Fleas and Flea Infestation in Rabbits
Flea infestation occurs as the result of the common flea inhabiting the body of the rabbit and reproducing. The occurrence varies with weather conditions, and clinical signs will depend on each animal’s individual reaction to the infestation.
Because fleas feed on blood, heavy infestations may cause anemia (low hemoglobin in the blood due to loss of blood), especially in young rabbits. Rabbits can also develop a hypersensitive reaction to fleabite, with excessive scratching and itching that can sometimes lead to lesions on the skin's surface and skin infections.
Symptoms and Types
Some rabbits will not show any symptoms when suffering from a flea infestation, but many more others will display one or many of the following symptoms:
- Self- biting or chewing
- Excessive scratching, licking
- Visible bite marks or evidence of fleas (e.g., larvae, flea dirt, etc.)
- Hair loss
- Scaling on the skin
- Pale mucous membranes, increased heart rate (in anemic animals)
- Secondary bacterial infections ( sometimes seen)
Fleas are more common in some climates and during particular seasons, but they can affect rabbits year-round. Moreover, fleas can jump from one pet to another, such as from dogs or cats.
Although flea infestation can be easily apparent by the presence of the insects on your rabbit's body, your veterinarian may want to differentiate the insects from ear mites, skin mites, or other parasites. If your rabbit has symptoms of severe itching (biting, licking, scratching at self), your veterinarian will also want to differentiate the reaction from other allergic reactions, infections, or reactions to injections, if any have recently been given.
For diagnosis of flea infestation, your doctor will do a flea combing; fleas and/or flea dirt are usually found in affected rabbits. An analysis of skin scrapings will determine whether bacterial infections or other skin parasites are present. A study of discharge from the ear, meanwhile, will confirm whether an ear infection is affecting your rabbit or whether ear mites are present. And a complete blood profile will be conducted as part of a standard physical examination. This will include a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. If your rabbit is suffering from a condition of anemia, this will be determined and treated quickly.