What is cheyletiellosis?
Cheyletiellosis in rabbits is a condition caused by the common rabbit mite, Cheyletiella parasitovorax. This mite’s effects are sometimes called "walking dandruff" because they are large, whitish mites that crawl across the skin and hair of a rabbit and cause excessive flaky skin. Infested rabbits spread it to other rabbits. This highly contagious, non-burrowing mite can also live for short periods of time in the environment.
What are the clinical signs of cheyletiellosis?
An infected rabbit will often develop obvious signs of cheyletiellosis, such as itching or scratching, but a common telltale sign is excessive dandruff, the large white flakes of skin over the shoulders, or just above the tail over the back and hind end. In addition, you may see hair loss on your rabbit, especially behind the neck and between the shoulder blades.
"...you may see hair loss on your rabbit, especially behind the neck and between the shoulder blades."
Infestations often develop in young rabbits or older debilitated rabbits, especially if they cannot properly groom themselves because of teeth problems or arthritis, and/or other mobility issues. Cheyletiellosis, or walking dandruff, also happens more frequently in longer-haired rabbits.
How is cheyletiellosis in rabbits diagnosed?
It is very important to identify and properly treat cheyletiellosis as early as possible, so any rabbit with hair loss or flaky skin should be examined by a veterinarian. Many conditions can resemble cheyletiellosis and some, such as ringworm, can be contagious to humans. Your rabbit’s veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination, including your rabbit’s skin and hair/fur. If your rabbit has flakey skin, your veterinarian will likely recommend a skin scraping test that involves microscopic analysis to look for Cheyletiella mites.
"...your veterinarian will likely recommend a skin scraping test that involves microscopic analysis to look for Cheyletiella mites."
How is cheyletiellosis treated?
There are certain parasitic medications known to be effective for treating Cheyletiella and your veterinarian can recommend the most appropriate one for your rabbit’s case. NEVER use fipronil (Frontline®) on rabbits, as it can cause fatal toxicity. In addition, since Cheyletiella can affect other animals, all pets in your household should be treated. It is also very important to treat the environment! This parasite can be more challenging to eliminate than other parasites. Your veterinarian can advise you on the proper topical and environmental treatments.
"...since Cheyletiella can affect other animals, all pets in your household should be treated."
Will Cheyletiella mites affect my family?
While Cheyletiella can live on humans and may cause problems to anyone, especially people who are sensitive to insect bites, you can generally avoid the problem by treating your house and defending the environment against these mites.