How to Treat Rabbit Fleas (and what NOT to do)


What to do about fleas

Unfortunately, like many other pets, it is possible for rabbits to get fleas. They can get fleas when playing outside or from your other household pets who have access to the outdoors. You could even unknowingly bring fleas into the house on your clothing if you happen to come into contact with them outside. The good news is, fleas in rabbits are easily treated.

Rabbit fleas can be treated by using a flea comb and a topical flea medication. The fleas on your rabbit should be eliminated within 1-2 days. You should thoroughly clean the area to prevent reinfection. Fleas rarely cause serious illness, but if left untreated, the rabbit can develop anemia. 

Because rabbit anatomy is very different from cats and dogs, many of the treatments available for other pets are not safe for rabbits. While I do try to do as much research as possible to give you safe information when treating your rabbit, I am not a veterinarian. It is always best to call your rabbit vet for the most up-to-date information on safe flea treatments and medications. 


Important: This post contains affiliate links. As an associate to Amazon, Small Pet Select, and Chewy.com I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.


Flea treatments for rabbits

Fleas may be an annoying pest, but if dealt with quickly they are not likely to be a major danger to your rabbit. You just have to make sure you use safe flea treatments. Many of the products that you can get over-the-counter contain ingredients that are not safe to use with rabbits and can cause severe side effects. 

Safe medications for fleas in rabbits

As a general rule, cat flea medications are going to be safer than dog flea medications, but there are very few that are tested for safety with rabbits. The medicine that is best known as being safe for rabbits is Advantage (by Bayer). This is the only over-the-counter flea medication that is recognized as safe, however it can still have some minor side effects for sensitive rabbits. 

Advantage should not be used with rabbits who are younger than 8 weeks old or with elderly rabbits, so it’s best to consult your veterinarian before applying the product. You will also need to reduce the dosage of the medication to lower the chances of causing skin irritation.

The other rabbit flea treatment that is safe to use is Revolution (called Stronghold in the UK). This is a prescription medication and can only be obtained through a veterinarian. This is also what is used to treat and prevent other parasites such as ticks and mites. Your veterinarian may recommend the prescription if your rabbit is sensitive to Advantage or there are other health concerns for your rabbit.

Both of these medications kill the insects through their life cycle, including adult fleas, larvae, and eggs. It will also prevent a recurring infestation on your rabbit for 2-4 weeks. In the meantime, you will need to clean your home to prevent the fleas from coming back after this time period.

If you have multiple rabbits, you may need to separate them temporarily to prevent them from grooming each other for a few hours after applying the medication. They are both topical treatments that are placed on the neck in the back of the ears and need some time to disperse through the rabbit’s coat. 

BRUSHING A RABBIT
Use a fine-toothed flea comb to meticulously go through your rabbits fur and remove visible fleas and flea dirt. Do this twice a day until there are no more fleas.

Flea combs

Flea combs can help to catch adult fleas and reduce the number of the pest bothering your rabbit. By itself, this is unlikely to solve a severe flea infestation, but it can help alleviate some of the misery of your rabbit, to keep them from being bitten by fleas all day long. 

To use a flea comb:

  1. Get a bucket of soapy water ready (you can use dish soap)
  2. Make your rabbit comfortable and start combing through your rabbit’s fur to remove the fleas, eggs, and flea dirt. 
  3. As the flea comb collects debris, rinse it in the soapy water to kill the fleas.
  4. Repeat the process twice a day for a week to see if the situation has improved. If there are still a lot of fleas, you will probably have to resort to one of the rabbit-safe medications.

This method may also be difficult with rabbits who are highly sensitive to grooming. Many rabbits hate the feeling of being brushed and will get very stressed out if you have to comb them for hours every day. If this is the case, it’s a better idea to use the medication after getting advice for dosage from your veterinarian.

Cleaning your rabbit’s enclosure and your home

If your rabbit has fleas, then there are going to be fleas and eggs in their habitat and home. You are going to need to clean and disinfect everything around your rabbit, including the carpets and furniture. If you don’t clean the environment, your rabbit will become reinfected once the medication wears off. This means you’ll have to thoroughly clean your rabbit’s enclosure and all areas of your home.

The first thing you’ll want to do is wash everything you can. Any rabbit bedding, like towels and blankets, should go in the wash along with your own clothing, bedding, and curtains. Fleas can easily spread from one area of the house to another on your clothes, even if the rabbit only has access to one room. You also want to thoroughly vacuum the whole house daily until you no longer see any fleas. Make sure to pay special attention to corners and underneath areas that have less foot traffic. 

