rabbit tick removal
Health and Wellness

How to Treat Ticks in Rabbits

Ticks are blood-sucking arachnids that attach themselves to all domestic pets in order to feed. Rabbits are no exception to this. Your bunny may not notice that a tick is feeding on them. This means that rabbit tick removal becomes your responsibility.

Carefully remove each tick using tweezers. Never leave a tick on a rabbit to fall off naturally. Keep your grass short, your rabbit’s hutch free of humidity, and use a rabbit-friendly tick repellent.

Ticks carry diseases that can be fatal to rabbits. The longer a tick feeds on a rabbit, the more your pet’s health is jeopardized. If they eat their fill and drop off, they won’t die. This means they can lay eggs, and cause an infestation. This guide explains how to keep your rabbit safe from ticks.

Do Ticks Attach Themselves to Rabbits?

Any warm-blooded animal can attract ticks. Rabbits are no exception. If your bunny exercises outside, they may attract ticks. Ticks can also thrive and survive indoors, especially in humid environments.

Ticks are small arachnids that feed on an animal’s blood. They often hide in blades of grass. Ticks have enhanced senses of smell, and detect heat. Once a tick finds a host, they’ll latch on and begin to feed.

Your rabbit will now realize that they have a tick. Tick saliva includes a nerve-suppressing agent. This means that your rabbit will not experience any pain. It’s vital that you regularly check your rabbit for tick infestation.

Female ticks lay thousands of eggs. Ticks cannot fly, though. This means they prefer to live in the long grass. This provides them with easier access to ground-dwelling mammals.

Symptoms of Ticks on Rabbits

Once a tick starts to feed, their body becomes engorged. A full tick has a substantial body, filled with blood. This may look like a pimple at first. On closer inspection, a full tick resembles a leech.

Ticks are harder to see on a longhaired rabbit. They bury themselves under your bunny’s fur. Groom and pet your rabbit daily. If your fingers encounter a bump, investigate it. If it’s a tick, remove it.

In some cases, a tick will make your rabbit unwell. If your rabbit has multiple ticks, they’ll lose blood. This can lead to anemia. If you remove the ticks before they can eat their fill, this will be avoided.

Some rabbits also experience muscle weakness and paralysis when bitten by ticks. If your rabbit’s legs are weaker than usual, check them over. This could also suggest that the tick is passing on an infection to your pet.

Are There Different Types of Tick?

There are many different ticks, with different lifespans and habits. But there are two primary species, and both are equally dangerous. These are as follows:

  • Ixodid ticks. They have a tough outer shell that covers their body. These are the most common forms of a tick.
  • Argasid ticks. They lack this shell. This makes them harder to remove, as it’s difficult to find their head. They don’t live as long, though.

Ticks have three stages of their lifespan. They start as a hatchling larva. These larvae are tiny – too small for the human eye to see. As a result, they will rarely attach to a rabbit. They find smaller hosts, such as birds or rats.

If a larva feeds sufficiently from this host, they’ll drop off and evolve into their next life stage. This is known as a nymph. A nymph can feed on a rabbit.

If they survive this process, the nymph will become an adult tick. This, again, leads to the tick seeking a host. Rabbits are popular with adult ticks, as their bodies are low to the ground.

Male ticks will die after feeding on this third host. Females will drop off, and lay eggs. A female tick can lay up to 3,000 eggs in their lifetime.

How Long Can Ticks Live on Rabbits?

If not removed manually, a tick can live on a rabbit for three or four days. By this stage, they will be straightforward to spot. An engorged tick is an unmistakable sight.

Ticks are not attractive to look at, especially when engorged. Many people find themselves repelled by the sight of them. You’ll need to push past this, for the sake of your bunny’s health. Don’t wait for a tick to drop off by itself.

Once you spot these arachnids on your body, take action. If you can’t do it yourself, ask somebody else to help.

removing ticks from rabbits

What Parts of a Rabbit’s Body Do Ticks Like?

Ticks are particularly drawn to four parts of rabbit anatomy:

  • The ears, and between the ears
  • The face
  • The legs
  • The dewlap

These parts of the body are suitably soft for the tick, and provide enough nourishment. Grooming your rabbit in these areas will reveal the presence of ticks.

Do Rabbits Remove Ticks Themselves?

Your rabbit may not notice that they have a tick. If they do, your rabbit will attempt to remove the tick with their teeth.

If you have two rabbits living together, one will try to remove the tick while grooming the other. As bunnies groom each other regularly, they may encounter unwelcome parasites. Neither of these courses of action is particularly advisable. It’s better for you to remove the tick.

