What are fleas?
Fleas are small, black blood-sucking insects that measure 1-3mm in length and are one of the most common parasites found on rabbits. In fact, nearly all rabbits will suffer from a flea infestation at some point in their lives.
The lifespan of a flea is a few months. Adult fleas are found in the rabbit's coat where they suck blood. The female fleas lay up to 50 eggs per day which are non-sticky and drop onto the floor, soft furnishings and bedding, as the dog wanders round the house. After a few days, the larvae hatch out and produce pupae (cocoons) which house the developing flea. The fleas that you may see on your rabbit are only the tip of the iceberg - 95% of the problem exists as eggs, larvae and pupae. When fleas are fully grown they wait until a suitable host such as a rabbit, dog or cat is nearby and emerge from the cocoon before jumping onto the host.
Fleas also spread the often fatal viral disease myxomatosis.
How can I tell if my rabbit has fleas?
The symptoms can vary from no visible signs to severe itching. This may involve scratching or commonly chewing the lower back or tail-base. Close inspection can reveal either small black insects or the small black flea faeces. Flea faeces can be identified by brushing your pet's coat with a fine-toothed flea comb and placing the debris you collect on a wet piece of white paper. Flea faeces will dissolve in the water to produce brown / red swirls on the paper.
If the infestation is very severe, it can result in severe blood loss causing anaemia - it can even kill a young rabbit. In allergic pets affected with Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD) the itching and self-inflicted trauma that results from flea bites may be particularly severe.
A variety of products are available to help treat rabbits infested with fleas. For further information please contact your vet, country store, pet shop or pharmacist.
For effective control, treatment of all in-contact animals and the use of preparations that will target developing fleas in the home, as well as those that have an effect on adult fleas on pets, is important. If in doubt your veterinary surgery or pet store should be contacted for further advice.