Itching or Scratching in Rabbits

PetMD Editorial
August 12, 2008
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Pruritus in Rabbits

Pruritis is the sensation that provokes the rabbit to scratch, rub, chew, or lick a certain area of its skin. This is often indicative of inflamed skin which can occur in any of the animal's many dermal layers. The condition also affects the systems used to regulate skin secretions.

Symptoms and Types

  • Scratching
  • Licking
  • Biting
  • Chewing
  • Hair loss
  • Self-injury
  • Skin inflammation (i.e., redness, swelling, rash)

Causes

  • Skin tumors
  • Parasites (e.g., ear mites, fleas, fur mites)
  • Allergies (e.g., food allergy, medication allergy, etc.)
  • Irritants (e.g., soaps, shampoos, bedding, harsh cleaning solutions)

Diagnosis

Because there are many conditions which cause animals to itch, each must be ruled out. For example, if cancer is suspected, a biopsy and needle aspiration of fluid will need to be taken. The veterinarian will also conduct blood, urine and cellular analysis of skin scrapings, as well as take X-rays of the rabbit's brain and face.

Treatment

After identifying the underlying cause, the veterinarian will begin treatment. If allergies are thought to be the cause, they will prescribe antihistamines. Otherwise, sprays, ointments or gels for local application are given; sometimes a zinc oxide plus menthol powder is prescribed. However, it is important that during treatment the affected area should be kept clean and dry.

Living and Management

Sometimes the application of anything topically -- soaps and products containing alcohol, iodine, and benzoyl peroxide -- can worsen itching; plain cool water may be soothing in these cases. However, use extreme caution when bathing or dipping a rabbit into water, as it may become stressed and shake to the point of causing skeletal fractures. Also, prevent the rabbit or its cage mates from licking ointments/gels before they are dry, and watch for signs for toxicity in the rabbit(s).