Have you ever seen a rabbit that looks like it has a very thick neck? This is called a dewlap, and most animals, including rabbits and dogs, have them. A dewlap is a fold of skin found beneath the jaw and neck of a rabbit.
A rabbit dewlap is more prominent in females, and a small percentage of male rabbits have smaller dewlaps. A dewlap is made out of fatty tissue, but that doesn’t mean your rabbit is overweight.
In this article, we will look at the purpose of a rabbit dewlap and why rabbits have them. We’ll also discuss the effects of obesity on the dewlap as well as the health issues related to dewlaps and how to prevent it.
What’s the Purpose of a Dewlap in Rabbits?
Even though a dewlap is entirely normal, not all rabbits have them. Rabbit dewlaps can be different sizes, and in some cases, it can look like your rabbit has a double chin.
Certain large breed rabbits’ dewlaps are far more noticeable than smaller breeds. Lops and Flemish rabbits are known to develop dewlaps compared to other breeds.
Dewlaps appear when a female rabbit reaches sexual maturity and is ready to reproduce. A dewlap will help a pregnant rabbit prepare for the nesting stage. During this stage, the pregnant rabbit pulls out fur from her dewlap to insulate her nest. Lining the nest with fur will help keep the nest warm and comfortable for her kits.
Do Both Male And Female Rabbits Get Dewlaps?
Male rabbits can have dewlaps that are far less prominent than a female rabbit. Male rabbits castrated after reaching puberty can develop smaller dewlaps due to higher estrogen levels. There can be various reasons why males develop dewlaps; another is obesity.
The Characteristics of a Dewlap
A dewlap looks like a bump under a rabbit’s chin. Smaller ones may resemble a double chin or be difficult to detect at all. Larger dewlaps can form all the way around a rabbit’s head, giving the appearance that its head is resting on a pillow.
Large rabbit breeds such as Flemish Giants and New Zealands tend to have more pronounced dewlaps.
Rabbit Dewlap Problems
Dewlaps are less prominent in female rabbits spayed at a young age. Unspayed and spayed female rabbits will sometimes have a pseudopregnancy,, better known as a phantom pregnancy. The female rabbit will begin to build a nest even if no male rabbit is living in the home. This behavior is normal and occurs when female rabbits are in heat.
The issue with pseudopregnancy is that extensive fur-pulling could leave your rabbit with bald spots on the dewlap, as well as the shoulders and the abdomen, which will expose the nipples. Hormonal changes and ovulation in rabbits can trigger phantom pregnancies.
Does a Dewlap Mean My Rabbit Is Fat?
Obesity can be the reason that rabbits from both sexes have dewlaps. It will look much larger in appearance due to the dewlap storing extra fat. According to veterinary experts at Washington State University, there is easy to check if your rabbit is obese.
Standing over your rabbit, look at them from the top. Your rabbit’s shape should be slightly pear-shaped. If your rabbit’s shape is round like an apple, it is overweight. Another way to check is to pay attention to any changes in your rabbit’s behavior.
Behavioral changes would include a larger than normal dewlap, laziness, lack of self-grooming, and bulging skin behind your rabbit’s front legs. Obesity could lead to many health issues in rabbits, including bacterial skin infections.
An obese rabbit is unable to groom itself properly. Chunks of food and debris can become trapped between the folds of the dewlap, which can cause bacteria to develop, leading to a skin infection called pyoderma. This bacterial skin disease not only affects the skin folds by the dewlap but also affects large folds of skin around the anus and genitalia.
In some cases, a rabbit’s dewlap doesn’t decrease in size even after shedding the weight. Speak to your vet about correcting the issue. In some cases, surgery may be required to remove the excess skin folds to prevent skin disease pyoderma.
Moist dermatitis, better known as green fur syndrome, is a painful and uncomfortable skin infection in rabbits. When the rabbit dewlap is constantly wet and does not dry properly, the skin can become infected. Older rabbits with dewlaps are prone to moist dermatitis as well as pyoderma.
There are numerous reasons rabbits with dewlaps can contract moist dermatitis. The following is a list of causes you should be aware of.
Drinking from a water bowl is one of the main causes of wet dewlap. The rabbit’s dewlap can get soaked and remains consistently wet. A leaking water bottle could soak the rabbit’s cage or hutch. Wet bedding caused by either the water bowl or leaking water bottle.
A rabbit with consistently wet dewlaps can develop an abscess under the chin, located by the dewlap. This is caused by bacterial infections. Rabbits with a history of pasteurellosis, staphylococci, streptococci and are exposed to wet skin conditions are more prone to developing an abscess.
Moist dermatitis can also cause rabbits to lose fur around the mouth, neck, and dewlap. One reason for alopecia in rabbits is due to a wet dewlap or excessive plucking. Pregnant rabbits or rabbits experiencing phantom pregnancies can suffer from this skin disease.
Ptyalism is a condition caused by excessive drooling. The main cause of ptyalism is caused by dental disease, malocclusion of teeth, periapical abscesses, gingivitis, and stomatitis. Ptyalism causes a rabbit’s dewlap and neck to suffer from alopecia and moist dermatitis.
The signs of moisture dermatitis, alopecia, and ptyalism are:
- Excessive scratching from itchy skin.
- Hair loss around the mouth, the neck, and the dewlap.
- Dry flaky skin.
