Types of Parasites in Rabbits

Many ectoparasites are often considered dangerous not because of the symptoms they cause, but because they serve as vectors of other more serious diseases such as tularemia.
Types of Parasites in Rabbits

Last update: 20 March, 2022

Rabbits are some of the most adorable and affectionate pets you can have, as they interact very well with both children and adults. In general, they’re small animals that adapt perfectly to almost any home environment. However, it’s necessary to pay close attention to their health, as there are some parasites we need to be aware of. Stay with us as we look at the different types of parasites in rabbits in today’s special feature.

These animals are quite active and get into many different places and surfaces, so it’s normal for them to get infected with some kind of microorganism. In this way, some parasites can find their way into rabbits’ bodies and begin to weaken them. Read on to learn about the most frequent types of parasites in rabbits.

What’s a parasite?

A studious rabbit.

Parasites are organisms that take advantage of other living beings, since they eat and survive thanks to the resources they obtain from their host. Thus, when a parasite feeds, it also harms its host to a greater or lesser extent, and so signs of its presence will start to appear. This relationship, in which the parasite takes advantage of its host, is called parasitism.

This interaction can cause different effects in the affected animal, and over time certain recognizable symptoms become evident. This means that the characteristics of a disease will appear and must be controlled to avoid more serious damage to the animal.

The transmission of these parasites is usually quite simple, as direct contact with the pathogen through water, food, or air breathed by the host is all that is required. Consequently, the infection begins almost without you noticing it. In the case of rabbits, this parasitism can seriously affect their growth and development, while, in the worst case, it can cause death.

A dwarf rabbit.

Types of parasites in rabbits

In the case of rabbits, two types of parasites can be found: endoparasites and ectoparasites. The first group is characterized by infecting the host from the inside, while the second group focuses on inhabiting the skin of the individual. The following is a list of the most frequent diseases in rabbits that are caused by parasites.

External parasites (ectoparasites)

This group focuses on all the types of parasites in rabbits that live on their fur or skin and which can cause visible wounds. Most of these organisms are small, or nearly microscopic, arthropods, making it necessary to pay attention to any strange signs on the pet’s skin. Some examples are as follows.

Scabies

Scabies manifests as an irritation and itching of the skin caused by an almost imperceptible mite. This type of disease is transmitted by direct contact, so if you have more than one rabbit it’s likely that both will become infected at about the same time.

The first signs of infection are characterized by redness of the affected area, while flaking and shedding of the fur also occurs. As the problem progresses, yellowish-gray crusts begin to form and cover much of the body. If a veterinarian isn’t consulted, the disease can become fatal for the rabbit.

Remember that diagnoses can only be made by an animal health professional, so it’s better to go as soon as possible to reduce the risks. Treatment depends entirely on the veterinarian, but he/she may recommend using an oral acaricide or direct application (solution, cream, or spray). Usually, the pet shows improvement after a week.

Ticks

Ticks are arthropods that feed on the blood of the rabbit, so they bite the skin of the host to obtain their food. Infection by these organisms is usually not problematic for the pet, but it all depends on how many parasites are present. This means that, if parasitism is very intense, the infected animal may become weak or even die.

This situation makes it important to continuously check the pet’s skin, as this will help to identify a possible infection by this parasite. In addition, take into account that the treatment must be prescribed by a professional, as it isn’t advisable to use home remedies. As with mites, ivermectin and carbamates are usually the most commonly used drugs to deal with them.

Lice

Like ticks, lice are blood-feeding parasites that can infect rabbits. The problem with these organisms is that they reproduce very quickly, so in a short time they can completely infest the host. In addition, the bite of these parasites secretes substances that irritate and inflame the skin, which can be aggravated by the intensity of the infection.

Young rabbits are usually more susceptible to parasitism by lice, although any specimen can be easily infected. As for treatment, veterinarians usually prescribe the use of drugs such as pyrethroids or organophosphates. In addition, it’s also necessary to administer a second treatment after 10 to 14 days to ensure the eradication of the arthropod.

Fleas

Fleas are another type of hematophagous organism common in different types of pets. Unlike ticks and lice, these arthropods have a better ability to move, so they can change hosts several times without a problem.

Like the previous ones, flea infestation becomes a cause for concern when it gets out of control, because, at this point, the number of parasites in the rabbit increases, and the inflammation caused by the flea bites becomes more evident.

The treatment to deal with these ectoparasites should be proposed by the veterinarian, since only they are qualified to prescribe the appropriate drug in each case. In general, the drugs can be applied by means of baths, injections or sprays, which makes the treatment simpler and more effective.

Internal parasites (endoparasites)

A rabbit with a carrot.

Endoparasites are organisms which wreak havoc inside the rabbit’s body. In order to initiate infection, the pathogen must enter through water, food, or the nose. In this way, it has access to the host’s organs and systems, where it can begin to feed and reproduce. Some examples of the diseases they cause are the following.

Cysticercosis

This condition refers to an infection caused by the larval stage of tapeworms (taenia). Specifically, rabbits become infected by consuming food contaminated with the parasite’s eggs. Once they reach the intestine, these pathogens begin to move through different organs to reach the liver, where they form a kind of clusters or balls.

In this way, the endoparasites begin to invade the liver, causing peritonitis and hepatitis. On the outside, the rabbit begins to show a thin and rather weak appearance, which is usually dangerous if the infection worsens. The treatment of this parasitosis is usually difficult, but under a strict diet, it’s possible to maintain a good quality of life.

The best way to avoid this parasite is to disinfect the green fodder given to the rabbit, since this eliminates the eggs which cause the disease. In fact, in humans, there’s also quite an aggressive form of this disease called neurocysticercosis, which is also difficult to fight.

Coccidiosis

Coccidiosis is perhaps the disease that most often affects rabbits, since the parasite enters through infected food and water. This disease is caused by different species of the protozoan Eimeria, which cause symptoms to vary from case to case.

The most evident signs of infection by this coccidia is the presence of enteritis, which produces bloody diarrhea, weakness and abdominal swelling. This type of disease can be lethal if not treated promptly, as symptoms worsen and can lead to anemia or secondary infections. For this reason, any change in your pet’s health should be reported to a veterinarian.

As mentioned, some species of this protozoan are more dangerous than others. Consequently, the most lethal form of the disease is hepatic coccidiosis, which is caused by Eimeriastiedae. This parasite takes a different route, because, instead of staying and affecting the intestines, it migrates to the liver to start wreaking havoc.

This form of the disease causes severe liver damage, which triggers various metabolic disorders such as anorexia and anemia. As the situation worsens, the various problems cause extreme weakness in the pet, which is often lethal. In addition, the symptoms in this case are less obvious, which makes it more difficult to treat them.

A rabbit admiring the view from a window.

How do I know if my pet is sick?

It’s impossible to diagnose a pet with the naked eye, so the best recommendation is always to go to a professional. However, some warning signs will help you to be attentive. Among the most common are changes in behavior, loss of appetite, and a refusal to be petted or touched. Keep these types of situations in mind so that you can go to the veterinarian when necessary.

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If you have a rabbit at home, it's important that you know about parasites in rabbits. These parasites can lead to infections that can be fatal.



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