Ticks on Rabbits

What are ticks?

Ticks are a widespread problem and are found worldwide. They are arachnids and have been grouped into two main families. These are known as the Argasidae and Ixodidae families.  They are vectors of many diseases as they are able to act as their carriers. The saliva of the tick which it injects into the hosts blood may contain toxins and possibly other organisms.

Ticks attach themselves to their hosts and feed on their blood. Many animals can become affected by ticks including cats, dogs, horses, cattle, sheep, and rabbits. Ticks will even drink the blood of humans. Once attached, they drink until they are completely full and then may drop off naturally. Ticks can feed off a rabbit for as long as a few days.

Female ticks are able to produce tens of thousands of eggs a day. There are over eight hundred species of ticks. They can infect both domesticated and wild rabbits, irrespective of whether they live indoors or outdoors. Environments with a high level of humidity are the more favourable conditions for the survival of a tick.

Which ticks can rabbits get?

Rabbits can become affected by both families of ticks. As mentioned above, these families are Argasidae and Ixodidae ticks. These ticks are more easily identified by the appearance of their outer coverings.

The Ixodidae ticks can also be known as “hard-shelled ticks”. This is because their external surface, known as a scutum, is relatively hard. All members of this family of ticks are able to affect rabbits. One such tick from this family is known as Ixodes scapularis and is more commonly found in America. It is responsible for one form of tick paralysis. Hard-shelled ticks release a special secretion called cementum which means they are able to hold onto the host more strongly. These ticks can take up to a few days until they drop off naturally.

“Soft-shelled ticks” is the more commonly used name for the Argasidae ticks and these do not have a scutum. The cuticle of this family of ticks is soft and almost leathery in appearance. These ticks feed relatively quickly and may be full within a few hours. The soft-shelled ticks have a capitulum, or false head, which becomes hidden when the tick is viewed from its dorsal side.   

How do rabbits get ticks?

Ticks are able to sense the presence of animal by using all their senses which can involve smell, heat sensing, and humidity. It has also been suggested that they can detect carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. They then crawl to the top of, for example, a blade of grass. It appears that areas with long grass provide a preferable environment for most ticks. It must be noted that ticks cannot fly. Once an animal is present, it crawls onto it. The tick then finds a suitable area and burrows its mouthparts into the skin. It is here that it begins to feed. The tick can prevent the host feeling its presence by injecting nerve suppressing secretions.

How do I know if my rabbit has ticks?

Ticks are generally quite easy to spot on an affected animal. The tick can visibly be seen on the animal, or with animals with long fur, they can be felt. Rabbits are more commonly affected by ticks on their ears. The more blood the tick has ingested, the bigger it is and the easier it is to see. The rabbit itself may not be aware of the tick. This can be due to their small size or because of the numbing sensation the secretions may lead to.

Some tick infections may lead to paralysis or present signs of weakness. Severely affected animals which are highly infested with numerous ticks can lose a lot of blood. As a result, this can lead to anaemia. As ticks are able to transmit diseases, the signs and symptoms presented may be due to these infections. As a result the signs and symptoms following a tick bite can vary dramatically.

Can I stop my rabbit from getting ticks?

There are products available which can reduce the incidence of ticks in severely affected areas. These are commonly in the form of sprays. Care must be taken with these as many solutions may prove to be very harmful to your rabbit’s health. Flea collars are toxic for rabbits and can actually lead to death. By regularly grooming your pet, you are more likely to find ticks and prevent them from doing further, if any, damage. Long grass should be mowed to reduce the tick numbers in your garden.

What do I do if my rabbit has ticks?

It is very important that when a tick is spotted that it should not be simply pulled out. If you are unsure about your ability to remove them correctly then veterinary advice should be sought. This is because the tick’s head can remain burrowed in the skin of the animal and this can lead to infections. In addition, if the bulbous part has pressure applied to it, harmful material may be injected into the affected animal. Severely anaemic animals are sometimes given a blood transfusion.

Special tools are available for the removal of ticks and, although tweezers can be used, prove to be very successful and easy to use. The areas under the bulbous region should be firmly held with the tools and pulled out carefully and slowly. The tick should then be killed by either using veterinary products or alcohol in a small container. The affected area on the rabbits should then be cleaned and your hands should be thoroughly washed. Rabbits prone to having ticks due to a highly infested area should be regularly checked. Many products used on cats and dogs against ticks can be very dangerous if used on rabbits.

What infections can rabbits get from ticks?

There are countless numbers of diseases which can be transmitted from ticks. These can include bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. Lyme disease can be transmitted by ticks as well as Rock Mountain Spotted Fever. Ehrlichiosis can also be carried by ticks as well as East Coast Fever and relapsing fever. Babesiosis and anaplasmosis are included in the long list of tick borne diseases. An abscess may result from incorrectly removing a tick and leaving the head burrowed in the skin.

Can my rabbit die from getting ticks?

Rabbits do not commonly die from a tick bite although many diseases ticks may transfer can lead to their death.


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