Fleas

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The rabbit flea is known as Spilopsyllus cuniculi and infestations are typically found around the face and ears.[1] This flea is a carrier of myxomatosis.[2]

The cat flea Ctenocephalides felis and the dog flea Ctenocephalides canis can also affect rabbits if they live with dogs or cats or in infested premises; however, the rabbit is not a natural host to these parasites.[3] Dog and cat fleas are usually found along the body and around the base of the tail.[1]

Symptoms

  • Itchy skin or ears with constant scratching and biting.
  • Small dark spots on the skin indicative of flea feces. Placing a drop of water on one of these spots will result in the dissolving to a red or brown coloration.

Treatment

If you have more than one type of animal in your household, try treating them first with oral or topical medications and use the flea comb approach with your rabbits. Usually, once you have eliminated the fleas on your other animals, your rabbit’s problem will go away as well.[4]

Also make sure to treat your home environment and the pet's living quarters while treating the pets. This helps ridding the fleas faster and decreases their chance of survivability or eventually feeding off of you.

Flea medications

There are a variety of flea medications, but only a few can be safely used on rabbits. Exact dosage will vary based on the size of your pet and the type of medication you choose. Consult with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate dosage for your rabbit.

Never use multiple flea and tick medications on your pet at the same time. A mixture of different chemicals can make a pet seriously ill, cause permanent damage and even death.

The following are flea medications safe for use on rabbits:[5][4]

  • selamectin: Revolution® (US) or Stronghold® (Europe) - Pfizer, 18 mg/kg. A single topical (local) dose should be sufficient; if not, repeat in 30 days. Revolution kills adult fleas and prevents eggs from hatching by entering the bloodstream and spreading to sebaceous glands found below the skin's surface.[6] It is also effective against several types of mites and ticks.
  • imidacloprid: Advantage® - Bayer, one single kitten dose application is generally sufficient to remove the fleas. If this is not the case, the treatment can be repeated after 30 days. The vapors of this product can lead to irritation of the eyes; it is thus recommended to aerate the room where the rabbit lives in. Advantage works by spreading through the surface of the skin through the hair root level upon application and impairs the flea's nervous system.[7] There have been some deaths reported, but they have not been directly attributed to Advantage.[4] Advantage should not be used for very young (<6 months), elderly (6+ years), or compromised rabbits.
  • lufenuron: Program® - Novartis, 10 mg/kg. One sole treatment should be sufficient. If not, the treatment can be repeated after 30 days. Program is an oral chitin inhibitor and keeps new eggs from hatching. However, it does not affect adult fleas, so other treatments will be needed to control severe infestations.

Topical flea medication such as selamectin and imidacloprid are typically applied on the back of the neck or between the shoulders of an animal where it cannot be easily groomed off. Be sure to separate the fur to apply the medication directly on the skin for it to be effective. If you have two or more rabbits, keep the rabbits separated for ~12 hours to prevent ingestion by the other until the medication dries.

Natural and non-chemical treatments

Many flea and tick medications are effective at eliminating and reducing flea infestations but use harsh, and sometimes dangerous, chemicals to do so. For mild to moderate flea infestations, there are several natural and non-chemical treatment options that can be effective when used properly. It is important to note that "natural" treatments do not necessarily mean chemical free or non-toxic to your pets.

Vinegar

Not only do fleas find the smell of vinegar offensive, but it makes environments too acidic for them to survive.[8] There are several ways to use vinegar to eliminate and reduce fleas on your pets:

  • Apple cider vinegar can be added to your pet's water and adds a repelling scent to your rabbit. Add a couple of tablespoons to 32oz of water once a month.[9]
  • A vinegar and water solution (i.e. 1 part vinegar to 1 part water) can also be used when grooming your pet as a daily application. Spritz the water/vinegar mixture onto your pets coat and work into the fur.

Flea comb

A flea comb is a non-toxic device that combs out fleas and eggs. This option is feasible when there is not a severe infestation. The House Rabbit Society claims that most rabbits learn to love the attention of being flea combed.[10]

To use a flea comb, a thorough combing should be given daily. Kill the fleas by dipping the comb in warm soapy water or alcohol, and rinse the comb out before continuing.

Essential oils and herbal powders

In addition to vinegar, there are other smells that fleas find offensive and make work to repel fleas.

Here are some smells and oils have been found in natural flea repellent products.[11]

  • Bay leaf - powder can be combed through rabbit's coat.[12]
  • Cedar Oil
  • Cinnamon
  • Diluted lemon juice water
  • Eucalyptus
  • Lavender
  • Lemon grass
  • Peppermint oil
  • Rosemary - powder can be combed through rabbit's coat.[12]
  • Sage - powder can be combed through rabbit's coat.[12]
  • Tea tree oil

Warning: Please do your research and be careful about using some of these oils around your rabbit. They may be toxic upon ingestion.

