Whats an ear mite?
Rabbits kept outside in hutches or on the ground in rabbit tractors are most likely soon or later to get ear mites. Even in wire hutches you can have a ear mite infestation in your rabbitry.
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.
You’ll find many ways to treat ear mites online, and some may work, some may not. The following method is tried and true time and time again.
First, you want to suffocate the mites. Do this buy using any type of food grade oil in the ear. We typically use coconut oil in a small syringe. We melt it down a bit till is liquid (not hot) and squirt about 2-3 ML in the ear canal. Soak the scabs and everything. Now your rabbit is gonna go crazy and shake its head. This is okay. Do this every other day until the scabs/mites are gone. We typically have to do it about 5-6 days. and it clears up after that.
Second, you want to give Inject-able ivermectin, orally. That’s right. Same stuff sold at tractor supply or here : Generic Ivermectin Injection – 50 ml
You want .02 CC per pound of body weight. Simply pull it out of the container with the syringe and put into the rabbits mouth. We’ve found that dripping it on apple peels works best.
Do not attempt to use the Ivermectin PASTE. You may read some people trying it and being successful, but the fact of the matter is, you can’t measure it accurately.
Give the above dosage on the first day and the 10th day. You won’t have any ear mite problems after that.
Check your surrounding cages or other rabbits to make sure they don’t have it either.