Ear mites are the most common of all health issues you will have to deal with raising your homestead rabbits. Ear mites are not serious, but if left untreated, an ear mite infestation can lead to a secondary bacterial infection which can extend to the middle and inner ear causing head tilt, loss of balance, wobbliness (head tilt) and even fatal meningitis. Because the mites may eventually penetrate the eardrum and destroy the rabbits equilibrium so that it staggers and can’t find the food or water crocks. In advanced cases, the ear mites can leave the ears and expand their populations across the rabbit’s body. In particular the head, neck, belly and the skin regions around the anus, genitals and the legs and feet, resulting in severe, generalized body scratching and widespread skin redness, trauma-induced hair loss, widespread scabbing (skin sores) and dermatitis.
Being a contagious parasitic skin disease, rabbit ear mites are generally spread from rabbit to rabbit by direct skin contact between infected and non-infected rabbits. Non-infested rabbits can also contract the mites through contact with the hutch of ear-mite-infested rabbits. Mite transmission from rabbit to rabbit is generally greater in conditions whereby large numbers of rabbits are being kept in close proximity to one other wild rabbit warrens, colony setting, overcrowded hutches, rabbit rescue shelters, pet shops, rabbit breeding facilities, commercial meat or Angora rabbit farming facilities.
The ear mites start by invading the deeper regions of the rabbit’s external ear canal, living deep down in the canal where they can not be seen by the rabbit breeder. Because of this, early infestations of ear mites are often missed by rabbit owners. Because the outer ear flap that the breeder can see often looks OK during the early stages and yet the ear canal is infested deeper down. Owners may only notice occasional symptoms of ear-scratching and head-shaking by the rabbit during these early stages. As the rabbit ear mites multiply in number, the ear mite infestation expands and extends from the ear canal of the rabbit onto the outer ear flap.
At this point, the mite infestation is generally clearly visible to the breeder. If your rabbit has an ear mite infestation you will notice a brown waxy build up inside one or both ears. Your rabbit will likely be scratching or shaking his head more than usual. Over the next day or two the waxy build up will become scab-like or flaky in its appearance. Your rabbit will most likely have several scratch marks in his ear from digging at it with it paws. Mites cause intense itching and pain that can lead to tremendous suffering.
When examining the ears of you rabbits if you see raw lesions along with brownish-grey, flaky crusts or scales, This is composed of mites, mite feces, blood, skin cells, and inflamed skin cells can be seen. In bad cases the accumulation of crusts may be so excessive that a rabbit cannot hold its ears erect, there may also be an unpleasing odor coming from the ears due to the accumulated gunk in the ear.
The ear mite is a parasite, known under the name of Psoroptes cuniculi. They are a member of the arachnid family, The average life span of an ear mite is 21 days. Most mites are microscopic and are living in the soil. The eggs of an ear mite are laid and hatch within four days of incubation. The larva emerges and feeds on the ear wax or skin oils of the rabbit, which continues for a week. After, the larva will molt into what is called a protonymph, which then molts again, becoming a deutonymph. The deutonymph mates with adult males, even though it has not yet established a gender at this time in its life. After mating, another round of molting takes place and the mite is established as either an adult male or female. The females are already ready to lay eggs, while the males go off to find deutonymphs to mate with. The average life span of an adult ear mite is about two months.
Before you start any treatment, you should separate your infested rabbits from any other rabbits you have, as ear mites spread from rabbit to rabbit very quickly. Then clean the cage and surrounding area, as well as sterilizing dishes and water bowls, to prevent re-infestation. When mite-infested rabbits shake or scratch their ears, flakes of mite-infested crust and scale rain down from the ears and into the rabbit’s environment. These falling flakes and crusts contain live mites and their eggs.
Because rabbit ear mites can survive away from the host animal for days to weeks (up to 3 weeks, depending on environmental humidity and temperature conditions), the environment of the mite-infested rabbit (hutches, burrows, pasture, feeding sources) should also be considered an important source of mite-infestation for non-infected animals. Non-infested rabbits can contract ear-mites from direct contact with the environment inhabited by ear-mite-infested rabbits. For this reason, when treating ear mites in rabbits, it is important to also decontaminate the environment that the rabbit is living in so that it does not become a source of mite re-infestation for the newly-treated rabbits.
