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 or other parts of her body. They’re parasites, and they’re out for one thing: free room and board. With early treatment, most parasitic infections aren’t life-threatening and can be treated with medication. Learn how to protect your rabbit from these despicable freeloaders.
Common Internal Parasites
Coccidia: If your pet experiences diarrhea and/or weight loss, she may be suffering from coccidia, one of the most common internal parasites in rabbits. This disease takes two forms. The most serious type affects the liver and can cause appetite loss, diarrhea, liver failure or in severe cases, death. The other form affects the intestines. Your bunny may lose weight, experience diarrhea and become dehydrated–or she may not show any signs. Without swift treatment, young bunnies can die from severe dehydration and/or a bacterial infection.
Cryptosporidium: These organisms can cause diarrhea and generally only affect very young rabbits.
Worms: Pinworms are the most common type found in rabbits, but they can also get roundworms, whipworms or stomach worms. Symptoms can include weight loss or failure to gain weight. Obeliscoides cuniculi is a stomach worm that can infect rabbits that eat fresh grass, but your pet may not exhibit any symptoms unless the infection is severe. Seek veterinary care immediately if you notice lethargy, appetite loss or weight loss. Always feed your rabbit store-bought high-quality grass hay–never grass from your yard, as it may contain pesticides.
Common External Parasites
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 or small animal specific flea sprays or dust, but ask your veterinarian to recommend a product best suited for your pet.
Ticks: Although uncommon in rabbits, it is possible for your pet to acquire one of these hitchhikers, especially if they are kept in an outdoor habitat. They can be carriers of serious disease, so it’s important to check your pet regularly, and if one is found, remove it right away. To remove a tick safely from your pet, use a pair of pointed tweezers, hemostats or a tick removal tool to firmly grasp the tick at the head, which is closest to your pet’s skin. Pull the tick straight out using steady pressure, and place it in rubbing alcohol to kill it.
Mites: Ear and fur mites are parasites that frequently hide in the dark recesses of your pet’s ear canals or beneath her luxurious fur. If your bunny is infested, you may notice thick scabs near the ears and face, scaly dandruff and a thinning coat. Your veterinarian can treat both types of mites with injections. Antibiotics and topical ear ointments can help fight secondary infections. While treating your rabbit, clean her environment daily, eliminate wood bedding that can harbor mites and brush her 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 grass, and when the larvae hatch, they can 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, although indoor rabbits are not immune to these parasites. Bunnies with urine-soaked or feces-matted bottoms will attract flies. Flies can lay eggs on the affected skin and within hours the eggs can hatch into maggots that could feed on your bunny’s flesh. This condition requires immediate veterinary attention because maggots can quickly cause a toxic blood condition.
When it comes to parasites, prevention is key:
If you add a bunny to your family, take her to a veterinarian right away for a check-up, and provide a stool sample for testing to ensure she is parasite-free.
Always house your bunny indoors and clean her habitat daily.
Be sure she always has access to fresh, clean, chlorine-free water and fresh, green high-quality grass hay.
Throw out food or water that has been contaminated with feces and discard fresh food that has been left out for more than several hours.
Use a flea comb on your rabbit regularly to inspect for parasites.
Remember annual veterinary checkups.
Lastly, consult your veterinarian immediately anytime your bunny develops diarrhea or loses weight or if you notice anything irregular.