Rabbits are susceptible to various skin parasites, such as mites and fleas. These can all cause itchy and sore skin, and if left untreated can lead to serious skin conditions. They can cause your rabbit to scratch and to have rashes, fur loss (alopecia), dandruff, crusts and scabs. Importantly, they can also transport the viral disease myxomatosis, which is usually fatal in unvaccinated rabbits. Please monitor your rabbit closely and contact your vet if you have any concerns.
Most skin parasites can be easily prevented and treated but can cause significant discomfort for your rabbit if not dealt with.
Ear mites are very common in rabbits and can result in very itchy, sore and painful ears. Affected rabbits will usually shake their heads and scratch at their ears, and you can often see crusts within the ears themselves, as well as sore and inflamed skin. Ear mites are highly contagious, so they can spread readily between rabbits or from infected surfaces (food, bedding, clothing or an object), where they can survive for up to 3 weeks.
The infection can be so severe that the rabbit can stop eating, which can then lead to problems with gut stasis. The infection can also spread to the middle and inner ear, causing problems with hearing and balance, so can result in a head tilt. Lop eared breeds appear to be especially at risk of mite infestations, as the droopy ears provide an ideal warm and moist environment for the mite.
The vet will use a special otoscope to look down your rabbit’s ears – the mites are visible with the scope. If mites are present the vet will prescribe a medication to kill them – usually ivermectin e.g. Xeno (which is available in our shop). Your rabbit may also need antibiotics as there is often a secondary bacterial infection, along with anti-inflammatories for pain relief.
It is important that all bedding and food are changed and that the enclosure and toys etc are disinfected to kill any mites in the environment. All in-contact rabbits should also be treated with an anti-parasitic medication.
Rabbits can suffer from a fur mite called Cheyletiella, which is also known as ‘walking dandruff’ due to their tendency to cause scurf. They can cause itchiness for the rabbit and infestations are usually noticeable as a build up of dandruff between the shoulder blades. Rabbits that struggle to thoroughly groom can be particularly affected, so those that are obese, arthritic or suffer from spinal problems or dental disease.
The mite can be treated with an anti-parasitic such as Xeno spot-on.
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Rabbits can also be affected by harvest mites, which are mainly seen in the autumn. They tend to cluster around the ears, feet, head and tummy and are just about visible as small orange mites. Again, they can cause your rabbit to be itchy.
Fleas can affect rabbits in just the same way as dogs and cats. They can jump onto a rabbit and feed on its blood, potentially causing itchiness and skin irritation, as well as passing on the myxomatosis virus if the flea is carrying it.
Various anti-parasitic treatments are available against fleas (e.g. Xeno or Advantage), but it is important that the environment is also treated in order to kill the immature stages of the flea. A spray (Indorex) is available in our shop to use in the environment. Never use Frontline in rabbits – it can be potentially fatal in this species.