Treatment for ear mites is fairly simple. There are several over the counter treatments that you can use, such as Rabbit RX (Good Stuff, have used this in the past) or a cat ear mite treatment. You may also use many oils such as mineral oil, baby oil, or even vegetable oil. Only add a few drops at a time, The oil will suffocate the mites and kill them. If you add a few drops of Tea Tree oil to the listed oils this will help by adding its antiviral, antibacterial, anti fungal, and antiseptic qualities to help the healing process. Most treatments have the same applications. I promote the use of naturally treating any of the health problems you may encounter in the raising of rabbits for meat. I will list some of the different natural treatments for ear mites I know of and have used.
When treating your rabbits do not remove the crust that appears in your rabbit’s ear. This will leave open, bloody skin that will easily become infected. This just puts the rabbit through unnecessary pain. The crusts will generally just fall off on their own when your rabbit shakes his head.
Using any of the oils or homemade oil mixes begin treatment on day one by placing 2-3 drops in both ears and gently massage the base of the ears. You may also use a cotton ball to coat the inside of the ear. On days 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 repeat same treatment as day one. Treat again on days 14, 21 and 28. With this treatment, your mite infestation should be gone. Ear mite eggs live for 28 days so by following this treatment plan you will break the life cycle of the mites. Remember you only need a few drops, do not overdo it.
Honey- is an great treatment for ear mite infections. Put three teaspoons of honey in a bowl and add 3 ounces of warm water. Mix the together until the honey is dissolved into the water. You will need a bulb syringe, to put the mixture in the rabbits ear. Squeeze the honey/water solution into the bulb syringe and then release it into the rabbit’s ear. Make sure the solution covers the entire inside of the ear, holding the ear upright so the inner ear gets completely coated with honey. Repeat with the other ear, making sure the whole of the inner ear is coated. Use the same treatment plans as listed above.
Corn Oil/Sunflower Oil- Using a few drops of corn oil (like Wesson) makes a decent home remedy for ear mites. The oil serves three different purposes, as it soothes skin, smothers the ear mites, and speeds the healing process.
Mineral Oil- You may temporarily combat ear mites by soaking a cotton ball with mineral oil and swabbing the inside of your rabbits ears. This is a good base to add essential oils and other healing herbs to make a natural mite treatment
Almond or Olive Oil- A mixture comprised of 1/2 ounce of almond (or olive) oil combined with 400 IU of vitamin E should be mixed and placed in a dropper bottle. The contents should be warmed to room temperature. Remember it is natural to see your rabbit shake their head during treatment.
Yellow Dock Root Extract- A convenient ear mite remedy to make at home may include Yellow Dock root extract, where nine drops of the extract are diluted with one tablespoon of water. Fill half of a dropper with the mixture and place in the ears. It is important to continue this treatment for many weeks (every other day) because ear mite eggs are rather resistant to home treatments, but once they hatch – a continuous treatment will prevent new hatchlings from reproducing until no more eggs exist.
White Vinegar- Some veterinarians suggest the use of white vinegar for treating ear mites because the acidity helps remove dirt and debris, which also helps to revitalize a healthy equilibrium within the ears. Using a small amount of diluted vinegar is suggested, which is made when combining one part vinegar and two parts of water together. Gently drip the remedy mix into the ears, making sure to thoroughly massage the solution. It is important to note that this remedy is not good to use on rabbits that have sores or intense irritation inside the ears or an uncomfortable stinging is the result.
