What are fleas?
Rabbits can acquire external parasites, including fleas. Fleas are small insect parasites that may take up residence on your rabbit, especially if your rabbit goes outdoors or lives in a house with dogs or cats that have fleas. Fleas are acquired from other infested animals or environments (e.g., visiting another home with a flea infestation). Fleas can affect a rabbit of any age and sex.
What are the signs of fleas on my rabbit?
Your rabbit may or may not be itchy depending on its sensitivity to flea bites. You may see the rabbit biting, licking, chewing, or scratching itself. Early in the infestation, there may be no signs 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 or flea dirt may be seen on a fine flea comb used for grooming."
Fleas leave their feces on the skin, in the rabbit’s fur. Flea feces is called flea dirt. Flea dirt is small, comma-shaped black debris the size of pepper grains. Fleas or flea dirt may be seen on a fine flea comb used for grooming.
Small red bite marks or sores may be found on the skin that will occasionally become infected and develop into a secondary bacterial skin infection. Each flea takes a small blood meal, and young rabbits with heavy infestations may even become anemic over time, as the fleas feed.
Regular veterinary examinations (at least once a year) help with early identification of the problem and proper treatment. Your veterinarian will examine the rabbit’s fur and skin for evidence of fleas and other external parasites and determine appropriate treatment.
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.
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. However, anyone experiencing skin problems in a flea-infested house should consult with their physician.