Causes of Itching or Scratching in Rabbits

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Rabbits shouldn't itch themselves any more than you would. If your pet rabbit seems excessively itchy or scratches a lot, then it may have a problem that needs to be addressed. Various things can cause a rabbit to itch or scratch, but thankfully this pruritus is treatable.

Rabbit Fur Mites

Cheyletiella parasitivorax are microscopic mites that live in the fur of rabbits. These little mites may start off in a small area on your rabbit, but if left untreated, they can spread all over its fur, into the environment in which they live, and even to other rabbits and pets. Cheyletiella are blood-sucking parasites that have to bite your rabbit in order to feed, which causes your rabbit to itch or scratch.

Fur mites are highly contagious to other rabbits. If you have other pets in your house and your rabbit is diagnosed with Cheyletiella, care should be taken to not spread these parasites to other animals. Wash your hands after handling your rabbit, throw away the food and bedding its cage, and freeze all unused food and bedding that you purchased from a pet store or online. Mites can be brought in to your home from such items, so freezing them before use is also a good way to prevent an infestation. Even if your rabbit never goes outside, it can get fur mites.

Fur mites are also referred to as "walking dandruff" because they are often seen moving the dead skin around on your rabbit, creating the appearance of mobile skin cells. If your exotics vet diagnoses your rabbit with these mites, they will most likely prescribe a medication to kill the infestation that won't harm your rabbit, such as Selamectin. Over-the-counter products are not typically safe for rabbits and you should always consult your veterinarian prior to administering any product to your rabbit.

Rabbit Lice

While not as common as some other parasites, lice do infest rabbits. They are species specific, so humans and other pets that aren't rabbits cannot get them. Treatment is similar to that of fur mites.

Fleas on Rabbits

Many people don't think that rabbits can get fleas, but the reality is that any pet with fur can. Fleas, like fur mites, are blood-sucking parasites that bite rabbits, which in turn causes them to itch or scratch. Fleas lay about 40 eggs every day, so even if you only see one or two adult fleas on your rabbit, they've probably already laid hundreds of eggs. Fleas can also bite humans, but we are not viable hosts to these pests, so they cannot survive solely off of our blood. 

Indoor rabbits can get fleas just like outdoor rabbits. Other pets in the household can give your rabbit fleas and we can track fleas in from the outdoors. Fleas can also find their own way into our homes just like other insects, such as ants and spiders. 

Using a flea comb you can find fleas and flea dirt, which is their cylindrical feces that will turn red if rubbed into a wet cotton swab, identifying that it is digested blood and not just environmental dirt. If you find either of these on your rabbit, then you need to treat your rabbit and all other pets with fur in the household with a safe medication, just like you would for fur mites. You will also need to clean and treat the environment and freeze all food and bedding items that you can. Some rabbit owners will also use boric acid powder in their carpeting and various sprays and room bombs sold at pet stores. If you choose to use these products, make sure your rabbit is out of the room you are treating for at least 24 hours.

Dry Skin on Rabbits

Your rabbit can develop dry skin and itch or scratch. Rooms with very low humidity, dusty environments, poor diets, and bathing your rabbit too often with inappropriate shampoos can all contribute to or cause your rabbit to have dry skin. If you can determine the cause of the dry skin, then you should be able to reverse it. If you need temporary relief for your rabbit's dry skin, there are rabbit-safe spray products available.

Rabbit Ear Mites

Psoroptes cuniculiis are ear mites that cause itching and scratching. They can be spread from rabbit to rabbit, so wash your hands after handling a rabbit with itchy ears. You may notice hair loss around the ears, scabs, or especially dirty looking ears. These are all signs that your rabbit may have ear mites and needs to see their veterinarian. A head tilt, flopped ear, or head shaking are also signs of an ear mite infestation, which doesn't always affect both ears.

Ear mites can easily be diagnosed and treated, and prevention can be done the same way you would prevent your rabbit from getting fur mites and fleas–by freezing food and bedding that was purchased from the pet store prior to use. 

Allergies in Rabbits

Just like some people, rabbits can be sensitive to certain things and even have allergies that can cause them to itch or scratch. Usually, these allergies are environmental and not food-based, so changes can be made with bedding, cleaners, and air purifiers to make your rabbit more comfortable at home. Rabbits can also be allergic to parasites, such as fur mites and fleas, which will make an infestation of these pests even more irritating to your pet. Common environmental allergens to rabbits are laundry softeners and detergents with pets who have blankets. Using fragrance-free softeners and detergents meant for babies or sensitive skin are often best to use with rabbits who have allergies.

Skin Irritants to Rabbits

In addition to allergies, rabbits can also be irritated by certain items, especially if they aren't meant for rabbits. Shampoos, conditioners, sprays, and air fresheners can all be irritants to rabbits. If you use a new product, such as a shampoo, and the next day your rabbit is itching, it may be because it was too harsh for your rabbit's skin. This is often seen with products meant for dogs that are used on rabbits.

Ringworm in Rabbits

Caused by two main types of fungus (Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Microsporum Canis), ringworm is a fungal infection that causes hair loss, itching, and red "ringworm" lesions in rabbits. It is usually treated with topical ointments or oral medication prescribed by your exotics vet. Rabbits contract ringworm in a variety of ways, including contact with another infected rabbit, brushes that were used on a rabbit with ringworm, and dirty environments. People can also contract ringworm from a rabbit.

The main cause of ringworm, as well as mites and fleas, is direct contact with another rabbit, so if you bring a new rabbit into your home, be sure to keep it separate from your other rabbits until you are sure it does not have an infection.

Skin Infections in Rabbits

Urine scald, feces that has remained in prolonged contact with your rabbit's skin, and overall unclean environments may cause your rabbit to develop a skin infection. These infections can be itchy to your rabbit and typically need prescription medications to remedy them. An anti-itch spray is available that is safe to use on rabbits, but if the root of the problem is not addressed, it is merely providing temporary relief.