Use a mix of apple cider vinegar in olive oil. Then, with a dropper, drop 6 or 7 drops in each ears, holding the ear flap closed for a few minutes after each treatment to keep rabbit from shaking the oil all over you. A few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in the water bottle is also supposed to act as a repellent and general tonic. Handy stuff for any rabbit medicine cabine (Check out the post on Apple Cider Vinegar For Rabbits)
Prevention is the most important item in any health program when raising rabbits. I make a mix of mineral oil with a few drops of apple cider vinegar, 5 or 6 drops of camphor oil and rosemary oil you can add tea tree oil and others if you want. I mix it up in the store bought mineral oil container and use that as storage and dispensing. I use a few drops in each ear as a preventive when I trim the rabbits nails, a few drops of mineral oil placed into each ear weekly can help to prevent new rabbit ear mite infestations from establishing inside of the ears.
While the infested rabbit is being treated for ear mites, it could be dropping mites and mite eggs into its local environment. In order to prevent this mite contamination from continuing by giving the hutch a chance to rest. I will to remove the rabbit from its permanent living quarters and treat it elsewhere during treatment giving plenty of time for the rabbits ear mites and their eggs to die off.Just in case you could not get the cage clean enough.
Try to keep dirt and dust at a minimum.
Do not use straw as straw is a natural harborer of mites. (I hate this one as I love using straw in nest boxes in the winter)
Sanitize your hutches with a mild bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water. This will not hurt your rabbit’s feet, but I still recommend removing the rabbit from their cage when you spray on the solution let air dry.
If your hutch has wooden legs, consider coating them in paint, or oil. I know of one breeder that uses grease on the legs of all his hutches.
Reduce stress, ear mite populations in rabbits tend to explode in the presence of stress. Making every attempt to reduce the stress in your rabbitry can go a big way towards reducing the presence of mites and other diseases! By ensuring that your rabbits are provided with a good balanced nutrition, are provided with clean living conditions, not over-crowded and not being bullied by other rabbits, not exposed to extremes of heat and cold, and treated early for any other medical or disease conditions as soon as they are noticed.
Avoid overcrowding, rabbit ear mites tend to spread more quickly through a rabbit population when that population is overcrowded. Avoiding overcrowding reduces the spread of mites.
It is also possible for you, the rabbit breeder, to transmit ear mites from rabbit to rabbit by your hands and clothes. By handling rabbits with ear mites, even if you don’t actually know that they have ear mites, can result in rabbit ear mites crawling onto your skin and clothing. These rabbit ear mites will not harm you in any way, but they can pass from your skin or clothes onto the coat and ears of any other rabbits that you handle.
In order to avoid bringing rabbit ear mites (and other infectious diseases) home to your own rabbitry, you should refrain from handling rabbits and hares whose background and health status is not known. In particular, be very cautious of handling unknown stray and wild rabbits and rabbits in pet shops and shelters.
It is also important how vital it is to quarantine any new or ill rabbits from the rest of your herd. You do not want to infect any of the other rabbits in your rabbitry.
Most rabbit vets will tell you to use or prescribe ivermectin, which is an oral or injectable wormer and will also work on parasites. The problem with this is it will often cause other problems in your rabbit, just like antibiotics do in humans by killing all the good bacteria. I do not recommend such treatment. A lot of angora rabbit breeders use this for mange, and other medical uses.This is just my opinion!
If you use the cat ear mite treatment (bought at the pet stores), follow the directions on the package. This goes against the manufacturer’s suggested use, but the treatment is effective.
Hope this answers any of the questions you have on ear mites if I have missed anything e-mail me or post in the comment section of this post.
I try to do everything natural in my rabbitry by avoiding chemicals and most antibiotics. Join The Rabbit Revolution! By liking us on Facebook and get daily rabbit information and ideas, Also subscribe to the blog to get emails on the newest post as they are posted!
This is the first question you need to ask yourself. Do you want really nice pelts but also some good meat, Do want a high production New Zealand White to pump out 6+ litters a year of good healthy meat for your family. Most medium sized rabbits will work! Rex’s have some of the best pelts around! Their awsome fur is in the highest demand of all the other rabbit pelts available, They also have a good body type for meat, they will take a little longer than most “Meat Breeds” to get up to harvest weight. I raise Silver Foxes and their pelts and meat producing ability tops some of the best NZW I have seen. Satins, another meat/pelt breed I raise, I did a post on this breed in the December archives, Check it out for more on this breed (Great dual purpose rabbit for the homestead), The New Zealand White, Californian, American, Chinchillas, Creme/Champagne D Argent’s, and so, so, many more.