To test if there are still a lot of fleas around, try walking around with bright white socks. Fleas are attracted to light colors, so if there are many left they’ll be attracted to your socks as you walk around. This way you’ll know how close you are to finally being rid of the parasites.

Other tips for cleaning your home include:

  • Use a dehumidifier: fleas thrive in moist environments
  • Empty your vacuum outside after every use.
  • Wash your clothes with vinegar to help kill the fleas.
  • Sprinkle table salt on the carpets or furniture to kill flea eggs.

You can also use a boric acid flea treatment (such as Fleabusters), to rid your house of fleas. This is mostly safe to be used around rabbits, but it can cause some skin or respiratory irritation. So if you use Fleabusters, be sure to keep your rabbits out of the room for the next 12-24 hours.

Flea treatments that are NOT safe for rabbits

You want to be very careful when choosing a flea treatment for your rabbit. Most of those available for cats and dogs can cause serious side effects in rabbits. Some are so bad that they can actually be fatal. This is why I always recommend contacting a veterinarian before starting the use of any flea product. 

Flea powders

Flea powders are a kind of grey area for rabbits. There are some flea powders that are safe, but most contain ingredients that should not be used around rabbits. You especially want to avoid any flea powders that contain the ingredients pennyroyal, eucalyptus, and pyrethrin (which includes flea powders marketed as ‘natural solutions’). These ingredients are poisonous to rabbits if ingested, and rabbits will definitely be licking some of the powder. I recommend avoiding flea powders unless you can confirm with a rabbit veterinarian that all the ingredients involved are safe for rabbits.

A flea bath/flea shampoo

Flea baths are not recommended for rabbits. Like the powders, many flea dip formulas contain ingredients that are not safe for rabbits. Even if you find one that has safe ingredients, baths are not good for rabbits. In general, it’s a bad idea to give rabbits a bath unless you know what you’re doing since it’s very stressful and potentially dangerous. Avoid these all together and opt for a different type of flea solution.

A flea collar

Flea collars are completely unsafe for rabbits for two reasons:

  1. You should not wrap anything around a rabbit’s neck. Rabbits have different anatomy from cats and dogs and can easily injure themselves when they have something around their neck. This is why veterinarians don’t use cones for rabbits after medical procedures too.
  2. The dosage of flea treatment on the collar is too high for rabbits. Rabbits need a smaller dose of flea treatment compared to cats or dogs. Since you can’t adjust the dose on a collar, it could cause severe side effects for a rabbit.

Unsafe medications

You should really avoid any kind of flea medication that was not mentioned in the previous section. As far as I know, only Advantage and Revolution are currently considered safe for rabbits. This means you should also avoid any kind of knock-off flea treatments that claim to have similar effects. Most of these off-brand products contain permethrin, which can cause seizures in rabbits. Only the brand names are known to be safe, so don’t try to save money by getting a different product.

Frontline has been known to cause severe seizures in rabbits and has resulted in fatalities. Frontline is not intended for use with rabbits or any other small animal. If you already used the product, contact your veterinarian immediately and wash the topical medication off using warm soapy water.

Are there any safe natural remedies for fleas?

The safest natural remedy for getting rid of fleas is to simply take the time to use a flea comb twice a day to manually remove the fleas from your rabbit’s coat. Other natural flea repellents should not be ingested by rabbits, so they are not safe to use on your rabbit (this includes the natural flea powders).

To rid fleas from the rest of your home, there are some natural remedies you can use. 

  • Sprinkle salt on the ground after vacuuming to dehydrate and kill remaining flea eggs
  • Use food-grade diatomaceous earth, especially around food bowls and outdoor play areas
  • Using vinegar when cleaning also acts as a flea repellent
  • Bayleaf, rosemary, and sage can also act as natural flea repellents

How did your rabbit get fleas?

If you have an indoor rabbit, you may be wondering how your rabbit got fleas to begin with. Fleas are most common in outdoor rabbits and with rabbits who share a home with pets who go outside. Even if you don’t have other pets, you can still bring fleas into the house on your clothing.

  • From other household pets. Most of the time, fleas are brought into the home by another household pet and then spread to the rabbit. 
  • From your clothing. If you came into contact with a dog or cat that had fleas, they can ride on your clothes into your home and infect your rabbit.
  • From outdoor playtime. Your rabbit can also be unlucky and contract fleas from simply being outside on the grass. 

