Ear problems in rabbits

What should a healthy rabbit’s ears be like?

The size and shape of rabbit ears can differ greatly depending on the breed. A rabbit’s ears should have a very acute sense of hearing. This is because as prey animals, they would be permanently wary of any possible predators in the wild. Wild rabbits with a poor sense of hearing will not last very long in nature. In addition to this, rabbits use their ears to maintain their body temperature. If the rabbit becomes too warm, heat is lost through the ears. 

Healthy rabbits do not generally need any human intervention. That is to say that you will not need to clean them, although regular checking is necessary for good rabbit care. The ears should be very clean and have a light pink colouration on the inside. In some rabbits, you may be able to see the blood vessels which run through them.

The anatomy of a rabbit’s ear

The ears of rabbits are divided into three sections; the outer, middle and inner ear. A rabbit’s ear is made up of the ear canal, the ear drum, ear ossicles, the vestibular organ, the auditory nerve, the Eustachian tube, and the cochlea.

The ossicles in the ear are tiny bones found in the middle ear are called the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. These transfer the sound waves to the structures in the inner ear. The Eustachian tube is a tube like passage which maintains the air pressure on either side of the ear drum. The inner ear is a fluid filled structure. Found in the inner ear, the cochlea is a spiral structure which converts sound vibrations to electrical signals for further processing to occur in the rabbit’s brain. Inside the inner ear there is also a structure called the labyrinth which is responsible for the animal’s balance. It monitors the position and movement of the rabbit.

What problems can rabbits’ ears have?

Ear Infections in Rabbits

Ear infections are a potential danger to rabbits as they can affect the rabbit’s brain, leading to neurological damage. Additionally they can adversely affect the upper respiratory tract. It is for this reasons that ear infections should be treated as soon as possible. Rabbits with ear infections may frequently shake its head and scratch its ears. It may also tilt its head to one side or lose its balance. Rabbits with lop ears are more prone to ear infections. This is due to the fact that they have closed ear canals.

Ear Yeast in Rabbits

This is an infection where a harmful organism stimulates the production of pus or another kind of discharge in the middle of the rabbit’s ear. These harmful organisms can include yeast, fungi, or parasites. The signs and symptoms include inflammation and in severe cases, deafness. This is a very painful infection and the rabbits may shake its head or scratch its ears in order to attempt to relieve the resulting discomfort.

Ear Mites on Rabbits

Another possible cause of rabbits shaking their heads or scratching their ears more often than normal is an infestation of ear mites. Mites are small arachnids and rabbit ear mites are called Psoroptes cuniculi. Other signs of an infestation include crusty discharge which may have a similar appearance to dried mud. This is more commonly known as canker. The rabbits may experience wounds and scabs as a result of severely scratching the affected areas.

Ticks on Rabbits

Ticks are arachnids which feed on the blood of animals. Due to the intricate system of blood vessels in the ears of rabbits, this appears to be the preferable spot for ticks. A large infestation of ticks can lead to anaemia and the ticks themselves can be carriers of diseases such as Lyme disease, thus contributing to its spread. 

Head Tilt in Rabbits

Head tilt in rabbits may be a result of damage to the labyrinth in the rabbit’s inner ear. It may also occur if the rabbit does not have a labyrinth. Damage can occur from knocks or as a result of some types of infections. In these cases, the affected animal tilts its head and neck towards the damaged ear.

How do I keep my rabbit’s ears healthy?

Rabbit ears do not need to be cleaned. Despite this, responsible owners should regularly check them to ensure they fit the criteria of healthy rabbit ears. When handling rabbit ears, owners should be very careful as they are very delicate parts of the body. Signs and symptoms to watch out for are sores, dirt, crusty discharge, debris, scabs, wax, redness, and inflammation. If any of these are spotted then the rabbit should be taken to the vets.

If any of the above problems are spotted then veterinary advice should be sought for their treatment. It is important to note that some treatments used for cats and dogs can be very dangerous to a rabbit’s health. In addition, internet bought products may not be safe or successfully treat the problems. If a rabbits has been affected with mites then all the areas it has come into contact with should be appropriately cleaned to prevent further infestations.

If my rabbit’s ears are dirty, how do I clean them?

The rabbits should be a relaxed state and not be stressed or anxious. You may need to soothe and stroke your pet before cleaning its ears. Take a clean cloth and place it in lukewarm water then gently wipe off any dirt that is present. Do not allow the water to run into the ear canal. This can be prevented by ensuring that the cloth is not dripping wet but simply slightly damp. Do not clean the other ear with the same cloth as this can cause any infections which may be there to spread to both ears. The cloth should then be thrown away or thoroughly cleaned. After cleaning your rabbit’s ears stroke and soothe it once again so that it has a positive memory of the last time you handled it.


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