- Red, inflamed, sore skin, or a rash.
- Rabbit’s skin gives off a smell.
- Color change in your rabbit’s coat, often green in color.
Never wait to see if the skin on your rabbit’s dewlap and body will get better. Consult your vet as soon as possible. There are various ways in which to treat your rabbit if it is caught early. Most vets will treat your rabbit by clipping the fur and treating the skin with an antiseptic dusting powder.
Should you wait too long, the condition progresses, and it can be harder to treat. Your vet will administer a systemic antibiotic, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and analgesics for pain.
Waiting to see if your rabbit feels better could rapidly see the moisture dermatitis and alopecia progress. A consultation with a veterinary dermatologist would be needed to treat your rabbit with the correct medications for treatment.
Flystrike is a terrible condition all rabbit owners should be aware of. It is a regular occurrence that happens during the warmer months. Flystrike is when flies’ eggs are laid onto the surface of your rabbit’s skin. When these eggs hatch, they become maggots that will feed on the open sore or wound.
It can cause significant damage resulting in the skin becoming infected. Flystrike is a preventable disease; however, if left untreated could potentially be fatal to your rabbits. The most susceptible areas on your rabbit’s body are under the fold of the dewlap and the perineum.
Fly eggs thrive in moist warm conditions. A rabbit’s skin that is dry and clean will not attract flies. During the warmer months, it’s advisable to check your rabbits for any fly eggs.
Flies will strike any rabbit; however, rabbits that are the most at risk are:
- Obese rabbits.
- Female rabbits with large dewlaps.
- Rabbits urinary issues.
- Elderly or arthritic rabbits.
- Rabbits with dental issues.
- Rabbits that are unable to groom themselves.
Signs that your rabbit has flystrike are lethargy, no appetite, not drinking water, and a strong, pungent smell coming from their cage or hutch.
The moment you find a maggot on your rabbit, seek emergency medical help. The longer you wait, the weaker your rabbit will become.
During the summer months, it is important to check your rabbit daily. Rabbits that are unable to groom themselves need to be brushed and checked twice daily. Rabbits with softer feces will attract flies, so make sure your rabbit is only fed hay and plenty of water.
Here are a few tips to prevent attracting flies and preventing flystrike:
- Remove soiled bedding and replace your rabbit’s bedding daily.
- Avoid feeding your rabbits treats like fruit that is high in sugar. This could result in diarrhea which will attract the flies.
- Avoid feeding your rabbits leafy greens and vegetables. The hay will help reset your rabbit’s upset tummy.
- Domestic rabbits living indoors are also at risk. Check your rabbit’s dewlap and perineum for any signs of fly eggs.
- Make sure your rabbit’s cage or hutch is dry; use water bottles instead of water bowls. This will keep your rabbit’s dewlap dry.
- Disinfect your rabbit’s cage and hutch once a week.
How Do You Keep Rabbits From Getting Wet Dewlap?
The most effective way to avoid a rabbit’s dewlap from getting wet is to keep their hutch dry. Instead of using a water bowl, use a water bottle that can be attached to their cage. There are many water bottles on the market best suited for large and small breeds. Remove any soiled and wet bedding when necessary.
Trim the fur around your rabbit’s dewlap and groom your rabbit as often as possible to remove excess fur. To avoid dental issues, make sure your rabbit has access to plenty of hay and a rabbit chew toy. Keep sugary treats to a minimum to prevent dental issues and obesity.
If your rabbit is displaying symptoms of a phantom pregnancy and is excessively pulling its fur, seek medical assistance. Your vet will identify the best way to treat the cause, preventing further skin damage and infections.
Rabbit Dewlap Bigger on One Side
It’s unusual for a pregnant rabbit’s dewlap to substantially increase in size. Male rabbits with quickly expanding dewlaps on the side or overall are in the same position. If a rabbit’s dewlap grows dramatically in a short period of time, consult your veterinarian. Cancerous tumors, lumps, and abscesses can develop in rabbits.
The papilloma virus and benign growths like fatty tumors can both induce aberrant growth in some situations. Although surgical removal of the tumors is normally suggested since the nodules can become malignant, they do sometimes clear on their own. Always consult your vet if you notice your rabbit’s dewlap becoming bigger on one side.
What Causes a Dewlap in Rabbits?
Rabbit dewlaps appear more prominently in females. This is a sign that they are ready to reproduce. They pull their fur from their dewlaps to line the nest in preparation for their newborns. In certain cases, rabbits develop dewlaps because they are obese.
When Does a Dewlap Develop?
Dewlaps appear when a female rabbit reaches sexual maturity and is ready to reproduce at around six months old.
How To Get Rid of Rabbit Dewlap?
A male rabbit with a large dewlap, or a female rabbit with an oversized dewlap, is almost certainly overweight. When your pet rabbit loses weight, in some cases, the oversized dewlap will often persist.
Speak to your vet about correcting the issue. To avoid the skin illness pyoderma and a wet dewlap, surgery to remove the extra skin folds may be required in rare situations.
The purpose of a rabbit dewlap in females is to prepare them for the nesting stage.
There are health concerns to take into consideration. The most common issues are wet dewlap, flystrike, and obesity. Owners should check between the folds of a rabbit’s dewlap for signs and symptoms of moist dermatitis and flystrike.
Seek immediate veterinary care should you suspect your rabbit has any of the health issues.