Fur mites are very small parasites that can live most anywhere on an animal's body, including rabbits. Rabbit fur mites are considered contagious not only among other rabbits but also other animal species and humans. Cheyletiella parasitovorax or the rabbit fur mite is often referred to as walking dandruff as the mite can sometimes be seen moving under the dandruff scales. While mites do not commonly cause major illnesses in rabbits, it can be an irritation that leads to other skin problems.
Although these parasites can become a problem on rabbits throughout many parts of North America, rabbit fur mites are more common in areas of southern California. Some infested rabbits may show no signs of the mites while others can have extreme symptoms including dry skin, dandruff, excessive scratching, scaly skin, and hair loss from scratching.
While these parasites may be quite small, they can be visible using a magnifying glass. If a rabbit owner suspects their rabbit has fur mites, a veterinarian can view skin scrapings under a microscope to positively identify the mites which will require treatment. Untreated rabbits can pass the fur mites onto other animals and even their human owners.
Most animals are treated for fur mites with flea treatments however, rabbits should never be treated with permethrin or fipronil which are common ingredients found in some flea insecticides such as the brand Frontline. Many over-the-counter flea medications should be avoided as they contain ingredients that can be deadly to a rabbit.
It is important to have your rabbit treated by a veterinarian who is qualified in the treatment of rabbits as these animals have different needs compared to cats and dogs. Many rabbit-savvy veterinarians have found success in using topical ointments that contain selamectin which is a common ingredient in the brands Revolution and Stronghold.
Fur mites on rabbits are generally treated with special medicated dips or injections of ivermectin which kill the mites. However, treating the rabbit of the mites alone will not stop these parasites from reoccurring in the animal. Fur mites can live in a rabbit's environment which means proper treatment of other animals, the rabbit's housing, and bedding will also be required. Cages and bedding should be disinfected with hot water and bleach before the rabbit is allowed to use the items again and may take more than one sanitizing before the mites are completely gone.
Two other mites can also be found in rabbits, those that cause mange and ear canker. Sarcoptes (mange mites) can lead to severe skin problems and hair loss while the mites that cause ear canker (Psoroptes or Chorioptes) is sometimes referred to as one of the most painful skin conditions that a rabbit can suffer from.
Fur mites are not as severe as those that cause mange or ear canker but can lead to skin discomfort and infestations. Owners who suspect that their rabbit may have mites should seek veterinarian care to find out which mite is infecting the rabbit. Once the parasite has been diagnosed, work with the vet towards the best and safest treatment options for the rabbit.