Rabbit Illnesses
Resulting from Parasites

Rabbit illnesses caused by parasites can make your rabbit's life miserable, even threaten its survival.

Here are a few of the more common parasitic illnesses you might encounter, and hopefully some useful tips on how to help your rabbit.

Ear Mites


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Ear mites are also sometimes called ear canker. An external parasite (mite) chews on and irritates the inside of the rabbit's ear, which begins to ooze.  The rabbit scratches in his ear, and then an infection can start up. If the condition is not treated, it can drain the rabbit's health. A typical case of ear mites is confined to the inside of the ear, however a particularly severe infestation can engulf the entire ear and begin to infest parts of the rabbit's head.

Ear mites are one of those easy-to-treat rabbit illnesses.

To treat, drop a few drops of mineral or olive oil into the affected ear, and massage the base of the ear to ensure an even coating of oil within the ear.  Coat all areas of the infestation. The oil suffocates the mite.  The mite eggs live for three weeks, so you'll need to repeat this treatment as follows: 

  • Every day for 3 days. Initially, you'll need to carefully soak the crusts using a Q-tip, or removing the crusts if you can do so without forcing or causing more trauma.  Disinfect the rabbit's cage to prevent a re-infestation.
  • 3 more treatments, once every other day
  • Lastly, 3 treatments - once a week.

This should solve your ear mite problem. If, however, you find the infestation has spread to a number of animals, you can follow up the treatment with a routine monthly application of oil in the ear. 

An antibiotic cream may help with any underlying infection.

Ivermectin will wipe out the infestation in a single subcutaneous injection. Obtain through your vet, or purchase 1% cattle Ivermectin at the feed store or pet shop.


Fur Mites in Rabbits

This parasite likes to chew on the fur and skin of the rabbit's body.  The most common spot to find them is in the triangle behind the rabbit's ears. 

You'll see hair loss, and probably scratches on irritated skin behind the ears and into the rabbit's coat. 

A dusting of kitten flea powder will help rid your rabbit of mites.  Don't forget to repeat the dusting in 10 days to kill any newly hatched mite eggs. 

Learn much more at Fur Mites in Rabbits.


Nosema (or EC)

Nosema is caused by a protozoan (one-celled) organism - Encephalitozoon cuniculi - (hence the name EC which is much easier to spell) - that can infect several species. Infections are rare in humans.

Other species seem able to clear the organism from the body completely, however in the rabbit, nosema infections persist throughout their lives.

Nosema spores are spread in the rabbit’s urine, but the protozoan lives throughout the rabbit’s organs, including the kidneys, liver, lung, spinal cord and brain.  The rabbit is infectious 30 days after the initial infection until 90 days, after which it no longer sheds spores.

The good news is: most rabbits remain symptom-free for all their lives.

The bad news is: there is almost nothing you can do to fix this rabbit illness, should your rabbit begin showing symptoms, except to try to make your rabbit comfortable or euthanize the animal.

EC is very common in pet rabbit populations, up to 80% in some areas.  Most pet rabbits probably contract this rabbit illness from their mothers.

If your rabbit starts to show symptoms of EC, you may see the following symptoms.

Symptoms of rabbit illness related to the kidneys, brain and spinal cord:

  • Generalized weakness (kidney-related)
  • Poor appetite
  • Increased water intake
  • Increased urination
  • Ammonia odor in the breath
  • Sudden death

Brain symptoms (dependent on the area of the brain and spinal cord that is affected):

  • Facial paralysis
  • Weakness in just one leg
  • Hind quarter paralysis
  • Head tilt
  • No appetite
  • Behavior changes
  • Depression
  • Seizures (mild to severe)
  • Sudden death

There are no treatments or cures for nosema.  Multiple drugs of many varieties have been tried in the case of active infection. Anecdotal reports of successful treatment by Albendazole and Neosporin have been heard. 

Quarantine: Young infected pet rabbits may still be shedding spores at 4 months old.  It is suggested that you isolate rabbits that are younger than 5 months old from your other pet rabbits, to allow the infectious stage to pass. 

Disinfect everything that may have been contaminated with rabbit urine, using Lysol or a strong bleach solution.

According to Rabbit Production, meat from infected rabbits is safe to eat.


Pinworms

Pinworms are a common parasite in rabbits. A sure sign of pinworms are tiny white flecks in the rabbit's droppings.

Pinworms are usually just a nuisance. However, pinworms can become a problem if your rabbit is already sick. They can strip your show rabbits of their conditioning and cost you the win.  They can rob a pregnant or lactating doe of nutrients, putting the doe and her kits at risk for other diseases. 

Suspect pinworms when you see a rough coat, poor flesh condition, bony over the back, and yet pot-bellied. Your vet can make the diagnosis for you, if needed.

If you see the telltale white flecks, treat with piperazine, 1 mg per ml of water, for 2 days. Remove all sources of un-medicated water during treatment.  Retreat in 10 days. If this doesn’t improve your rabbit’s symptoms, you should consult a rabbit-savvy vet for more troubleshooting.


Racoon Roundworm

Rabbits can be intermediate hosts for the raccoon roundworm. They can be exposed to infective roundworm eggs through direct exposure to raccoon latrines, or indirectly through contaminated yard clippings or other fresh or dried forages. Learn more about the Raccoon Roundworm and rabbits as intermediate hosts here.

Baylisascaris procyonis is the scientific name for the Raccoon Roundworm. This roundworm represents a dangerous threat to humans, and especially to toddlers who are prone to put all sorts of stuff in their mouths indiscriminately. Learn how to protect yourself and your children here.


Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungal disease which is highly contagious to rabbits and humans.  What you'll see: Hair loss in ringed pattern, along with shallow crusted sores.

  • Use gloves to handle the rabbit
  • Boil or discard the clothes you wear while handling the rabbit.
  • Disinfect the affected animal's cage with a strong bleach solution.
  • Consult your rabbit-savvy vet ASAP for methods of treatment.


Tapeworms and Tapeworm Life Cycle

Rabbits are the intermediate host for the dog tapeworm (Taenia pisiformis). Infection comes from contamination of their living space by dog/coyote feces, or from hay contaminated by feces.

Get the full scoop on tapeworms and the tapeworm life cycle here.


Go from Parasitic Rabbit Illnesses to Rabbit Health


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As we are not veterinarians, we direct you to our Disclaimers at the bottom of the Rabbit Diseases page.

Hopefully this information will help you treat and eradicate any rabbit illnesses caused by parasites. 

Merck Veterinary Manual on Rabbits


> > Parasitic Rabbit Illnesses


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