Environment

  • Create your own flea trap with easily available materials at home.
  • Treating your home environment and the rabbit's living quarters is just as important as treating your pet rabbit. The most effective way of ridding of fleas in your home is to treat your pet and home environment simultaneously.
    • Vacuum daily until you see no signs of fleas. Carpeted areas, the pet's living quarters, any small cracks along the wall and in hard wood flooring.
    • Empty the vacuum bag/container as soon as you finish vacuuming outside (on the balcony or outside your apartment to prevent any escaping fleas to reenter your home.
    • Good way to check for fleas is to walk around with knee high white socks. Fleas are attracted to bright/lighter colored fluffy things. By wearing white knee high socks, the chances of them jumping on you is high. By doing so, you can see how many there are left and often times you're just a walking trap for them.
    • Wash your curtains and any other pet bedding that can be washed. Do so with hot water and laundry detergent. Some people have used a mix of borax and hot water. Others have used lemon juice and vinegar.
    • Wash your clothes daily with hot water and laundry detergent if the clothes are suitable to be washed with hot water.
    • Keep the environment dry. Flea flourishes in hot and humid environments. It doesn't hurt to keep a dehumidifier in extra humid rooms or locations.
  • Diatomaceous earth is one of the best organic substances that safe for human and pets. Diatomaceous earth (short as D.E.) is good for pests with exoskeleton. What this substance does is it cuts into the bugs exoskeleton and cause them to 'bleed' and dehydrate to death. Recommended use for flea infestation is spread this around the carpets and the edge and creases of your homes for a few days and then vacuum the earth up. Repeat as necessary. [13] However, be careful with diatomaceous earth around small pets. Diatomaceous earth is similar to tiny glass particles and can injure your rabbit if inhaled or eaten.
  • Boric acid, also known as borax and sodium polyborate, is a natural environmental treatment usable in carpets that kills fleas and dries out their eggs. It is safe for both rabbits and owners. Fleabusters is one product that has been reported to very effective. [4]
  • Fenoxycarb is a rabbit-safe insect growth regulator in the form of a synthetic hormone.
  • Common table salt can also be used in your carpets to dry out flea eggs and larvae, similar to the effect on slugs and snails.[4] Salt should be reapplied after vacuuming.
  • Murphy’s Oil Soap, a natural, vegetable-based soap with a pleasant fragrance is a flea repellent usable on linoleum and other washable surfaces. [4]

Unsafe treatments

  • fipronil (Frontline® or Sentry® FIPROGUARD): Kathy Smith writes,[4]
    Several rabbits have died or experienced seizures after receiving treatment with Frontline. Although the active ingredient is not supposed to cross into the central nervous system of mammals, the number of rabbit deaths reported suggests this is not true for rabbits.
    While successful treatment with fipronil has been reported, since there have been multiple anecdotal reports of small or young rabbits with fatal poisoning, its use can no longer be recommended in rabbits.[14]
  • Sentinal®: Kathy Smith writes,[4]
    Some veterinarians have switched from Program to Sentinal for dogs. Sentinal has the same active ingredient as Program, along with a heart-worm preventative for dogs and should not be used on rabbits.
  • flea collars: Impregnated anti-flea collars lead to severe irritation and burning of the skin. There are reported cases where the rabbit attempted to remove its collar, and died as a result of jamming its jaw in the collar.[5] Additionally, flea collars have dosages appropriate for much larger animals than rabbits.
  • pyrethrin-based flea products: This includes pyrethrin-based flea baths, powders, and dips. While pyrethrin is a natural product derived from chrysanthemums, toxic effects have been reported following application of high concentrations of these products (sprays or spot-ons) on rabbits.[15][16] Also, baths and dips will involve your rabbit getting wet, and rabbits and water are not a good mix as established in our Bathing article.

Further reading

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Molly Varga, Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, 2nd edition, 2013.
  2. PiedPiper Northern Limited, [http://www.the-piedpiper.co.uk/th5c.htm Spilopsyllus cuniculi (The Rabbit Flea)]
  3. Bunny Lovers Unite, ***Jojo's guide to external parasites: fleas, ticks, mites, lice etc***
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Kathy Smith, Fleas
  5. 5.0 5.1 Medirabbit, Esther van Praag, Ph.D, Fleas and Rabbits
  6. Vet.com, Revolution
  7. Bayer HealthCare, Advantage - Application
  8. eHow, How to Get Rid of Fleas With Vinegar
  9. Florida 4H, General List of Natural Remedies
  10. House Rabbit Society, FAQ: Grooming > Fleas and Mites
  11. Animal Wellness, Natural Ways to Get Rid of Fleas
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 San Diego House Rabbit Society, Warning About Flea Medication
  13. Flea Control: How to Get Rid of Fleas Naturally, Barry Silverstein, Diatomaceous Earth: A miracle cure for flea control?
  14. Wildpro, Fipronil Toxicity in Rabbits
  15. Wildpro, Permethrin and Pyrethrin Toxicity in Rabbits
  16. Sandi Ackerman, 20 Fleas: Flea Control On Rabbits