Why Do Rabbits Have a Dewlap?

Eating grass is a normal and healthy behavior for rabbits. In the wild, rabbits eat different grasses as a main part of their diet. Grass provides rabbits with roughage that is vital for their digestive health. Grass contains a good amount of fiber that helps promote gut motility and prevents issues like gastrointestinal stasis.

Many rabbit owners let their bunnies graze on grass from their yard. However, there are some important things to consider before allowing your rabbit access to grass from your lawn. Not all types of grass are safe, and yard grass may contain chemicals, pesticides, or other contaminants that could make your rabbit sick.

What’s the Purpose of a Dewlap in Rabbits?

A dewlap is the large flap of skin that hangs from underneath a rabbit's chin. While a dewlap may just look like a cute and floppy feature, it actually serves some important biological purposes for rabbits. Here are some of the main functions of a rabbit's dewlap:

  • Temperature regulation – The dewlap is full of blood vessels that can help dissipate heat. When rabbits get too warm, the blood vessels in the dewlap dilate to release heat. This helps prevent rabbits from overheating.

  • Communication – Rabbits use their dewlap to communicate with each other. An excited rabbit may stick its dewlap out. This signals friendliness and an intention to breed. Dominant rabbits may stick out their dewlap to exhibit their status.

  • Fat storage – The dewlap contains fat stores that can provide rabbits with emergency energy when needed. In lean times or sickness, rabbits can metabolize the fat in their dewlap for extra calories and nutrients.

  • Nursing – Mother rabbits use their dewlap to assist with nursing. They pluck fur from their dewlap to line the nest and help keep kits warm. When nursing, kits can grab onto the dewlap for stability.

  • Scent gland – There are scent glands in the dewlap that allow rabbits to mark territory and identify each other. Each rabbit has a unique dewlap scent.

So while the dewlap may just look like a flap of skin, it is an important multipurpose tool for rabbit health, communication, and motherhood. The dewlap allows rabbits to thrive in the wild and live full lives as domesticated pets.

Rabbit Breeds with Dewlaps

Many domestic rabbit breeds have distinctive dewlaps. Here are some of the most common rabbit breeds that feature dewlaps:

  • English Lops – This breed is named for their extremely long hanging ears. They also have large pronounced dewlaps under their chin.

  • Flemish Giants – These huge rabbits have dewlaps that are very thick and full. The dewlap will sway as they hop around.

  • French Lops – Along with long ears, French Lops have thick dewlaps that add to their overall head size.

  • Holland Lops – While petite, Holland Lops have noticeable dewlaps that are an important part of their breed standard.

  • New Zealand – Common pet and show rabbits, New Zealand breeds havemedium-sized dewlaps.

  • Satin – The sleek and shiny fur of Satins allows their dewlaps to really stand out.

  • Silver Fox – This breed has a ruff of fur around the dewlap for a very distinctive look.

While the dewlap is present in both sexes, unneutered male rabbits tend to have a much more pronounced dewlap than females. The dewlap size is also influenced by age, weight, and overall size of the rabbit. Giant rabbit breeds unsurprisingly have very large dewlaps compared to dwarf breeds.

Do Male Rabbits Have Dewlaps?

Yes, male rabbits do have dewlaps. However, there are some differences between the dewlaps of males versus females:

  • Size – Unaltered male rabbits generally have much larger and more pronounced dewlaps compared to females. This is due to the influence of testosterone on the dewlap's development.

  • Fur – Male dewlaps usually have thicker, longer fur covering them. Female dewlaps have finer and sparser fur.

  • Scent glands – Male rabbits have stronger scent glands in their dewlap that they use to establish territory and attract mates. The male dewlap scent is stronger.

  • Breeding behavior – Males will exhibit breeding behaviors with their dewlap like chin rubbing to spread their scent and signaling excitement by displaying a large dewlap.

  • Neutering – When male rabbits are neutered, their dewlap often shrinks and becomes less prominent as testosterone levels drop. The dewlap never goes away completely though.

So while female rabbits certainly have dewlaps, the male dewlap tends to be more exaggerated and serves additional functions related to breeding, territory, and asserting dominance. The dewlap is an important aspect of communication and reproductive behaviors for intact male domestic rabbits and wild rabbits.

Does a Dewlap Mean My Rabbit is Overweight?

If your rabbit has a very large or very prominent dewlap, it may be a sign that your bunny is overweight. Excess fat can accumulate in the dewlap region and cause it to become enlarged. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Breed – Some breeds just have naturally large dewlaps, even when fit. Check the breed standard.

  • Sex – Unaltered males often have dewlaps larger than most females. Neutering can reduce dewlap size.

