Rabbits can be great pets. These small, cuddly pets often make great companions for children. Most rabbits can comfortably live both indoors and outdoors depending on the weather and insulation their housing provides. Because rabbits are often handled by humans, live both indoors and outdoors, and could potentially be in contact with contaminated objects carrying parasites, parasitic control is vital. Preventing parasites is much easier than curing them. Some of the parasites that affect your rabbit can also affect people meaning they are zoonotic.
Table of contents
- What parasites are my rabbits most likely to get?
- Can I check if my rabbit has parasites?
- Where do parasites live?
- Do all of my pets need to be treated?
- What are common symptoms of parasites?
- What do I do if I think my pet has already got parasites?
- How often do I need to give parasite treatment?
- Different types of parasitic treatment
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What parasites are my rabbits most likely to get?
Rabbits get many different parasites, depending on where they live in the country and whether they go outdoors or not. Some rabbits may catch parasites from humans or other animals living in the same place as there are many parasites which are highly contagious. Therefore, the parasite your pet is most likely to get will vary based on many different factors.
There are different types of parasites which your rabbit may get:
- endoparasites – parasites which live inside your bunny, e.g. worms, E. cuniculi. We don’t tend to worry too much about worms, because they don’t cause a great deal of disease in rabbits. However, E. cuniculi is a serious issue, which can be spread in urine to humans too.
- ectoparasites – parasites which live on your bunny, for example on the fur or ears, such as fleas, lice or mites. These are very common causes of problems for rabbits. And some (like some species of fleas) can jump to dogs, cats, even humans!
These different parasites look different, have different clinical signs and are treated differently.
Can I check if my rabbit has parasites?
Some parasites are easy to spot and can be seen on the ears and over their skin. Fleas can be seen clearly often jumping around on your bunny’s back. Ear or fur mites are harder to see. Some may be visible as moving dots in the fur. But many are too small to be visible with the naked eye unless you have great eyesight! In most cases, we see external signs of the parasites – itching, scratching, hair loss, and sometimes a rash. If you see these, you should seek veterinary attention.
Some parasites, as mentioned above, live internally and are therefore even more difficult to see. You may, however, spot eggs in your bunnies faeces if you are watching them carefully enough. More importantly, signs of E. cuniculi may include a head tilt, abnormal behaviour, loss of balance, or even seizures.
Because parasitic disease is often so difficult to spot, if you notice any changes in your bunny’s behaviour or faeces, you should seek veterinary advice. Rabbits are prey animals which means they do not like to display signs of illness as predators will notice them quicker.
Where do parasites live?
There are many different parasites and most like different habitats.
Some parasites (like fleas) will live in your pet’s bed so be sure to completely clean out your pet’s living space frequently. This means removing all bedding, bowls and toys to give them a clean down, rather than just removing the areas that appear dirty by eye.
Do all of my pets need to be treated?
All pets need to be treated because of the cross contamination between animals. While most will not jump species, fleas and some mange mites can – so we need to be very aware of these risks.
Young rabbits are often most susceptible to parasites, so when you get your bunny vaccinated, be sure to discuss your parasitic control plan with your vet.
What are common symptoms of parasites?
Whilst some parasites cause obvious clinical signs, other parasites can lay dormant for long periods of time and only cause clinical signs when there is another disease or stressful complication occurring alongside. This means parasitic disease can often be difficult to diagnose. Some common symptoms are listed below.
Endoparasites – weight loss, change in faeces consistency/colour/frequency, anaemia.
Ectoparasites – itching, hair loss, scabby skin, redness of the skin, bleeding skin.
Some parasites like E. cuniculi can cause neurological signs, for example a head tilt, which should be taken very seriously and brought to your vet’s attention immediately.
What do I do if I think my pet has already got parasites?
If you think your pet has got parasites, you should minimise the amount of handling you do with the rabbit. This is because of the risk that the parasites (especially fleas and E. cuniculi, which is shed in the urine) can be transmitted to humans too. You should try to get your bunny into a carrier and take them to the vets. The vet will take a thorough history which will include your current parasite control, in-contact animals, habitat, age and symptoms, as well as performing a thorough clinical exam before they decide what the next steps in your rabbit’s workup should be. For each case, the workup can be slightly different as each case is unique, so seeking veterinary attention is vital.
Different diagnostic tests can be performed. Some may include skin scrapes, faecal analysis or microscopy, amongst other things. Sometime treatment will be prescribed without a definitive diagnosis being found.
The vet may recommend changes in your hygiene and cleaning routine, in an attempt to remove the parasite, as well as implementing medication.
How often do I need to give parasite treatment?
You need to seek veterinary attention and make sure the product you are buying kills the correct parasite. There are many different parasites which cause the same clinical signs and without a thorough veterinary investigation, you may be treating your pet for the wrong parasite which will waste time and money and in the meantime, your pet’s welfare will suffer.
Different types of parasitic treatment
There are many different treatments and many of them will be used in conjunction with other drugs. In pet rabbits, treatment for worms and coccidia in the bowel are rarely required. There is some controversy over routine treatment for E. cuniculi – some argue it should be a constant part of a rabbit’s preventative health routine, to prevent any infection. Others, however, argue that as most rabbits with E. cuniculi infection will never get ill, overtreating has more risks than benefits. We would advise you to follow your vet’s advice on this as they will be able to determine the risk your specific rabbit is at, and act accordingly.
Almost all rabbits, however, are at risk of flystrike and ectoparasites, and so routine treatment with a rabbit-safe product (e.g. imidacloprid, Advantage) is strongly recommended. Never use fipronil-based products (e.g. Frontline) in a rabbit, however, as in this species it can cause liver disease.
If you suspect your pet has parasites you should make an appointment to see your vet. Importantly, if you think your pet is healthy, but you want to be sure that the parasitic control protocol you have in place is enough and is working, please contact your veterinary team and they will be happy to discuss this with you.