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There are very few reasons to take a rabbit or pet (small animals like rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.) to the vet; they don’t need vaccines.
But one such condition is parasitic infestation of the skin. Mites and lice will occasionally infest pocket pets.
Once diagnosed, they are relatively easy to treat with ivermectin or the topical flea and heartworm medication called Revolution.
Symptoms of these infestations are usually itching, dandruff, and hair loss. When infestations last for some time, the animal may lose weight and become anemic.
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Although finding out that your pet has skin parasites can give you goosebumps, don’t worry. Lice are very host-specific. You can’t catch them from your pet, and your pet can’t catch them from you either.
Some mites can cause transient infestations in humans. These mites include the Cheyletiella species. They are also known as “walking dandruff” because they create a lot of white dandruff and the fairly large mites can be seen moving across the skin.
Although mites can cause a transient infestation in humans, they can be treated once you eliminate the source of the infestation (your pet).
A common question I get asked is, “How did my pet get dust mites when it’s always in my house and never with other animals?”
It’s confusing, but I think the mites come on bedding, hay, or sometimes food. Perhaps the area where the hay or bedding was harvested was infested or there was a problem with the storage. This is the only answer I have for an animal that has been indoors for several years and has never had mites before.
Because of this, when I treat these animals with ivermectin, I tell the owner to go home and throw out the hay, bedding and food and get all the new bags. Additionally, all toys and cages should be thoroughly cleaned with warm soapy water.
One type of mite seen in rabbits is ear mites. Again, these mites are host specific. Symptoms are usually very crusty ears. If you are considering treating your rabbit for ear mites, do not attempt to rub or clean the ears. Trying to clean the ears while they have active mites can cause the inflamed ears to bleed and may be too painful for the rabbit. They don’t handle stress very well.
Once the mites are killed, the ears will heal remarkably well. If you want to put something in your ears, mineral oil is perfect. It is soothing and will help the ears heal.
While it may be tempting to try treating your pet for mites without your veterinarian’s help, it could be dangerous. Pocket pets are all more sensitive to certain chemicals and poisons. For example, Frontline can be fatal for rabbits because it kills microbes that live in the rabbit’s gut and aids in normal digestion.
If you see crusty skin and hair loss associated with itching, be sure to consult your veterinarian. This will be the safest and most effective way to treat a parasitic infestation.