Ear Mites in Rabbits
Ear mite infestation in rabbits is caused by the parasite Psoroptes cuniculiis. They may be found in only one ear, or in both, and in some cases may spread to the surrounding areas – the head, neck, abdomen, and genital regions. The main symptom is skin scales on the inner ear, which turn into larger, thicker crusted lesions with surrounding hair loss. If left untreated, the lesions can become infected, putting the inner ear at risk of infection and subsequent hearing loss.
No specific breed or age is at higher risk, but the risk of acquiring ear mites can be increased with exposure to affected rabbits, such as in pet stores, shelters, or multi-rabbit households. The risk of infection can also be increased by exposure to mite eggs that have been lain in grass, straw, or wood chip bedding material.
Symptoms and Types
- Mild to moderate itching around the ear, head, and neck
- Intense itching (more common) primarily located around the ears, head, and neck; occasionally generalized
- Head shaking and scratching
- Affected areas may become extremely painful
- Thick, brown to beige crusty exudate in the ear canal
- Occasionally, brown to beige crusting and itching occur on the ears and feet only
- Hair loss and peeling of skin around the ears
- Signs of ear infection may also occur
- Mites and lesions may extend to the face, neck, abdomen, perineal region, and even feet via grooming
Your veterinarian will first want to differentiate between other forms of infections and causes of scratching, but if mites are present, they will clearly be distinguished by your veterinarian. They may or may nor be visible to the naked eye, but the symptoms of Psoroptes cuniculiis infection are generally distinguishable as such. Your doctor will perform an examination of the ear, both by visual inspection and with specialized tools. An examination of exudates, the fluid that exudes/oozes from injured tissue, will be taken by ear swab and analyzed by microscope. The blood and urine may be also analyzed, usually with normal results.
Treatment and Care
The Psoroptes cuniculiis parasite is contagious, making it necessary to treat all rabbits that are in contact with the rabbit that is infected, and thoroughly clean and treat the environment in which the rabbit lives. Remove and discard all organic material from the cage, including wood or paper products, and bedding, replacing the bedding with shredded paper bedding that can be discarded. The cage should be thoroughly cleaned every day during the treatment period, with nothing reused. Combs, brushes, and grooming utensils will also need to be discarded, or thoroughly disinfected before reuse, otherwise, you will find that your rabbit has become reinfected.
There are specific antiparasitic drugs, called ivermectins, that can be used to eliminate the mites from your rabbit's ears. The crusts on the skin should not be removed, as they will only reveal exposed tissue. Once treatment has begun and the mites are no longer infesting the crusted skin, the underlying skin will be able to heal and the crusts will fall away. Other ointments and preparations that may be used for the ear may include antibiotics for any infections that are found on the outer part of the ear. Oral antibiotics will be prescribed for inner infections. If your rabbit is in pain, your veterinarian will also prescribe a mild pain reliever.
Living and Management
An ear swab and physical examination should be done one month after the initial therapy has commenced. For most patients, the prognosis is excellent. In cases where the infestation is severe, and the ear drum has ruptured due to infection, a resulting inner ear infection can lead to permanent loss of hearing. This outcome is relatively uncommon.
In either case, continue to disinfect and maintain a very clean environment for your rabbit, and contact your veterinarian if it appears that there is a return of the parasites, or if your rabbit does not appear to have fully recovered.