Does your rabbit have odd-looking crusty scabs around their ears? Or maybe they are itching their ears non-stop, creating scratch wounds. Your rabbit may have contracted ear mites.
Ear mites in rabbits should be treated with Ivermectin or Selamectin, prescribed by a qualified veterinarian. Avoid over-the-counter treatments. They contain toxins that can cause paralysis and seizures in rabbits. Ear mite treatment should also include pain medication and antibiotics for any resulting infections.
The good news is that ear mites are easily treated in rabbits with the appropriate medication. Within a few weeks of treatment, the ugly scabbing should subside while your rabbit’s ears heal. However, you’ll also need to make sure you thoroughly clean your rabbit’s environment to prevent reinfection.
The symptoms of ear mites in rabbits
The early stages of ear mites are difficult to detect. The mites will crawl deep into the rabbit’s ear canal, putting them completely out of view. At this early stage, the only symptoms you will see are excessive ear scratching and head shaking. Ear mites can infect one or both of the rabbit’s ears.
As time goes on, you will start to see a substance in the rabbit’s ear that looks like a buildup of earwax. You may also notice crusting along the edges of the ear, fur loss, and painful inflammation. By this time, the rabbit may be scratching their ears enough to cause cuts, and they may flinch if you try to touch their ears because they hurt. The rabbit may also have a reduced appetite as the crusted, and inflamed ears become more painful.
As the ear mite infestation reaches later stages, you will see thick crusting all along the rabbit’s ears. The crusts can get thick enough to cause rabbit ears to droop down because they are too heavy to lift. The crusty and inflamed ears are very painful for the rabbit and should never be left without treatment.
Symptoms of ear mites in rabbits include:
- Head shaking
- Excessive ear scratching
- Self-harm from scratching
- Inner-ear skin scales
- Fur loss around the ears
- Red and inflamed ears
- A buildup of earwax-like substance in the ear canal
- Crusting on the ears
- Painful ears or flinching away when you touch them
- Reduced appetite
For a visual idea of what these symptoms look like, I recommend this post by Esther van Praag Ph.D. on MediRabbit. As a warning, there are some graphic images in the post of what severe ear mites look like, but they may help you identify these symptoms in your rabbit.
Don’t just wait and see what happens
If you notice the symptoms of ear mites in rabbits, you want to get your rabbit treated as soon as possible. With the proper care and medication, you can easily get rid of ear mites and help your rabbit return to health. However, if you ignore the signs, the infestation can cause severe damage and health consequences.
If you do not treat ear mites in rabbits, it can cause:
- A severe bacterial infection in the rabbit’s inner ear
- Painful scabbing
- Head tilt due to an inner ear infection
- It can spread to other parts of the body, including the head, neck, chest, and paws
- It can rupture the tympanic membrane and cause a loss of hearing
- It can cause GI stasis due to a reduced appetite (learn more about GI Stasis)
What do mites look like?
While small, ear mites are visible to the naked eye. The mites are dark-colored and oval-shaped, with suckers that latch onto the rabbit’s ear to feed. Most of the time, you will not see them because the mites hide within the rabbit’s inner ear. But as the infestation reaches later stages, you may notice these parasites on your rabbit’s ears or other affected areas.
What rabbits are most at risk?
Ear mites are a highly contagious infestation. Therefore, rabbits who are kept in facilities that house other rabbits are the most at risk. Places such as rescue centers and breeding facilities will see a higher rate of ear mites in rabbits.
Rabbits that are kept outdoors are also more at risk. They may contract ear mites from other animals in the area, especially if there are any colonies of wild rabbits living nearby. Homes with dogs or other pets that spend time outside can also increase the risk of bringing ear mites into the household.
Lop rabbits are more at risk of developing a severe reaction to ear mites. The way their ears fold over their head creates a more humid environment which promotes the growth of the mites. It’s also more difficult to detect ear mites in lop rabbits during the early stages of the infestation.
