Itching and Scratching in Rabbits

Rabbits should not scratch more than you. If your rabbit is excessively itchy and scratching a lot, it has a problem that needs to be treated. Various problems – from mites to allergies – can cause itching and scratching in rabbits, but fortunately, these are treatable.1

Why Do Rabbits Itch and Scratch?

When an animal experiences intense itching and scratching, it is called pruritus. In a rabbit, this could be due to fur, skin or ear parasites, dry skin, allergies or infections.1 Regardless of the cause, it is important to take care of it immediately so your rabbit stays healthy and has nothing to worry about.

Fur Mites

Cheyletiella parasitivorax are microscopic mites that live in rabbit fur.2 Cheyletiella mites are blood-sucking parasites that bite your rabbit to feed, causing itching and scratching.

Fur mites are also called “walking scales” because they often move rabbits’ dead skin, giving the appearance of moving skin cells. They may start in a small area on your rabbit, but if left untreated, can spread throughout its fur, the environment it lives in, and to other rabbits and pets.

Even if your rabbit never goes outside, it can get fur mites from food or bedding you bring into your home.

Itching and Scratching in Rabbits

Lice

While not as common as other parasites, lice do affect rabbits. They are species-specific, so humans and other non-rabbit pets cannot get them.3

Fleas

Many people don’t believe rabbits can get fleas, but they can.1 Like fur mites, fleas are blood-sucking parasites that bite rabbits, which in turn causes itching and scratching.

Female fleas lay up to 50 eggs a day. So even if you only see one or two adult fleas on your rabbit, it has probably already laid hundreds of eggs. Fleas also bite humans, but female fleas usually cannot produce viable eggs if human blood is their only food source.

House rabbits can get fleas just like outdoor rabbits. Other pets can transmit fleas to your rabbit, and they can be brought in from outside. Fleas can also get into the house on their own, just like other insects, such as ants.

A flea comb will help you find fleas and flea droppings. Flea droppings are the cylindrical droppings that turn red when rubbed with a damp cotton swab. This is a good trick to distinguish the digested blood from normal dirt from the environment.

Dry Skin

Your rabbit may develop dry skin, which can lead to itching and scratching. Rooms with very low humidity, dusty environments, poor diet, and bathing your rabbit too often or using inappropriate shampoos can all contribute to dry skin in your pet. If you can determine the cause of the dry skin, you should be able to reverse it. For temporary relief, ask your vet to recommend a spray product that is safe for rabbits.

Ear Mites

Psoroptes cuniculi are ear mites that cause itching and scratching.4 They can be passed from rabbit to rabbit, so wash your hands after handling a rabbit with itchy ears. You may notice hair loss around the ears and/or crusts, or the rabbit’s ears may look particularly dirty. A tilted head, floppy ears, and head shaking are also signs of ear mite infestation, which does not always affect both ears. If you notice any of these signs, take your rabbit to the vet.

Allergies

Just like people, some rabbits are allergic to certain substances that cause them to itch and scratch. Usually, these allergies are environmental, not food-related, so you can make changes to bedding, litter, cleaning solutions, and air purifiers to help your rabbit feel more comfortable at home.

Common environmental allergens include the dust in certain types of bedding or the rabbit’s hay, as well as fabric softeners and blanket detergents.

Rabbits can also be allergic to parasites like fur mites and fleas. This makes an infestation of these pests even more irritating for your pet.

Itching and Scratching in Rabbits

Skin Irritants

In addition to allergies, rabbits can also be irritated by certain products, especially if they are not designed for rabbits. Shampoos, conditioners, sprays, and air fresheners can cause skin irritation in your rabbit. If you use a new product like a shampoo and your rabbit is itchy the next day, it may be because it was too harsh for your rabbit’s skin. This is often the case with products intended for dogs that are used on rabbits.

Ringworm

Caused by two main types of organisms (Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Microsporum canis), ringworm is a fungal infection that causes hair loss, itching, and red “ringworm” lesions in rabbits.5 Humans can also contract ringworm from rabbits.

The main cause of ringworm, as well as mites and fleas, is direct contact with an infected rabbit.5 If you bring a new rabbit into your home, keep it separate from your other rabbits until you are sure it does not have an infection. Rabbits can also contract ringworm in dirty environments and from brushes that have been used on an infected rabbit.

Skin infections

Urine burns and feces that have been in contact with your rabbit’s skin for a long time, as well as generally unclean environments, can cause a skin infection in your rabbit. The infected area may become red, inflamed and very itchy and should be treated immediately.

Treatment

Methods for treating itching and scratching in rabbits depend on the cause, but a number of problems can be solved with the same remedies.

Fur mites are highly contagious to other rabbits. If you have other pets in the house and your rabbit has been diagnosed with Cheyletiella mites, be careful not to spread these parasites to other animals. 1Wash your hands after handling your rabbit and throw away any food and bedding in its cage.

For fur and ear mites, lice and fleas, freeze any unused food and bedding items purchased from a pet store or online. The parasites can be brought into your home on such items, so freezing before use is also a good way to prevent an infestation.

If your exotics veterinarian diagnoses your rabbit with mites, he or she will most likely prescribe a medication such as selamectin, which will kill the infestation without harming your rabbit. Over-the-counter products are generally not safe for rabbits, and you should always consult your veterinarian before administering such products.

If you find fleas or flea droppings on your rabbit, treat your rabbit and any other furry pets in the home with a safe medication, just as you would for fur mites.6 You will also need to clean and treat the environment. Some rabbit owners use boric acid powder in their carpets and various flea sprays and bombs sold in pet stores. If you choose to use these products, make sure your rabbit has left the room you are treating for at least 24 hours.

If your rabbit has environmental allergies, use fragrance-free fabric softeners and laundry detergents designed for babies or sensitive skin to wash his or her blankets. If symptoms persist, look for other possible allergens in your rabbit’s environment — for example, dust or pollen from an open window in the spring or summer — and try to eliminate them.

Ringworm is usually treated with topical ointments or oral medications prescribed by your exotics veterinarian.

Skin infections usually require prescription medication. There is an anti-itch spray that is safe to use on rabbits. However, if the cause of the problem is not addressed, the spray will only provide temporary relief.

How to Prevent Itching and Scratching

Often, your rabbit’s itching can be prevented by treating his environmentKeep your rabbit’s cage clean. The freezing recommendation for all rabbit supplies is an excellent place to start, as is using fragrance-free detergents for washable rabbit litter.

You should also make sure your rabbit’s cage is as clean as possible. Daily and weekly grooming can make a significant difference to your pet’s health and prevent many skin infections. When bathing your rabbit, only use products specifically designed for rabbits.

It’s also a good idea to examine your rabbit’s coat regularly. This will help you easily spot any abnormalities and take immediate treatment measures that can prevent an infestation, ear or skin problem from getting worse.

At the same time, take precautions for any other pets in your home by regularly using products like flea preventative. Take care of Avoid bringing your rabbit into contact with other animals that could also transmit these diseases, especially if it is kept outdoors or allowed outside.