So I put together a list and a little background with each breed. If i missed any breeds, sorry. But let me know and I will add them in this post! One of the hardest things about getting started in rabbitry is deciding what breed of rabbits to raise. There are 30+ breeds, so do some research before you choose. Once you know what type you’re interested in, study up on that breed until you can remember all its characteristics.
AMERICAN- Like many American people, the American breed rabbit is a combination of immigrants welded together by blood to become a distinctly different and American creation. At least three different breeds of rabbit were used. The heritage of this rabbit can be noticed just by looking at it! You can see the Flemish, the Vienna, and the Imperial in the mandolin shape of the American rabbit. The American rabbit is a multi-purpose animal developed for meat and fur. They come in two colors of blue and white. This rabbit is on the threatened list and if you want to help a breed get back up in numbers this is one to try!
AMERICAN CHINCHILLA- The American Chinchilla rabbit was developed as a dual purpose rabbit used for meat, and fur. The American Chinchilla is actually listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and like most rare breeds the only way to save them is to use them for what their original purpose was! As an efficient rabbit for fur and meat! Its body type has a desirable meat style, with a deep loin and broad shoulders.
AMERICAN SABLE- American Sable rabbits are basically the same rabbit as American Chinchilla rabbits, except for the difference in coloring. The coat of an American Sable is characterized by a rich sepia brown on the ears, face, back, legs, and upper side of their tail. The saddle and underside fur color fades from the sepia brown to a paler shade of brown. Their eyes are brown and show a ruby red glow in reflected light. American Chinchilla are considered a desirable meat, with a deep loin and broad shoulder. Weighting 9-12 lbs. They also enjoyed for their thick, soft fur. It is listed as critically endangered heritage animal.
BLANC D’ HOTOT- is considered a dual purpose breed (pet and meat) weighing 8 -11 lbs
CINNAMONS- Were cross bred into creation by accident. During the Easter season of 1962 2 kids given a young Chinchilla doe. Later they received a New Zealand buck. They crossbred these two for babies that their father, believed should be used for meat but the young children begged their father to keep one of the crossbred bucks as a family pet. The children joined the 4-h group and used their crossbred meat rabbits as their project. They were then given an unwanted Checkered Giant and a crossed Californian doe which they mated with the pet buck and in this litter was a russet shaded rabbit. They again bred the Checkered was mated to the same buck and another rusty colored rabbit appeared so the Cinnamon was born! They are considered a commercial breed.
CALIFORNIAN- This breed is a cross of New Zealand Whites bred to a Chinchilla-colored cross-bred buck. The breeder spent 7 years crossing Himalayans with Standard Chinchillas before achieving this ideal buck. Cals are white with black points..This breed was developed to be a good meat breed with a good blocky meaty body that also has a good quality pelt.
California- are white with black on their ears and nose and have pink (mine are red) eyes. Weighing 8-10 1/2 lbs.
CHAMPAGNE D ARGENT- The Champagne d’Argent is in history clear back to 1631. This is very attractive rabbit, and is the reason why over the ages, the pelt of the rabbit we know today as the Champagne d’Argent commanded huge premiums over the value of a standard rabbit pelt. Great for meat and fur production and a historic breed that needs to get back up in numbers!
CREME D ARGENT- The coloring is a moderately silvered orange. This is a very attractive meat and fur rabbit great dual purpose. Very well liked and used by many homesteaders weighing 8-11 lbs.
FLEMISH GIANT- These monsters can grow big, Some that will sometimes weigh 20+ pounds. They do eat a lot more, and because of their body weight will have bigger bones, and their fryers, at seven to nine weeks, weigh about the same as those of the medium breeds at the same age. These were raised for meat many years ago (They were know to be crossed with a dutch for a great meat rabbit) and will work on the homestead just fine.
