Ear mites are one of the more common health issues that rabbits deal with, especially because of the size and sensitivity of their ears. If your rabbit is scratching at its ear all the time or seems to have trouble hearing, it’s possible it has ear mites. It’s important to be educated and ready if this situation arises.
What are ear mites and how do I treat them? Ear mites are a type of insect that live in uncleaned ears. They can be gotten rid of with over the counter medicines or home remedies.
What is an Ear Mite?
Ear mites are microscopic mites that can live in the ears of both animals and humans. The most common type of mite is found in dogs and cats and has the scientific name Otodectes cynotis. However, the type of mite usually found in rabbits is called Psoroptes cuniculi and is larger than the ear mites found in these other animals. Ear mites don’t bite the skin like fleas or ticks and instead feed off of the surface of the skin inside the ear. This scratches the skin and causes some of the signs of ear mites such as scabbing and scarring, and it’s the main cause of the irritation that comes with ear mites.
How Long Do Ear Mites Live?
Ear mites usually live for about four weeks from the time that they are laid as an egg to the time that they die. Their eggs hatch 3 to 4 days after being laid in the debris buildup in the ear. Female mites are able to reproduce after about three weeks, and spend the rest of their life reproducing and laying eggs. If ear mites leave the ear, they can still survive up to three weeks depending on how dry the environment is.
Because of their life span and because unhatched eggs won’t usually be killed by medicines, it’s important to continue to treat your rabbit for up to the lifespan of an ear mite after you have discovered the infection. This means that treatment will last as long as a month to make sure the infestation is completely gone.
What Are Rabbit Ear Mites Symptoms?
The most common and obvious symptom of ear mites is a rabbit constantly scratching at its ear or ears. If not caught early, this can cause an open or scabbed wound behind the ear that can easily become infected. The wound behind the ear is usually the first sign you will notice unless you’re able to watch your rabbit all day. While it may seem odd that a rabbit would continue to scratch at its ear even when it’s hurting itself, this is actually due to a reflex reaction that happens when certain parts of the ear are stimulated. Your rabbit literally can’t resist scratching when it receives that stimulation.
Another common and usually obvious symptom is your rabbit shaking its head frequently, as if trying to shake something out of its ear. It may also have wry neck, a condition in which your rabbit’s head is tilted to the side all the time.
If you notice any of these symptoms occurring, the next thing you should look for is buildup in the ear. If your rabbit has ear mites, they will have a thick, brown substance built up in their ear, almost like ear wax. This is debris from the ear mites feeding inside the ear. This debris is usually darker in color and denser than ear wax. If you see this buildup along with your rabbit scratching its ear frequently, your rabbit probably has ear mites.
What is the Difference Between Ear Mites and Ear Infections?
Ear infections are caused by bacteria building up in your rabbit’s ear, while ear mites are infectious insects that come into your rabbit’s ear by interacting with objects in its habitat that are also infested with ear mites. Ear infections happen more easily and frequently than ear mites because ear mites require some kind of interaction with an infested animal or object. However, ear infections can happen simply because a rabbit’s ears aren’t properly cleaned and cared for, causing ear wax to build up and foster bacteria. You should always be watchful for ear infections, while with ear mites you don’t need to be as concerned unless your rabbit is encountering new animals or environments.
What Causes Ear Mites Infestation in Rabbits?
Ear mites come from other infested animals or parts of the rabbit’s environment that have been infested with ear mites. Ear mites spread from one animal to another very easily, so if your rabbit has recently come from the shelter, been boarded at a daycare or pet hotel, or interacted with other rabbits in any way, it’s a good idea to watch closely for symptoms. Ear mites can also come from objects that other infested animals have rubbed on or interacted with, so don’t accept hand me down toys, beds, or litter boxes without cleaning them thoroughly first.
How Do I Know My Rabbit Has Ear Mites?
You can usually identify the symptoms simply by looking at your rabbit. It will have an obvious wound behind one or both of its ears and will be scratching much more often than usual. If you look at the buildup in the ears in good light, you will be able to see small white specks in it. These are the mites themselves.
However, it’s important to get a vet’s opinion before you try to make or buy medicine. Ear infections and ear mites can present similar symptoms, and there are other reasons your rabbit may be itching such as allergies. Each of these issues needs different treatments, and it can be dangerous to try to treat the wrong thing. Giving your rabbit an over the counter medicine for ear mites when they have a different issue will cause irritation and won’t solve the problem.
Rabbit Ear Mites Home Remedy
Treating ear mites at home is very simple and only requires a few ingredients. This method isn’t as proven as the antiparasitic medicines you can get from the store or from your vet, but it will work over time to help your rabbit recover. It’s important to follow a schedule of treatment to make sure the infestation goes away completely.
Your best option is to mix half honey with half warm water and gently spread it in the rabbit’s ear, then massage the ear to work it down in. Do this once to twice a day for the first couple days, and then switch to once every other day. After two weeks, you can do it weekly for the next two weeks. The reason this option is safer is because rabbits may ingest some of the honey when they’re cleaning themselves and honey is safe for them to eat.
Your second option is to use olive oil. This will smother the mites to kill them and reduce the infestation. You should follow the same schedule as the honey, but use much less olive oil; only one or two drops is enough. Massage the oil in so that it coats the entire ear.
After a few days, once the infestation has gone down and the ear has been treated with honey or oil a few times, you can try to gently remove the debris from the ear. You want to wait so that the treatment can loosen the debris so that it doesn’t stick and pull off the rabbit’s skin. Take a pair of tweezers and gently remove it. If you get resistance, don’t pull too hard. Simply continue to treat with oil and try again.
