Rabbits make brilliant family pets, but just like dogs and cats, they can suffer from fleas. Many owners now have rabbits as pets inside the home, so you may not want these wingless insects making a nuisance of themselves! Rabbits get fleas less frequently than other pets in the household, however they can still catch fleas from other family pets or even wild rabbits, should they encounter them.
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What are fleas?
To survive fleas must feast on warm blood, and they are not fussy – fleas can bite most household pets, and sadly humans are also at risk too. There are over 2,000 species of fleas, with rabbits most likely to pick up the cat flea; although there is a rabbit-specific flea, this is seen much more rarely.
The difference between mites and fleas
Mites and fleas are often commonly mistaken.
Many people think they are similar parasites that infest rabbits and homes, but they are completely unrelated. Mites are arachnids, while fleas are insects and, unlike fleas which tend to jump on and off, mites will live on rabbits’ skin full-time. Many mites do not infect rabbits because they mostly feed on plants or dead skin cells, although there are some parasitic ones that will bite.
For example, your rabbit could be suffering from ear mites, noticeable should you see them scratching their ears or shaking their head. The most common mites are fur mites (Cheyletiella) which present as a build-up of dandruff around the neck and back.
Harvest mites are seen in the autumn and are most common in rabbits living in rural areas. They look like small bright red or orange dots clustered around the eyes, head, feet, or belly.
Signs of fleas on the rabbit
Some rabbits may not show any signs of a flea infestation, but common signs can include:
Your rabbit nibbling or biting at their skin
If you have more than one rabbit, or any other pets in the home, you may see them also itching. You may even be itching yourself, with red bumps on your skin where fleas have bitten, especially if your rabbit lives inside.
Flea eggs are white and hard to spot, but flea dirt (a mixture of flea poo and dried blood) can often be seen on the skin of pets who have fleas. This looks like little reddish-brown specks and can be mistaken for grains of soil. A good test to see if specks on your rabbit’s coat are actually dirt or flea dirt is the wet paper test.
Get some damp paper towel or cotton wool and gently wipe up some of the specks. If the area around the speck turns reddish-brown, it is flea dirt.
You may be able to see live fleas in your rabbit’s coat if you part the fur or stroke them backwards. Fleas are amazingly fast though and can be difficult to spot! Along the spine and around the neck are good places to look.
In heavily infested rabbits, a flea infestation can cause so much blood loss that the rabbit becomes anaemic. This can look like weakness, and pale gums.
Hair loss and scaling
Patches of hair loss, and dandruff-like skin scaling may be seen on your rabbit, giving them a moth-eaten appearance.
Several of these signs can also be associated with other problems, if you see any of these signs, you should get your rabbit checked by a veterinary surgeon.
Fleas and myxomatosis
Although fleas are rare in rabbits, they do come with a greater risk. Fleas can transmit the rabbit virus myxomatosis, which is always fatal.
How do I treat fleas?
For Indoor Rabbits
- Treat all rabbits, cats, and dogs in the home with flea treatment.
- Check other furry family members carefully to check they are also not infested and treat unless you are CERTAIN it’s not required – if in doubt, treat everyone!
- Treat ALL through your home.
- Treat cats and dogs with flea treatment regularly going forward.
The initial population of fleas can be reduced by:
- Flea treatment for all pets.
- Flea-killing house spray (make sure to read the safety label).
- Carpet cleaning.
- Regular hoovering and sweeping, including in the darkest and hardest to reach areas – Do not forget to throw away the dust bag from your vacuum cleaner after every use, else the flea larvae may escape back out!
- Hot washing fabrics at over 60 degrees, as this will destroy any fleas.
By doing these, you can dramatically reduce the number of fleas in your home.
The flea treatment for your pets will turn them into walking ‘flea killers’ and means that adult fleas will die without producing any more eggs. By treating the house, you will kill or remove the eggs and pupae that can be found in the home.
For Outdoor Rabbits
- Treat all rabbits, cats, and dogs in the home with flea treatment. Check other furry family members carefully to check they are not also infested and treat them if required.
- If any indoor pets have fleas, make sure to treat the house as well as the outdoor hutch.
- Clean and disinfect the hutch thoroughly. Make sure to read the warning labels carefully on any cleaners, and do not put your rabbit back into a treated hutch until it is safe to do so.
A common flea killer used on cats and dogs is fipronil. This ingredient is safe for cats and dogs but can kill rabbits. Never treat your rabbit with a flea treatment that your vet has not confirmed is rabbit safe.
Veterinary prescription products and SQP NFA-VPS products are available that are fully licenced for rabbits. Receiving one of these from your vet is the safest and most effective way to treat fleas on your rabbit.
Remember to keep cats and dogs who have been treated with a fipronil based product away from rabbits for several days.
Rabbit flea treatments are most commonly in the form of spot-ons. Please note that flea dips and shampoos are not recommended for rabbits, any concerns speak to SQP or veterinary surgeon.