Find out more about how to treat rabbit ear infections and ear mite infestations.
Ear problems are extremely common in rabbits, no matter what their breed. Read on to find out how to spot, treat and prevent these conditions.
Why are ear problems so common in rabbits?
Rabbits have highly sensitive ears, and due to the many folds of skin within their ears, even the smallest build-up of dirt can lead to bacterial growth. These bacteria can create inflammation, leading to infection.
Infections can also result from ear mites, also known as psoroptes cuniculi, a common parasite in domestic rabbits.
All breeds of rabbit are prone to infection, but lop-eared breeds, like the English Lop and Dwarf Lop, are particularly susceptible. These breeds are also more prone to inflammations and infections of the outer ear, known as otitis externa. This is because they have a weak point in their ear canal where it folds over.
By knowing the early-warning signs, you can make sure your rabbits get the treatment they need straight away.
Signs of a rabbit ear infection
- Head tilt: Inner ear infections can cause head tilt, or torticollis, because the inner ear helps your rabbit balance.
- Loss of appetite: Pain, dizziness and nausea from an ear infection can stop your rabbit eating normally.
- Behavioural changes: An infection may make your rabbit subdued or irritable. Some rabbits may start to grind their teeth.
- Cold-like symptoms: Ear infections may spread to the nose and throat, which can make it look like your rabbit has a cold.
- Discharge: You might spot discharge from your rabbit’s ears.
Often, rabbit ear infections can go undiagnosed because your rabbit might not show any obvious signs. If you’re concerned there’s something wrong but you’re not sure what, it’s always best to speak to your vet.
Signs of rabbit ear mites
- Scratching: Ear mites are uncomfortable and can cause a lot of itchiness. You may see your rabbit scratching their neck and ears more than usual and the skin here may be scaly and peeling.
- Hair loss: Excessive scratching may cause your rabbit to lose patches of fur.
- Lesions: These may appear around your rabbit’s neck, feet and abdomen due to scratching and overgrooming.
- Brown fluid: Known as exudate, this thick brown fluid forms in your rabbit’s ear canal and can sometimes be very noticeable.
A step-by-step guide to checking your rabbits’ ears
The best way to spot an infection as soon as it takes hold is to be very familiar with what your rabbits’ ears look like when they’re healthy. Use our tips to ensure you can carry out a quick daily check and spot any issues right away:
1. Keep your rabbit comfortable
To make sure your rabbit can’t hurt themselves trying to get away, you’ll need to keep them in a comfortable position. Give them a fuss or a treat first to make sure they’re happy. If your rabbit seems distressed at any point, stop and allow them to move away.
2. Check the outer ear and ear canal
The pinnae is the outer flap of a rabbit’s ear. This should be clean, with no scabs, flakes, scales or wounds. Lift your rabbit’s pinnae and check their ear canals. It’s normal for there to be a little wax, but this should be a pale, creamy colour.
3. Check for lumps
Feel around the base of your rabbit’s ear, below the opening, for any swelling or lumps. Be aware that sometimes swelling can take place all around the area, making it difficult to identify any particularly swollen sections. You can also feel for hot spots, which may be a sign of an infection.
4. If unsure, consult your vet
If you're concerned about the amount of wax you've spotted, or can feel any swelling around the ears, it’s always best to speak to your vet.
How to treat a rabbit ear infection
If a bacterial ear infection is diagnosed, your vet will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics. If your bunny is particularly uncomfortable, then they may need anti-inflammatories as well. For inner- or middle-ear infections X-rays are sometimes needed to check whether there’s a build-up of pus.
Rabbit ear mite treatment
Ear mite infestations are usually treated with anti-parasite injections, or a spot-on treatment. It’s important that the treatment is given over three or more weeks, as ear mites can live for up to 21 days. These parasites also spread easily between rabbits, so all rabbits living together should be treated at the same time. You’ll also need to clean your bunny’s home environment thoroughly, to prevent reinfection from any mites that may be living there.