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Rabbit Ectoparasites and Endoparasites

Diagnosing parasites in rabbits is primarily the same as in cats and dogs. Test include fecal flotation, skin scraping, fur exam and ear swabs. Keep in mind how thin a rabbit’s skin is when performing a skin scraping to avid lacerating the skin. Ectoparasites are more common in rabbits than endoparasites.

Ectoparasites

Cheyletiella parasitovorax – Cheyletiella parasitovorax is also known as walking dandruff. The patient will present with large dandruff and debris on the surface of the fur. Using clear scotch tape gently touch the tape to the dandruff, apply to a microscope slide and examine it microscopically. You can also at times see the dandruff move on the patient. If the client sees this you will have no problems with owner compliance for treatment. Treatment of choice is most often Ivermectin and environmental cleaning with flea control products. The life cycle of Cheyletiella parasitovorax is about five weeks; without environmental cleaning the pet will be re-exposed. Cheyletiella parasitovorax is also zoonotic; both humans and companion animals are at risk.

Fleas – Fleas are not common in household rabbits. These patients will often present with flea dirt (dried blood), hair loose from scratching, and the appearance of fleas themselves. Treatment is similar to cats with Revolution and treating the environment.

Maggot larvae – Maggot larvae are from flies which are attracted to moist fur and skin and wounds. Patients with large maggots will often present with swelling in the ventral cervical, axillary, inguinal area or the dorsal rear end. These patients will require surgery to remove the maggots and the surrounding tissue. Patients with visible small maggots need to have their fur trimmed and skin disinfected, which may require sedation. If not already an indoor pet this, highly recommend this to the owner.

Psoroptes cuniculi – Psoroptes cuniculi is the rabbit ear mite, which is very common. Rabbits will often present with thick crusting from the base of the external ear canal extending up, often to the pinna. Diagnosing can be done one of two ways. The most common way is to make an ear smear with mineral oil and examine it microscopically. The second way and for most of us the “cool” way is to look at the crust and/or ear canal with an Otoscope. You will see the mites who are usually moving around or eating. If you take the time and show the client I can guarantee the client will agree to treat the ear and come back for a recheck. Ivermectin is usually the treatment of choice.

Sarcoptes scabiei and Demodex cuniculi – Both of these skin mites are relatively uncommon in household rabbits. They will present with hair loss, skin crusting and excessive scratching. A skin scraping is used to diagnose which mite is present. Due to the fact that rabbits have very thin skin and a laceration during the scraping is possible, you need to inform the client of such prior to performing the scraping.

Endoparasites

Coccidia – Coccidia is the most common intestinal parasite. These patients will often present with diarrhea noted for several days. Diagnosis is made by fecal flotation or a direct smear.

Nematode, Cestode, Trematode and Protozoan parasites – These parasites are rarely seen in pet rabbits and can be diagnosed through fecal flotation. 

References:
Exotic Animal Care – Tully and Mitchell
Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician – Ballard and Cheek