If your rabbit has dry, flaky skin that looks like dandruff, the most probable explanation is rabbit fur mites or cheyletiella mites, which are similar parasites. These pests cause the most common skin problems in rabbits. Seek a vet's assistance before proceeding with treatment.
Fur Mite Symptoms
Normal shedding doesn't involve flaky skin, but patchy-looking hair loss with flaking along the back, or clumps of fur that fall out with skin flakes attached, indicate fur mites or cheyletiella mites. Female mites lay eggs on the rabbit, which hatch into larvae before developing into nymphs and turning into adults. Adult mites can be transmitted between rabbits through contact. Females can live for several days without an animal host, which means bedding, carpeting and other elements in the environment can become contaminated.
Cause of Dry Skin
Fur mites irritate the skin along the rabbit's back, which causes dandruff, hair loss and sometimes itching. Occasionally you will notice that skin looks thicker than normal. These are nonburrowing mites, so they don't go deeply into the rabbit's flesh. Instead they dig under the top layer of skin, and often shift the resulting flakes and scales around as they move, creating what is often called walking dandruff.
Diagnosis of Problem
Visual examination is the first step in diagnosing mites. The vet will look for dry skin flakes on the rabbit's back and neck, which may be seen moving around. Lesions and secretions also will be noted. If clues aren't visibly obvious, the vet might use tape to capture and examine the mites, or take a skin scraping or fur sample to view under a microscope. The easiest confirmation of infestation is either a visible mite, or its eggs or larvae.
Once a vet has determined that the problem is indeed fur mites, you likely will be prescribed some medicine or a medicated shampoo. The standard treatment used to be Ivermectin, either injected or given as several oral or topical doses over a predetermined time frame. Newer options include medicines that contain selamectin, such as Revolution, applied between the rabbit's shoulder blades, and flea-control insecticides such as pyrethrins.
You can catch the mite infection from your rabbit, and although the infestation is only temporary, it can be dangerous if you have a compromised immune system. You may experience itching, skin irritation, or in some cases open lesions.
Not all veterinarians care for rabbits. Look for a vet who treats small animals as well as cats and dogs.
Since mites can live off an animal for a few days, the environment needs to be treated to prevent reinfection.
- Wash all bedding and clothing thoroughly in hot water.
- Vacuum the carpet and use a spray or powder boric acid treatment meant for killing fleas.
- Do not shampoo or steam clean the rug since humidity can cause mites to flourish.