Rabbits, like any animal, are susceptible to a range of parasites. Below are listed the most common ones and what you can do to prevent them or get rid of them.
Rabbits can get fleas whether they are indoor or outdoors, the same as cats and dogs. There are treatments available for killing fleas, but please speak to your vet for advice before applying anything to your rabbit, as many products are based on body weight and giving too much of a product can be fatal. Also, many flea products for cats and dogs are not suitable for rabbits.
Rabbits can get roundworms and tapeworms, and so a dosing of rabbit wormer every 3-6 months, depending on risk, or when a new rabbit is introduced is recommended.
Blue and green bottle flies like to lay their eggs in rabbit faeces (poo) and when the maggots hatch out, they like to feed on the flesh of a rabbit. In peak conditions in the summer, eggs can hatch within 24 hours and the rabbit can become swarmed with maggots which is most often fatal. There are products that you can apply to a rabbit’s back end to help prevent this, but often the best prevention is good hutch husbandry. See the fly strike page for more information.
Encephalatizoon cuniculi (E-cuniculi)
This is a microscopic parasite that lives in the brain and kidneys of rabbits. Rabbits can catch it at any stage of life, with young rabbits being the most susceptible, or when a new rabbit is introduced. The parasite is passed on in the urine of an infected rabbit, and so rabbits can become infected by just sharing the same enclosure, not just by direct contact. This is potentially a zoonotic disease, that is, it can be transferred to people. However, it is only usually immuno compromised people that can become infected, such as those with HIV/AIDS or those undergoing chemotherapy.
Signs of infection include head tilts, weakness, seizures, paralysis, cataracts and behavioural changes. Your rabbit may display some or none of these symptoms.
Treatment is usually a paste or liquid fenbendazole medication given orally (by mouth) for 28 days. Rabbits do not often need more than this, but depending on the severity of the original symptoms, the rabbit may require euthanasia on humane grounds. If the rabbit does recover, often the parasite is not fully gone but remains dormant in the body and so may re-infect during times of stress or other illness.
More in depth information can be found on the e-cuniculi page.
The most common mite found on rabbits is called Cheyletiella, commonly known as walking dandruff. It lives in the fur of rabbits and eats dead skin cells. The rabbit’s coat becomes very scurfy and covered in white dandruff. On close inspection you may be able to see some of the ‘dandruff’ moving – these are the mites. Diagnosis can be made by your vet by taking a sample of fur and examining under the microscope. Treatment is with a spot on application that is worked out according to the body weight of your rabbit. It is effective but re-infestation can come from bedding or other rabbits.
Another form of mite is the ear mite (Psoroptes cuniculi). Rabbits often present with ear scratching and lots of dark brown/black ear wax. The mite lives in the ear canal and can cause the ear to become inflamed. Treatment is with the same drops as for Cheyletiella, but may also require ear drops for any infection or soreness. Again, diagnosis can be performed by your vet, as the mites can be seen with an auroscope, and sometimes with the naked eye.