What is Infestation of Mites in the Ear?
The rabbit ear mite, called Psoroptes cuniculi, is common in domestic rabbits. The ear mites, which are easily spread among rabbits and their environment, may infect one or both ears of your rabbit, causing irritation and crusting to occur in the infected ears. This condition can lead to significant discomfort for your rabbit and if it is not treated can lead to secondary infections in its advanced stages. Fortunately, treatment is straightforward and effective.
Ear mites in domestic rabbits cause irritation to the lining of the ear and lead to the formation of thick brown crusts, often called a “canker”.
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Symptoms of Infestation of Mites in the Ear in Rabbits
A rabbit that has ear mites may or may not show symptoms of infestation and one or both ears may be affected. Symptoms of ear mites in rabbits include the following:
- Scratching and/or shaking their head or ears
- Chewing their ears
- Inflammation and crusting of the external ear canal of one or both ears
- Crusting on the pinna flaps of one or both ears
- Evidence of scratching at the skin of the neck, cheeks or base of the ears
- Drooping of one or both ears
- Hair thinning along the edges of the ear flaps
- Weight loss
Early stages - In early stages of infestation, the ear mites enter the deeper parts of the rabbit’s external ear canal. At this stage, the mites won’t be visible and you may not realize there is a problem. A veterinarian looking into the ear canals of your rabbit may notice the first crusts which will lead to early diagnosis.
Moderate to advanced stages - If the mite infestation is not diagnosed and treated, it will worsen and the issue will be easily visible. The ear mites will multiply, leading to more crusting and inflammation and extending from your rabbit’s ear canal to its pinna. If left untreated, it may lead to a secondary bacterial infection of your rabbit’s skin.
Causes of Infestation of Mites in the Ear in Rabbits
Ear mites are very contagious and are spread the following ways:
- Direct contact with a rabbit that is infected. The mites will climb from one rabbit to another
- Spending time in the environment where an infected rabbit has been (an uninfected rabbit may contract mites from flakes of the crust the infected rabbit has scratched or shaken off); mites are able to survive away from their host animal for days to weeks depending on humidity and temperature
- Through the hands and clothes of the rabbit owner or caretaker from handling more than one rabbit
- The risk of transmission is higher when many rabbits live close to each other in overcrowded quarters (hutches, pet shops, shelters, breeding facilities)
- Infestations are typically worse when rabbits are living under stress (internal or external stress)
Diagnosis of Infestation of Mites in the Ear in Rabbits
When diagnosing ear mites, the veterinarian will first do a visual exam. Depending on the location of the ear mites, this may or may not be enough to confirm the diagnosis. The veterinarian may then use an otoscope to look far down into the ear canals of your rabbit for signs of crusting or to see the actual mites. Another option is to get a sample of the skin through scraping of the crust or scab from your rabbit’s ear or through taping. The veterinarian will then look at the sample under a microscope. Your rabbit’s ears may be painful and the veterinarian and you, as the rabbit’s owner, should be careful when handling them.
Treatment of Infestation of Mites in the Ear in Rabbits
While your rabbit is treated through medication, his environment should also be treated so that your rabbit is not re-infected.
Treating the Rabbit
Avermectins are able to successfully treat ear mites in rabbits. Options include:
- Ivermectin: Given as an injectable at a dosage of 200-400 mcg/kg, in two or three treatments from 10-21 days apart
- Selamectin (also called Revolution in the US or Stronghold in Europe); this will usually be given in a 20 mg dose applied topically every seven days
- While avermectin compounds do not kill the eggs of the ear mites, the medication will stay in the tissue and kill the larvae.
Treating the Environment
Rabbit ear mites can live for up to three weeks away from the host animal, therefore it is imperative that your rabbit’s environment be treated to avoid re-infection.
- First, set up temporary quarters for your rabbit, using a large box or crate and bedding that can be thrown away
- Remove and dispose of any bedding in your rabbit’s environment
- An insecticide that is safe for rabbits can be used on the hutch or cage. Make sure to read the label or speak with your veterinarian to be sure that what you are using is not toxic to your rabbit; in the case of wood hutches, replacement may be the best option as it is hard to clean and remove mites that are in the wood
- No rabbits should be in the environment for 4 to 6 weeks to make sure that the mites are gone
Recovery of Infestation of Mites in the Ear in Rabbits
Treatment is typically effective and unless a secondary infection has developed, the veterinarian may not request a follow-up appointment. Should your rabbit have a secondary infection, additional follow-up and treatment may be required. Once treatment is underway, the medication administered should lead to the crusts falling off on their own or being easy to remove.
The infected rabbit should be moved to temporary quarters while his regular environment is treated. Your rabbit should remain outside of its environment for four to six weeks, to allow time for the mites and their eggs to die off, preventing your rabbit from being re-infected once treated.