu. All rights reserved
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