Is Tea Tree Oil Good For Ear Mites?
No! Many oils are unsafe for rabbits because they contain compounds that may irritate the skin or that are unsafe for your rabbit to ingest. Some toxic oils include:
- Tea tree oil. This is often recommended for rabbits but can be fatal if ingested.
Can I Use Other Oils to Treat Ear Mites?
- Yarrow oil
- Wintergreen oil
- Clove oil
Olive oil is safe for rabbits in small amounts but may cause diarrhea if they ingest too much. You should be very careful with oils, especially with essential oils, as these may have adverse reactions. When in doubt, check with a vet or a local rescue to see what they recommend.
What Other Options Are There to Treat Ear Mites?
There are two other options for treating ear mites in your rabbit. The first requires that you go to the vet and get the mites formally diagnosed, which may be a good idea if you’re uncertain about whether your rabbit has mites or what to do. Once your rabbit has been diagnosed, the vet may give it an injection of ivermectin. This is an antiparasitic that must be repeated 2 to 3 times over the course of a month in order to fully treat the infestation.
If you would prefer an over the counter medicine, you can try selamectin. This is another antiparasitic but you put it behind the rabbit’s ears where they can’t ingest it. The selamectin works its way into the ears and kills the mites off. One dose is enough to kill all the mites, but it will still take time to work.
Can Rabbits Die From Ear Mites?
While the ear mites themselves will not be fatal, they will drastically decrease your rabbit’s quality of life and may cause it to become depressed or lethargic. The buildup of debris in the ear can also cause your rabbit to go deaf. On top of this, the wound caused by your rabbit scratching at its ears can easily become infected. This has a high likelihood to cause death if it goes untreated, and the rabbit won’t stop scratching at the wound, even if it’s infected, until the ear mites are gone.
How Do I Prevent Ear Mites in My Rabbit?
A rabbit usually won’t get ear mites from their normal environment unless something happens, so it’s important to keep your rabbit’s habitat clean and free of any unknown objects or animals. Wash items like beds and toys often and clean your rabbit’s ears whenever you notice buildup of any kind. Be cautious when introducing new animals into your rabbit’s environment and make sure they are checked for symptoms before interacting with your rabbit. You should move any infested animals away from other rabbits and into a temporary habitat until they’re fully recovered from the mites. As long as you are safeguarding your rabbit’s habitat carefully, you should prevent most encounters with ear mites.
Are Ear Mites Contagious?
Ear mites are very contagious. Just interacting with or touching an infested animal or object is enough to spread the ear mites to your rabbit. The ear mites crawl from the ear onto the skin around the ear and head, and then move to objects and other animals by contact. From there, they move into your rabbit’s ears and establish themselves. It’s important to make sure your rabbit doesn’t come into contact with other animals that have ear mites, as it’s almost a guarantee that your rabbit will catch them.
Can Humans Get Ear Mites?
While humans can get ear mites, it’s incredibly rare. You would more or less have to put the infected buildup in your ear to get the mites to migrate to you, and even then you would only develop a rash and the mites would go away on their own after a period of about a week or so. You’re unlikely to get ear mites just by handling your rabbit’s ears or potentially infected objects, but to be safe you should always wash your hands or use gloves while you are cleaning.
How Long Does It Take to Treat Ear Mites?
Regardless of what medicine you use, the ear mites will take as much as a month to go away because of the life cycle of the mites and eggs continuing to hatch throughout treatment. This is why it’s important to repeat treatments for a month before stopping. Some medicines may bring faster immediate relief to your rabbit, such as the official chemical treatments like ivermectin and selamectin. Honey or oil will work quickly as well, but not quite as quickly as the others. You’ll usually see improvement in how your rabbit feels within a few days. If not, you should consult a vet to make sure you’re doing everything correctly or to see if something else is causing the discomfort.
What Happens If I Don’t Treat the Ear Mites?
Your rabbit will continue to scratch at its ears and make its wounds worse. This wound will eventually get infected, which will cause serious health issues. You’ll have to go to the vet and get the infected wound treated, and your rabbit could potentially die from the infection. In addition, the debris from the ear mites will keep building up until your rabbit can no longer hear. This can also cause ear infections on top of the ear mites. It’s important to get ear mites diagnosed and treated in a timely manner, especially in situations where your animal is doing itself harm by scratching at itself.
Should I Clean My Rabbit’s Ears?
Yes, it’s a good idea to clean your rabbit’s ears every time you notice any sort of buildup. Because their ears are so big and contain many folds of skin, rabbits are susceptible to ear wax building up as well as bacteria forming and festering. These can lead to ear infections and eventually deafness if they go unnoticed or untreated. You should check your rabbit’s ears often rather than waiting until symptoms present.
How Do I Clean My Rabbit’s Ears?
If you notice any buildup in your rabbit’s ears, you should get a cloth with warm water or rubbing alcohol and gently clean the buildup out of its ears. Do not use a Q tip, as these can damage the inner ear if you accidentally puncture the eardrum. You should only use a cloth and not reach in too far. Wiping the excess earwax away is all you need to do to keep your rabbit’s ears clean! It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your rabbit’s ear health, as this is very important to its overall health.
What do I do if my rabbit is sick? Your first course of action should always be to go to a vet. Unless you have dealt with that situation before, you risk doing more harm than good to your rabbit if you do something wrong.
How do I know if my rabbit has an ear infection? A rabbit with an ear infection will shake its head frequently or appear sluggish or uncoordinated. It may also have a fever or refuse to eat.
What if my rabbit has fur mites? Take your rabbit to a vet to get the issue addressed professionally. Fur mites aren’t a good candidate for home remedies.