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!