  • Age – Dewlaps get more pronounced as rabbits age and the skin gets looser. An older rabbit may have a bigger dewlap without obesity being an issue.

  • Fat deposits – Gently feel along your rabbit's sides and hips. If there are fat deposits or bulges, excess weight is likely an issue.

  • Body condition – Look at your rabbit from above. If its waist is wide and undefined, that indicates excess fat. A curvy hourglass shape is ideal.

Along with the dewlap, a rabbit may show other signs of being overweight like lack of energy, refusal to groom, and trouble cleaning the perineal region. The only sure way to know if your rabbit is overweight is to bring it to your vet for an examination. If your rabbit's dewlap seems unusually large, schedule a checkup to determine if weight loss is needed. With a proper diet and exercise routine, an enlarged dewlap caused by obesity can be reduced.

Hair Pulling in Rabbits

It's common to see little tufts of fur sticking out oddly around your rabbit's dewlap region. This can be caused by hair pulling. Rabbits will sometimes pull out their own fur from the dewlap area. Here's why this occurs:

  • Scenting – Rabbits have scent glands in their dewlap. By pulling fur from this area, they can collect the scent and bring it to various places to mark territory.

  • Nesting – For female rabbits about to give birth, they will pull dewlap fur to line the nest for kits.

  • Molting – When rabbits shed their coat, some hair loss around the dewlap is normal. They may ingest the loose hairs to prevent waste.

  • Stress and anxiety – Rabbits will overgroom when stressed. The dewlap is easily accessible for them to pull at repeatedly.

  • Pain – Dental issues, ear mites, arthritis and other sources of pain can cause dewlap fur pulling.

  • Fur mites – Parasites like fur mites can lead to itching and skin irritation that leads to hair loss from grooming.

If you notice significant bald patches or irritation from your rabbit excessively pulling its dewlap fur, consult your exotic vet. They can help diagnose and treat any underlying physical or behavioral cause. Some dewlap grooming is normal, but excessive fur loss indicates a problem that needs attention.

What Are the Different Health Issues with Dewlaps?

1/ Improper Grooming

Rabbits are fastidious groomers, but the area under the dewlap can sometimes get overlooked. Lack of grooming can lead to some health issues:

  • Dirt buildup – Debris, dust and dander can accumulate under the folds of the dewlap.

  • Matting – Urine and stool residue causes fur under the dewlap to become matted.

  • Skin irritation – Irritated, raw skin will develop if the dewlap area is unclean.

  • Infection – Bacteria can grow in the moist, dirty environment leading to fungal or bacterial skin infections.

  • Parasites – Fur mites and other skin parasites can take hold if the dewlap fur isn't groomed.

  • Fly strike – Flies are attracted to dirty, matted dewlaps and may lay eggs in the fur. Maggots can quickly infest the area.

To prevent these issues, gently lift your rabbit's dewlap daily to inspect the skin. Use a damp cloth to spot clean any soiled fur. Check for any signs of irritation or infection. Brush out loose fur to prevent matting. Keeping the dewlap area clean will help your rabbit stay healthy.

2/ Wet Dewlap

Rabbits produce urine and stool almost constantly. As a result, the dewlap can sometimes get soiled with urine. A chronically wet dewlap leads to health problems:

  • Urine scalding – Constant moisture causes painful urine scald burns on the delicate dewlap skin.

  • Skin infection – Bacteria thrive in the warm, wet environment under the dewlap which can cause fungal or bacterial skin infections.

  • Fur loss – When the fur under the dewlap is chronically wet, it dies off and falls out.

  • Parasites – Flies are particularly attracted to lay eggs on a urine-soaked dewlap, leading to maggot infestation.

  • Pasteurella – This common rabbit respiratory infection spreads more easily if the dewlap stays damp.

To prevent a chronically wet dewlap, check your rabbit at least twice daily for urine staining. Gently use paper towels or a warm, damp cloth to dry the dewlap fur and skin. Removing soiled bedding regularly is also important to keep the dewlap clean and dry. See a vet if skin irritation, infection or fur loss occurs.


The dewlap is an important feature that helps rabbits communicate and aids their overall health and comfort. While it requires some maintenance to keep the dewlap area clean and dry, this is easy enough for most rabbit owners to stay on top of. Monitoring your rabbit's dewlap can also provide early warning to potential health issues that need a veterinarian's attention. With proper care, the dewlap can be a non-issue and your rabbit can enjoy all the benefits this unique body part provides.

Rabbit Breeders

Rabbit Breeders is the leading website for rabbit information & research. For over 10 years rabbitbreeders.us has been serving the rabbit community. We provide the world's largest rabbit breeders directory.

Recent Posts