Fleas on Rabbits

What are fleas?

Fleas are small insects which can be found to use animals as their hosts. Fleas feed on the blood of their hosts and it is through the inoculation of the blood that they can adversely affect the animals. Fleas can be carriers of many kinds of diseases including myxomatosis. Vaccination against this dangerous disease is very important to the health of animals rabbits may be infected not only by fleas but also other organisms such as mosquitoes. Rabbits are very likely to have fleas during their life, especially since most fleas are able to fly and travel from one animal to another. They are also more at risk if they are exposed to areas where they can come into contact with wild rabbits.

Fleas inject their saliva into the animal when feeding. This is done in order to prevent the affected animal’s blood from clotting. Fleas are often dark brown and can survive for as long as a few months. The eggs they lay can be found all over the household or in the animal’s bedding. Overall, the majority of places a flea has been can hold flea eggs which later hatch and jump onto animals. The faecal matter passed by the fleas is usually how owners become aware of an infestation.

Humans are not commonly affected by fleas. They are only usually present on humans, generally seen as rashes on the ankles and the wrists, in areas of severe and high levels of infestation. Humans do not need treatment as once the animals are treated, then the humans are no longer affected.

What fleas can rabbits get?

There are two types of flea which are generally found on rabbits. The more common is the cat flea, known as Ctenocephalides felides. The other is called the rabbit flea or Spilopsylla cuniculi. It is less common for rabbits to be affected by Spilopsylla cuniculi. The flea’s genal comb is almost vertical and they feed on the blood of the rabbit. The flea can survive for long periods of time outside of its host. This species of flea is one of the transport hosts of myxomatosis and Trypanosoma nabiasi.  C. felides can survive on cats, dogs and rabbits. Therefore, if any of these animals are affected in a multi pet household then there is a high probability of transmission between them.

How do rabbits get fleas?

Fleas are able to jump from one host to another. The rabbit flea is transferred via direct contact with an affected animal. Contact with wild rabbits increases the risk of domestic rabbits acquiring the rabbit flea. Rabbits which have any possible contact with dogs and cats or even other rabbits are at risk of being transmitted the cat flea. Contaminated surfaces such as carpets and upholstery can lead to transmission.

How do I know if my rabbit has fleas?

Fleas are not always easily spotted on the fur of rabbits. If black or dark dirt is seen in the fur then this is most probably the faeces of the flea. This is often a method to tell if the rabbit is infested with the parasitic organisms. The rabbit may or may not scratch the areas affected, as there can be varying degrees of itchiness. It is the saliva injected by the flea which is responsible for the majority of any signs and symptoms observed on the affected animal. The rabbit may sometimes chew at its rear if infested with the fleas.

However, it must be noted that rabbit fleas are mainly found on the rabbit’s ears. If a flea comb is run across the animal’s fur then the little black fleas can be viewed on the teeth of the comb. If there are any flea faeces present on the comb then by placing these on damp white paper, the brown colour will visibly disperse. The rabbit may become anaemic from the blood loss as the fleas feed on its blood.

Can I stop my rabbit from getting fleas?

There are many flea treatments available at the vets. It is important to know that internet or shop bought flea treatments may not be safe or as effective as those recommended by vets. If fleas are suspected to have been preset in the home, then sprays may be used to eradicate any which may have survived in, for example, the carpets and upholstery. Affected animals should be isolated to prevent others from being transferred the fleas. In addition, regular cleaning can help to reduce fleas albeit minimally.

What do I do if my rabbit has fleas?

The treatment programme used for fleas involves the same methods as those used for prevention. The best flea treatments can be bought at the vets, or at the very least advised by them. These treatments should be made specifically for rabbits. Treatments will not initially prevent the flea from biting.

Other treatments may not be safe for use on rabbits as these animals have delicate immune systems and so dog and cat flea treatments should generally not be used on rabbits. Their use can be very dangerous to the animal’s health. Some treatments can also be used to reduce the incidence of ticks. In some cases, if there are a very small number of fleas, you can simply use a flea or nit comb to remove them although this is not always successful. Never use a flea collar on a rabbit as these can prove to be very harmful to the rabbit. Incorrect treatments have been known to actually lead to the death of the rabbit.

Can my rabbit die from getting fleas?

Fleas themselves may cause anaemia which, in severe cases, may lead to death. The rabbit flea may also transfer the fatal disease known as myxomatosis. Despite this, the majority of flea infestations do not lead to death although they can reduce the affected animal’s quality of life and treatment and prevention is advised.


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