Pet Advice Rabbits and Fleas

Published on March 9th, 2017 | by Debbie Martin


Rabbits and fleas, Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

What is a flea?

When people think of fleas they tend to think of just cats and dogs, we often overlook Rabbits and fleas, there causes, symptoms and treatments. A flea is a parasite which feeds off mammalian blood. A flea is a very small creature – you can just barely see them with the naked eye. Under a microscope, they look like a very small arachnid. In order to feed, a flea with attach itself to a suitable host, bite it and then proceed to suck its blood.

The blood loss the host creature will suffer as a result of a single fleabite is negligible. Fleas can, however, transmit a variety of bacteria and other damaging microbes into a rabbit’s bloodstream, and in sufficient numbers, they can cause problems with the host’s blood. Fleas can cause a rabbit to suffer all kinds of nasty conditions, among them myxomatosis and anaemia. In this article we’ll take a look at the ways a flea bite can affect a rabbit and explore the options available to those who wish to guard against them.

What causes a flea infestation?

Fleas are most active during the spring, when they feed and lay their eggs. That said, they are capable of biting a rabbit at any time of the year; the modern home is kept warm during the winter, and so constitutes a perfectly hospitable environment for a flea to go about its business. To make matters worse, many people are less pro-active during the winter when it comes to anti-flea precautions like powder; they assume that, since the danger is not as severe, they can afford to relax. This is not the case!

Fleas are also able to jump from one pet to another. If one animal in a household becomes infested, then the other animals in that household are at risk. The infestation can easily spread if pets are allowed to interact with one another – or even sleep in the same area. For this reason, strict quarantine procedures are recommended.

What are the symptoms of a flea infestation?

The first thing to realise about a flea bite is that they itch a great deal. A rabbit may therefore begin to scratch the affected area. They may also lick and bite at it. Sometimes a rabbit can do this with such fervour that it actually causes the hair around the affected area to fall out. If you notice that your rabbit has developed a patch of baldness, then it may be that a flea bite is to blame. The rabbit’s skin may also become dry and scaly.

While a flea infestation can be problematic in its own right, it can also bring about a raft of further complications. Flea bites hugely increase the risk of a secondary infection developing. If the infestation is particularly severe, it can also cause a drop in the animal’s red blood cell levels – a condition known as anaemia.

It is important that, if you notice an infestation, to take the rabbit to the vet as soon as possible. The rabbit will be in severe discomfort, and the infestation is highly unlikely to go away on its own.

How is a flea infestation diagnosed and treated?

In some instances, the flea bite itself will be visible – you might even be able to see the flea – but only if you look very closely indeed. In others, however, the rabbit’s fur will be absolutely crawling with little black jumping specks. Your vet will be able to establish for certain whether or not this represents an infestation of fleas, or whether other parasites are to blame.

A vet will, in all likelihood, wish to carry out further tests in order to establish for certain that fleas are the cause. In some instances, these symptoms can be brought about by other, subtly related conditions – and sometimes by wholly unrelated ones.

Other forms of parasite, such as the mite and the tick, could also be to blame for many of these symptoms; different afflictions will require different forms of treatment and so your vet will want to run tests on the rabbit in order to build a complete picture.

The vet will go through the rabbit’s fur with a flea comb in order to investigate further. They may also test the rabbit’s skin for signs of secondary infection. In this situation, your vet will talk you through all of the possibilities. Further tests will likely involve taking samples of your rabbit’s blood and urine. If your rabbit has developed anaemia, then this will need to be established and treated quickly.

Reduce the exposure

You will need to reduce your rabbit’s exposure to fleas. The best way to do this by treating its environment with special chemicals designed to poison the fleas. You will need to first remove your rabbit before proceeding, however; such chemicals can often be harmful to the rabbit, too.

As well as treating your home, you may wish to treat your pet directly. There are a raft of special medications available, many of which come in the form of a gel which can be applied to the skin. You vet will be able to offer more detailed advice on which skin treatment is best for your rabbit. Consider that all rabbits are of different sizes and weights and a medication suitable for a large one may be dangerous for a small one. Take note of the probable side effects and if they should manifest severely, then it may be worth reconsidering.

Once you have taken corrective action, the signs indicating the presence of fleas should abate. If they do not, then a return trip to the vet is probably in order.

How do I prevent my rabbit from attracting fleas?

It far easier to prevent an infestation from developing than it is to eradicate one which has already occurred. Rabbit owners should therefore take great care that their pets are kept in a clean, safe environment, and that they are groomed regularly. This should minimise the chance your rabbit stands of contracting flea infestation.

While the consequences of an untreated flea infestation can be severe, it’s worth bearing in mind that, with a little vigilance, a rabbit can be shielded from these consequences.

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About the Author

Debbie Martin has worked at Beeston Animal Health for over five years, having previously worked as a nurse in equine and small animal practice. Although generally involved with aspects of marketing these days and putting her psychology degree to good use, she still has a great depth of up to date knowledge in all creatures great and small. Debbie lives at home with her partner and two children and spends much of her spare time looking after her horses, dogs and cats or at the home farm with the cows, sheep and turkeys.

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