Fleas, mites and lice in rabbits

isolated rabbits

Overview

Have you noticed your rabbit scratching? losing fur? developing dandruff? It’s possible they could have a skin parasite (fleas, mites or lice).

Parasites cause irritation and discomfort and treatment tends to be very easy. Book an appointment with your vet if you think your rabbit has a skin problem, the sooner they are treated, the sooner they will be back to normal.

Symptoms

Fleas, mites and lice are tiny insects that live on skin and fur. Symptoms vary depending on the parasite but often include:

When to contact your vet

Your rabbit’s fur should be smooth, thick and silky, contact your vet for advice if you see any of the symptoms above.

You know your rabbit best. If they don’t have the symptoms listed above but you are still concerned it’s always best to contact your vet.

Fleas

Rabbit fleas do exist; however, it is much more common for pet rabbits to catch dog fleas or cat fleas. If all other pets and your home are kept flea-free, rabbit flea prevention isn’t often necessary.

Fleas can spread diseases (such as myxomatosis) from one rabbit to another.

 

WARNING

Certain dog and cat flea treatments are poisonous for rabbits - only ever use treatment prescribed for your rabbit.

Mites

The two most common mites that affect rabbits are ear mites (Psoroptes) and fur mites (Cheyletiella). Occasionally rabbits suffer from other rarer mites such as the sarcoptes mite (mange).

Ear mites

  • Ear mites are common in rabbits. They cause extremely itchy, painful and crusty ears.
  • Ear mites spread easily from rabbit to rabbit and can survive in the environment for up to 3 weeks.
  • Without treatment, ear mites can cause serious problems such as ear infections or a head tilt.

Fur mites

  • Cheyletiella mite (often called ‘walking dandruff’), causes red, itchy, crusty skin. The problem is usually worst along their back.
  • You can see fur mites with the naked eye – they look like moving dandruff (hence the name).
  • If left untreated, crusts and scabs will spread and your rabbit’s fur will start to fall out in clumps.
  • Cheyletiella mites can also infect human skin – speak to your doctor if you think you may have caught mites from your rabbit.

Lice

Lice infestations are very uncommon in rabbits. Symptoms are usually mild, but a heavy infestation can cause problems.

Treatment

Your vet is likely to prescribe a treatment specifically designed to kill the parasite causing the problem. They may also provide a treatment to kill any parasites in your rabbit’s living space.

Ear mites can be very painful, so your vet may also prescribe some pain relief. Other treatments may be necessary if your rabbit has developed a skin infection.

Prevention

  • Keep your rabbit and their living space clean at all times.
  • Check your rabbit for parasites, fur loss or scabs very regularly (at least once a week).
  • Keep your other pets and home flea-free.
  • Make sure your rabbit is grooming himself or herself regularly - have them checked by your vet if they aren’t.
  • Problems tend to be easier to treat if they are treated quickly.
Published: January 2019

PetWise Pet Health Hub – brought to you thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery 

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst