They bite, irritate, jump, and suck your precious pet's blood. They live on her skin, swim through her bloodstream, and feast in her intestinal tract. They're parasites, and they're out for one thing: free room and board.

With early treatment, most parasite infections aren't life-threatening. But here's what you need to know to protect your rabbit from these despicable freeloaders.

Internal Parasites

If your pet experiences diarrhea and weight loss, she may be suffering from coccidia, the most common internal parasite. The disease takes two forms. The most serious type affects the liver and can cause appetite loss, diarrhea, liver failure, and death.

The other form of infection affects the intestines. Your bunny may lose weight, experience diarrhea, and become dehydrated - or she may not show any signs of infection. Without swift treatment, young bunnies can die from severe dehydration and bacterial infection. Your veterinarian will prescribe the best treatment for your pet.

Other common internal parasites include the following:
  • Cryptosporidia. These organisms can cause diarrhea and generally only affect very young rabbits.
  • Pinworms and tapeworms. These parasites are bad news for other animals, but they don't cause disease in rabbits.
  • Obeliscoides cuniculi. This parasite occasionally infects rabbits who eat fresh grass, but your pet won't exhibit any symptoms unless the infection is severe. Seek veterinary care immediately if you notice lethargy, appetite loss, or weight loss.
When you adopt a bunny, take a stool sample to the veterinarian to make sure your furry friend is parasite-free. You can help ward off internal parasites by keeping your rabbit's bedding clean. And throw out food or water that's contaminated with feces - this will help prevent transmission and reinfection.

Consult your veterinarian immediately anytime your bunny develops diarrhea or loses weight. The doctor will perform a complete physical exam and check a fecal sample.

External Parasites

Common external parasites include the following:
  • Fleas. These athletic bloodsucking bugs love to taste-test your pet. The result: itching, hair loss and skin irritation. You can treat your bunny with commercial flea products used on cats, but ask your veterinarian to recommend a safe product.
  • Ticks. You should carefully remove these parasites, although they're uncommon, if you find one on your bunny's tender hide. For ticks that aren't attached to the skin, use tweezers to grasp the tick and pull gently. Don't try to pull one loose if its head is imbedded in your pet's skin. Instead, apply rubbing alcohol or tick spray (for cats) to the tick with a cotton swab. The bug should back out within a minute, and you can use tweezers to remove it. Place the tick in a container of rubbing alcohol or flea and tick spray, and dispose of it. Don't crush the tick, because contact with the blood can spread disease.
  • Ear and fur mites. These parasites frequently hide in the dark recesses of your pet's ear canals or beneath her luxurious fur. If your bunny is infested, you'll notice thick scabs near the ears and face, scaly dandruff and a thinning coat. You veterinarian can treat both mites with three injections of ivermectin administered 10 to 14 days apart. Antibiotics and topical ear ointments can help fight secondary infections. While treating your rabbit, clean the environment daily, eliminate wood bedding that can harbor mites, and brush your bunny with a flea comb to help rid her of these nasty parasites.
  • Cuterebra fly larvae and other maggots. Cuterebra flies often lay their eggs in the grass, and when the larvae hatch, they hitch a ride on your pet and burrow into her tender skin. If you spot a small circular hole or a lump, call your veterinarian immediately. But don't squeeze this bump - doing so can jolt your bunny into shock, causing seizures and possibly death. Your veterinarian will surgically remove the larva and prescribe antibiotics. Keeping your bunny inside your home will alleviate this problem.
Bunnies with urine-soaked or feces-matted bottoms will attract flies. Flies will lay eggs on the affected skin and, within hours, the eggs will hatch into maggots that will feed on your bunny's flesh. This condition requires immediate veterinary attention because maggots can quickly cause a toxic blood condition.

With parasites, prevention is the key. Always house your bunny inside and keep her clean, and talk to your veterinarian about the most effective steps to keep those pests at bay.