Rabbits that a kept as house pets alone or in pairs are at a very low risk of contracting ear mites. I’ve witnessed a couple of cases with rabbits at the shelter where I volunteer, but this is because of rabbits who come in from a hoarding situation or unsanitary conditions. However, I’ve never had to deal with ear mites in my rabbits at home.
How NOT to treat ear mites in rabbits
Before explaining how ear mites are treated to bring rabbits back to health, it’s important to explain the actions you should avoid since these may be your first instinct when dealing with ear mites in rabbits.
Don’t peel off the crusted skin
While it may be tempting to peel off the thick, ugly crusting from your rabbit’s ears, you do not want to do this. The crusting has closely adhered to the rabbit’s skin on the ears. Pulling it off will peel the rabbit’s skin with it, which is very painful for the rabbit and can cause cuts that are more easily infected.
Instead, you’ll want to wait for the crusty layer to fall off on its own. After your rabbit starts to receive treatment, the scabs should begin to fall from the ears within 1-2 weeks. You can also use some mineral oil to help soften the crusting, which may help it come loose more quickly.
Do not use over-the-counter medications
The other thing you want to avoid is using over-the-counter medications and treatments, especially if they are marketed for dogs or cats. Most of these over-the-counter treatments contain chemicals called pyrethrins that work as insecticides. These chemicals are toxic to rabbits and can lead to seizures and paralysis. In severe cases, they can even cause a coma or death.
If you find an over-the-counter medication specifically labeled for use in rabbits, ask your veterinarian first to be sure it’s a safe and recommended product.
There are other home remedies that recommend using vegetable or mineral oil to smother the mites inside the rabbit’s ears. While this is unlikely to harm the rabbit, it’s not always effective at getting rid of the mites long-term.
How to treat ear mites in rabbits
Ear mites in rabbits are easily treatable, especially if the infestation is found before severe crusting occurs on the rabbit’s ears. You can use medication to kill all the live mites, with subsequent doses to kill new mites as they hatch from the eggs. In less than a month, you should be completely rid of the ear mites and have a healthy rabbit again.
Visit a rabbit veterinarian
The first step is always to visit your rabbit veterinarian. Don’t skip this just to save some money. Getting a diagnosis and proper medication and instructions from your veterinarian can help your rabbit recover more quickly and receive the care they need for other health conditions resulting from the ear mites.
Your veterinarian can also confirm that ear mites are the problem. The early stages of ear mites can be confused with other ear problems. Rabbits can have a buildup of ear wax due to other conditions that cause them to have trouble cleaning their ears. Arthritis from old age or other disabilities can cause a buildup of earwax, and lop rabbits are often susceptible to earwax buildup and subsequent infection.
You’ll want to get a diagnosis from your vet so that you are treating the condition that your rabbit actually has. It might not be ear mites.
It’s also important to bring any bonded rabbits with you to your appointment. Ear mites are highly contagious, so if one rabbit has them, the other likely does as well. Your veterinarian may choose to test both rabbits to see if both need treatment.
If your rabbit is diagnosed with ear mites, your veterinarian will prescribe an anti-parasite treatment. Usually, this will be an ivermectin solution that you will syringe feed your rabbit or inject. However, there are other related treatments as well. Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions based on their prescribed medication.
These medications will only kill live mites and not the eggs. They do remain active in the rabbit for a while after they’ve been applied, killing larvae as they hatch. However, it may be necessary to reapply the medication after 14-30 days to prevent reinfection from new mites hatching.
In some cases, you will also be instructed to apply a mineral oil ear salve to the crusting on the rabbit’s ears. This can help to soften the crusts and help them fall off more quickly, leading to a faster healing process. The mineral oil can also be soothing to the rabbit’s ears and help to reduce their itching.
Pain medication and antibiotic treatment
Because ear mites are a painful condition for rabbits, your veterinarian will also prescribe pain medication to help soothe your rabbit. You will need to hand feed your rabbit the medicine with a syringe every day until the infestation is gone.
