Fleas in Rabbits
What are fleas?
Rabbits can acquire external parasites. Fleas are a small insect parasite that may take up residence on your rabbit, especially if exposed to fleas outdoors or if your rabbit lives in a house with dogs or cats who themselves have fleas. Fleas are acquired from other infested animals or environments (i.e., visiting another home with a flea infestation).
What are the signs of fleas on my rabbit?
Fleas can affect a rabbit of any age and sex. Your rabbit may or may not be itchy depending on your rabbit's sensitivity to flea bites. You may see the rabbit biting, licking, chewing, or scratching itself. Early in the infestation there may be no signs whatsoever that your rabbit even has fleas. There may be a history of fleas on other animals in the home or perhaps other infested animals previously lived in the home (as in the case of a previous tenant in an apartment or home).
Fleas leave their feces on the skin, amongst the hair of the rabbit. Flea feces is called flea dirt. Flea dirt is small, comma shaped black debris the size of pepper. Fleas or flea dirt may be seen on a fine flea comb while grooming. Small red bite marks or sores may be found on the skin and these will occasionally develop into a secondary bacterial skin infection. Each flea takes a small blood meal and young rabbits with heavy infestations may even become anemic as the fleas feed over time.
Regular examinations (at least once a year) will allow for early identification of the problem and proper treatment. Fur and skin will be examined for evidence of fleas and other external parasites.
How are rabbits with fleas treated?
Because fleas affect dogs and cats, all animals in the house should be treated. There are no rabbit specific drugs for managing fleas. All products used are for dogs and cats and their use in rabbits is described as “off-label”. Topical cat medications such as Advantage™ or Revolution™ appear to be safe but should ONLY be used under the guidance of a veterinarian familiar with rabbits. Topical flea powders, premise sprays, or even professional pest exterminators may be used but consult your veterinarian first. Since flea eggs fall off the animal and adult fleas can live off the rabbit in carpets and other areas of the home, it is very important to treat the environment as well as the pet. Depending on environmental humidity and temperature, flea eggs may hatch in as little as 14 – 28 days, producing the next crop of adult fleas looking for a blood meal. Treatment must be long enough to get the last egg hatched. Consult with a veterinarian familiar with rabbits regarding the proper topical and environmental treatments.
Certain products should not be used on rabbits. DO NOT use flea collars. DO NOT use organophosphates, straight permethrin sprays, or permethrin spot-ons on your pet rabbit.
Do I have to worry about being affected by fleas myself?
In heavy infestations, fleas may bite humans and may cause problems in people sensitive to insect bites. Bite marks may be noticed around the ankles. Generally the problem is self-limiting following elimination of the parasite from the home.
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