Mite and flea infestations can cause fur loss, irritation and other health problems in rabbits if not treated. Fur mites generally infest along the neck and back. Ear mites normally attack the ears, though they have been known to infest other areas of a rabbit. And fleas usually infest areas where they can find warmth and moisture.
One of the most common infestations of mites in rabbits occurs along the neck and back. You will see patchy fur loss and anywhere from a mild to severe flaking. Some female rabbits will lose fur at the back of the neck, but this is normal unless the fur loss extends down along the back and is accompanied by flaking skin. The fur around the edges of the infestation will easily come loose. Some of the patches of fur when removed may have flakes of skin attached to the ends. This type of infestation does not always itch. If you save some of this fur on a piece of scotch tape, your veterinarian can look at it under a microscope to determine if the flaking is due to mites. Fir mites are usually treated by an injection or oral treatment of ivermectin. Some veterinarians may use topical selamectin instead of ivermectin.
Ear mites produce a large amount of reddish-brown crusting inside the ear. The irritation from these mites may cause your bunny to frantically and excessively shake his head or scratch at his ears. You may also notice one or both of the ears drooping. These mites are very painful, so it is not necessary to try to clean them out of the ears as this will cause excessive pain to your friend. Have your veterinarian treat them with ivermectin or selamectin. As the mites die, the rabbit’s ears will begin healing and the crusts should fall out on their own. Note that these mites can also be found on other areas of the body. A popular place for these mites to reside besides the ears is at the base of the tail.
Fleas can also infest rabbits. They can cause itching, redness of the skin and hair loss. In this case, Advantage or Revolution at a kitten dose can take care of these pests. Also see the article "Rabbits - Flea control" for additional information on fleas.
It is best to seek treatment from a rabbit trained veterinarian rather than using over the counter medications for these infestations. It is especially dangerous to use Frontline flea and tick products on your bunny as Frontline products have been linked to several rabbit deaths. Deaths from shock have also been documented as a result of bath treatments generally used in dogs or cats.
In all cases of flea and mite infestations, early treatment is essential as continued scratching of the infected areas could cause sores that can become infected leading to more health problems. Also, make sure you thoroughly clean all areas that your rabbit occupies. A rabbit’s scratching can dislodge the pests from the body. If you do not keep the area properly cleaned, the dislodged pests will re-infest your bunny.
Many thanks to Dr Gillett of Gillett Veterinary Clinic, Kathleen Wilsbach, PhD of the House Rabbit Society and Dana Krempels, Ph.D of the biology department of the University of Miami for their input for this article.