FRENCH ANGORA- Makes a good dual purpose rabbit. weighing 7-10 lbs. When looking for French angora’s you want their body to be oval in shape. A good indication for a meat purpose. Plus you get a great fiber that can be spun to make yarn
NEW ZEALAND- Comes in white, black, and red. By crossing these different colors you get can broken or blue variety. These are one of the healthier hearty high production rabbit breeds. New Zealand’s are a breed that can be used for meat, pelts, show, and laboratory uses. Adult New Zealand’s can be more aggressive than other breeds although not all are aggressive. Weighing 9-12 lbs.
PALOMINO- are considered a commercial breed though take a little longer to grow out then others. Weighing 8-11 lbs. Have a good temperament.
REX- are another commercial breed weighing 8-9 lbs. They are raised primarily for their awsome fur and meat is the byproduct.
SABLES- weigh 8-10 lbs and are the Siamese cat of rabbits.
SATINS- are raised primarily for their fur, but do well as a commercial meat breed, weighing 9-10 lbs. I did a post on this breed in the December archives Check it out!
SILVER FOX- Are a great fanciers breed as their numbers are low. However they make an excellent dual purpose animal (meat, fur, pet) weighing 9-12 lbs. They have a great temperament and high dress out percentage.A great homestead rabbit.
I always recommend looking at what breeds are available to you locally. These rabbits will have had generations to grow accustomed to your local environment (These breeds I think are best for your homestead!). When you begin to look for your rabbits most new rabbit breeders start out with two does and one buck, you’ll soon learn that rabbits come in many different breeds, colors and sizes.
Make sure the kind of rabbit you pick will be comfortable in your area’s climate. Texas for instance, might not be a cool place to raise woolly Angora rabbits or heavy fur/meat breeds for example Silver Foxes have a thicker coat and are a black colored rabbit and the heat will get to them, But if you get a Silver Fox that was raised in your local climate you would have a better chance of that rabbit doing good on your homestead. Find out if the breed you like is good for whatever use you’ll want to use it for. Some types of rabbits, like Belgian hares, are suitable only for show. Others, like New Zealand Whites, are excellent for meat or show.
It’s also a good idea to get a breed that’s fairly common in your area, but not one that’s too common. If the kind you’re considering is too popular, you may have a hard time selling the offspring. But if you end up being your region’s sole breeder of some exotic variety, you’ll have trouble getting stud service or buying new stock.
Most meat raisers across the country agree that the mid-sized New Zealand White and California make about the best of all backyard livestock. But, you’ll want to be sure that your new rabbits are all healthy, so examine each rabbit closely before you buy. The inside of the rabbits ears should not have the dry scabs that are caused by ear mites, its hocks and feet should be free of sore spots, its nose shouldn’t be wet, runny, or crusty, and its droppings should be firm and round. If the animal looks fit in these areas, you can be pretty darn sure you’ve found a healthy rabbit.
Many of the individual traits that go into producing plenty of meat for your table are passed on from one generation to the next, so be sure to buy rabbits from a reputable breeder. Only purchase bucks and does with excellent production lines (or kits bred from such parents). You can tell a lot about what sort of offspring your breeding stock will produce by seeing the rabbits parents.
Most of a rabbit’s meat comes from its hind legs, so gently squeeze any buck or doe’s rear thighs to judge how plump and meaty those areas are. Give a feel to the back, between the rabbits pelvis and ribs as well. This loin muscle section should be long, wide, and firm. It’s easy to remove the poor producers, negligent mothers, and uncooperative breeders from your rabbit herd, Simply butcher and eat them my favorite saying is “Save the Best, Eat the Rest”. Unfortunately, even the most productive parents will decline in “breeding ability” after five or six years, so your older animals should also be regularly culled (these larger, older rabbits make great stews)
Hope this post helps you pick your rabbit breed for your homestead project! Any questions or other ideas please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or post in the comment section. Join The Rabbit Revolution- Like Us On Facebook, for daily rabbit information and ideas. To get the latest post as they are posted subscribe to the blog.