Q: My rabbit has been eating less, and he has crusty white stuff on his face. It is on his ears, eyes, nose, mouth and legs. I know what fleas look like, and I have not seen any on him. He is really sweet and friendly, and I have had him for two years. I know he is not happy. He has been rubbing his face and looks miserable. He lives indoors with me. What can I do?
A: Rabbits can be great pets. They can be kept indoors, and many learn to use a litter box.
Nonetheless, they can get various types of tiny parasites like mites that live in the skin and cause itching and scratching. Most mites are microscopic and cannot be seen by the naked eye. They have eight legs and tiny mouth parts. They can form crusty patches on the skin and can cause the rabbit to lose hair.
Your veterinarian can diagnose a mite infection by doing a skin scrape test. She will remove some of the dead scales in the skin and look under the microscope for any mites. Rabbits can be infected with several types of microscopic parasites, and it is important to determine what kind is causing this problem.
Parasites that live on the skin are often transmitted from direct contact with other rabbits. If you have been letting your rabbit romp around in the backyard or socialize with other bunnies, this may be where he picked up the parasites.
Some types of mites are transmitted from bedding, toys or grooming equipment. Make sure you thoroughly disinfect and clean all cages, bedding and equipment regularly.
If you handle other rabbits or animals, make sure to wash your hands and change your clothes so you dont transfer the mites to your rabbit. Always wash new toys and equipment before bringing it into your house.
Mites can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the species.
Most of the time mite infections can be treated with a topical product called Revolution. It is a prescription product that can be obtained from your veterinarian. I generally prefer this product because it is safe and easy to use. It is applied to the back of the neck and will absorb into the skin.
Some mite infections may need additional treatment with topical shampoos and dips. Generally more than one treatment is needed.
Dr. Susan M. Baker received her degree at the University of Florida in 1985 and practices veterinary medicine in Palm Beach County, Florida.