If your rabbit has a severe case of ear mites that has caused a bacterial infection, you will also need to give your rabbit an antibiotic to help them recover from the secondary infection. However, this is not necessary in all cases, and the sooner you can detect and diagnose the ear mites, the less likely they will cause any serious harm.
Cleaning the rabbit enclosure
Ear mites can fall off the rabbit and live in the surrounding environment for 21 days. For this reason, you will also need to thoroughly clean your rabbit’s enclosure and any exercise areas they have had access to so you can prevent reinfection from the environment.
Anti-parasitic cleaning products and sprays should be used (such as flea busters), alongside basic sanitation and vacuuming. It’s essential to keep rabbits away from the area being cleaned while you are using these dangerous chemicals and for several days afterward. Most of these heavy-duty insecticides are also toxic to rabbits if they are inhaled. Avoid shampooing the carpets since this can end up leading to a moist environment that helps the mites survive for a longer period of time.
It’s best to keep your rabbit in a completely separate space for the month that they are receiving treatment. You can clean the space and replace newspaper as bedding every day while you thoroughly de-bug their original enclosure. You’ll also want to completely clean out the litter box every day during this time. It’s often ideal to use disposable puppy pee pads instead of litter to make cleaning easier.
A follow-up appointment may be necessary
Some veterinarians will request a follow-up appointment to make sure your rabbit is recovering okay, especially if your rabbit had any severe symptoms, such as a secondary infection. However, most ear mite infestations are able to be resolved in just one treatment cycle and will not require any follow-up care.
Preventing rabbit ear mites in the future
Now that your rabbit has recovered from their ear mite infestation, you will want to prevent it from recurring in the future. While you can treat it again in the future, it is not a pleasant experience for you or your rabbit.
How to prevent ear mites in rabbits:
- Temporary housing for the rabbit for 4-6 weeks. To prevent reinfection from the environment, it’s best to keep your rabbit in a separate location to ensure the ear mites in their original enclosure have died off completely.
- Keep a clean environment. Make sure to clean your rabbit enclosure and living environment frequently to prevent infestations of any kind of pest, including ear mites.
- Avoid spreading the disease between rabbits. If you are in contact with other rabbits (such as at a rescue center or a friend’s rabbit), make sure to change clothes and wash your hands before interacting with your rabbits.
- Check your rabbit’s ears regularly. Look into your rabbit’s ears weekly to look for early signs of infestation. You should also watch your rabbit’s behavior for any signs of excess head shaking and ear scratching.
- Clip your rabbit’s nails regularly. Clipping your rabbit’s nails can prevent them from hurting themselves due to excessive scratching, which can help prevent a more severe infection from occurring.
- Keep your rabbit indoors. Indoor rabbits are much less likely to get infested with ear mites.
Can rabbit ear mites infect other household pets?
For the most part, ear mites are species-specific. Rabbit ear mites will only affect rabbits, while dog ear mites will only affect dogs. So you don’t have to worry about other household pets getting ear mites from your rabbit or contracting ear mites yourself.
However, there have been a couple of very rare instances when a guinea pig seemed to have contracted ear mites from a rabbit. For this reason, if you have any guinea pigs in the household, you will want to keep them separate from the rabbit or have them looked at by a veterinarian if they have come into contact with each other.
- Esther van Praag Ph.D. “Ear mite: Psoroptes cuniculi.” MediRabbit. http://medirabbit.com/EN/Skin_diseases/Parasitic/earmite/Psoroptes.htm.
- “Infestation of Mites in the Ear in Rabbits.” PetMD. March 2016. https://www.petmd.com/rabbit/conditions/ears/c_rb_ear_mites.
- Jenna Richardson BVM. “Ear Mites in Rabbits.” Dechra Veterinary Products. https://www.dechra.co.uk/therapy-areas/companion-animal/exotics/antiparasitics-antifungals/disease-information/ear-mites-in-rabbits.