How to prevent fleas in rabbits

The best way to deal with fleas is to, of course, not get them in the first place. The risk of getting fleas is small if you have no other pets that have access to the outdoors, especially dogs who are more social animals. However, there are some precautions you can take whatever your living situation is:

  • Keep your rabbit indoors. House rabbits are less likely to contract fleas because they won’t come into contact with the eggs or parasites in the grass.
  • Use preventative flea treatments for other household pets. Any pets that go outside regularly might benefit from a preventative topical flea repellent.
  • Don’t let your rabbit come into contact with other animals. Fleas most often travel from one pet to another, so it’s easiest to avoid fleas by avoiding contact with other animals.
  • Wash your hands and clothing after coming home. If you come home from a household that has pets (especially dogs), it’s best to change clothes right away.
  • Treat your home for fleas annually. You can treat your home with Fleabusters or a comparable product on an annual basis as a preventative measure to fleas.
  • Use diatomaceous earth around outdoor play areas. Diatomaceous earth is a natural substance that kills fleas and is safe to use around rabbits and humans.
RABBIT SCRATCHING EAR
Sometimes bald patches appear as a result of excessive scratching. The rabbit may have fleas, mites, or even be stressed out.

Signs of fleas in rabbits

Fleas are usually pretty easy to diagnose since they are visible to the human eye. You’ll be able to see the little insect crawling around in your rabbit’s fur. If you’re in doubt, you can also get an official diagnosis from a qualified veterinarian.

Other symptoms that you’ll see if your rabbit has fleas include:

  • Excessive itching. You’ll notice your rabbit scratching more than usual, to the extent that they may scratch themselves.
  • Flea dirt. Flea dirt is flea droppings. It will look like small specks of coffee grounds at the base of your rabbit’s fur follicles.
  • Bite marks. Fleas will bite the rabbit creating small red bite bumps all over the rabbit’s skin.
  • Fur loss. Due to excessive scratching and flea bites, your rabbit will start to lose patches of fur.

Can fleas cause any serious side effects in rabbits

For the most part, fleas will not cause serious symptoms in rabbits. Your rabbit may itch themselves enough to cause scratches on their skin which can potentially lead to a skin infection. But this is rarely the case if your rabbit is treated quickly.

However, if you do not take steps to get rid of the fleas, it can lead to a severe infestation. With so many fleas biting and sucking blood from your rabbit, it can lead to anemia.  In this case, your rabbit will have pale gums, an increased heart rate, and will have a lack of energy. If the symptoms have reached this level, go to your local vet to give your rabbit professional medical attention.

If you live in an area where the virus myxomatosis is present (mostly in Europe or Australia), fleas can transmit the disease. If your rabbit is not vaccinated, this is a highly deadly disease. For more information on myxomatosis, visit the House Rabbit Society.

Can a rabbit spread fleas to humans or other pets?

Rabbits can spread fleas to other pets in the household. More often, they are the ones who got the fleas from a household dog or cat, but unless all pets are treated for fleas, the problem will not get resolved.

Fleas don’t generally live on humans, but they can bite us and hang out on our clothing. You’re most likely to notice bites around areas of tight clothing, such as your ankles where your socks sit.

Sources:

  1. “Fleas Infecting the Body in Rabbits.” PetMD. https://www.petmd.com/rabbit/conditions/parasitic/c_rb_flea_infestation
  2. “Fleas on Rabbits.” Sacramento House Rabbit Society. http://www.allearssac.org/fleas.html
  3. Jenkins, Jeffrey DVM. “Alert on Topical Flea Products.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/health/frontline.html
  4. Liebert, Mary Ann. “Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Sodium Borate and Boric Acid.” Journal of the American College of Toxicology Vol. 2 Num. 7. 1983. Accessed: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3109/10915818309142004
  5. Wilsbach, Kathleen Ph.D. “Skin Diseases in Rabbits: Common Causes, Common Treatments.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/journal/4-9/skin.html

Recommended Products and Brands

Important: These are Affiliate links. As an associate to Amazon, Small Pet Select, and Chewy.com, I may receive a small commission from qualifying purchases.

The two brands that I use when buying food for my rabbit are Oxbow and Small Pet Select. These both have high quality rabbit products and are companies that care about the health of our small animals. If you are purchasing anything from Small Pet Select use the code BUNNYLADY at checkout to get 15% off your first order.


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Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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