  • If your rabbit bites the tick, it could burst. This may lead to your rabbit inhaling, or consuming, infected blood.
  • Rabbit teeth are not as delicate as a pair of tweezers. They may leave the tick’s mouth behind, or only remove half the tick. This makes infection possible.
  • If the rabbit swallows the tick, they may become unwell.
  • The rabbit may not realize their friend is trying to help. If they think they’re being bitten and attacked, a fight will break out.

Check your bunny for ticks regularly, and remove them yourself. It’s the only way to be safe.

How to Remove a Tick from a Rabbit

When you spot a tick attached to your rabbit, it should be removed. The longer it remains attached, the higher the risk of transmitting disease.

If a tick eats its fill, it will drop off naturally and stay alive. This allows them to lay eggs, and attach to another host. To safely remove a tick from a rabbit, follow these steps:

  1. Get your equipment together. You’ll need fine-pointed tweezers, gloves, rabbit-safe disinfect and a jar of rubbing alcohol. An antibiotic ointment for aftercare is also advisable.
  2. Brush your rabbit’s fur with a fine-toothed comb, and locate the tick. It won’t be hard to spot, especially if it’s been feeding.
  3. Put on your gloves, and use the tweezers to grab the tick’s head. Always use the head, and not the body. A tick’s body will be filled with blood, and may burst. The gloves are a precaution against this.
  4. Once you have a firm grasp on the tick’s head, pull it out in one fluid motion. Don’t twist, and don’t jerk. This will leave parts of the tick in your rabbit’s fur.
  5. Once removed, it will still be alive. Drown it in your jar of rubbing alcohol to kill it.
  6. Clean the area that the tick bit your rabbit with disinfectant, and apply an antibiotic ointment.
  7. Keep an eye on the puncture site. A little inflammation is likely for a day or two. This should calm down quickly, though.

If you’re squeamish and can’t face removing the tick yourself, ask a veterinary nurse for help. This is also advisable if you are worried about disease. The tick’s body can be examined under a microscope.

Can Ticks Kill Rabbits?

A solitary tick feeding on a rabbit will not be fatal. They can weaken your rabbit, but they won’t take enough blood to kill them. Multiple ticks can do this, though.

More importantly, ticks can spread a fatal disease to rabbits. In this sense, ticks can kill rabbits. If they feed on an animal with a blood disease, this can be passed onto your bunny. Just some of the fatal diseases that ticks can spread include:

  • Myxomatosis
  • Lyme Disease
  • Tularemia, aka Rabbit Fever
  • Papillomatosis

Ticks can also spread other diseases that are fatal to cats and dogs. These are the conditions that will leave a bunnies life in danger, though.

Myxomatosis in Rabbits

Myxomatosis is the most famous rabbit-centric disease of all. This viral infection is highly contagious. It typically kills a rabbit within 14 days.

The symptoms of Myxomatosis are:

  • Discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Swelling around the eyes, leading to eventual blindness
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite, and an associated drop in weight
  • Respiratory issues, causing a rabbit to breathe through the mouth
  • Swelling and ulcers, especially at the location of the tick bite

There is no cure for Myxomatosis. There is a vaccine, though. It is highly advisable that you vaccinate your bunny as soon as possible.

Lyme Disease in Rabbits

Lyme disease is often associated with wild deer. It can infect all animals though, and humans. The tick that most commonly spreads the condition is the Black-Legged Tick. This arachnid is sometimes informally referred to as a Deer Tick.

As in humans, Lyme Disease will manifest on a rabbit’s skin. Their skin will become red and inflamed.

Avoid handling a rabbit with Lyme Disease. The condition is highly contagious. You must also be careful of your bunny’s urine, as this carries the bacteria.

Catching the condition early gives your rabbit a better chance of survival. As a bacterial infection, Lyme Disease is treated with oral antibiotics.

Tularemia in Rabbits

Rabbit fever, as the name suggests, is a condition that originated in wild rabbits.  Thankfully, it’s rare in domestic rabbits. If you live in a rural area though, Tularemia can be spread through tick bites.

Tularemia is a bacterial infection, and it does not always manifest symptoms in rabbits. This is worrying, as it means that most diagnoses are made post-mortem.

Warning signs of Tularemia in rabbits can include:

  • High fever (body temperature over 103 degrees Fahrenheit.)
  • Lethargy and muscle weakness
  • Dull and unkempt fur
  • Abscesses and ulcers at the site of the tick’s attachment
  • Changes in behavior, such as uncharacteristic aggression

It’s also important to note that Tularemia can be spread to humans. If you suspect that your rabbit has the condition, wear gloves while handling them.

If it’s caught early, Tularemia in rabbits can be treated with antibiotics. It can be fatal to bunnies inside three days though, so act quickly.

Papillomatosis in Rabbits

This disease is most prominent in cottontail rabbits. It’s not necessarily fatal, and can remain benign. It’s also possible that Papillomatosis creates cancerous growths, though. There are two variations of Papillomatosis in rabbits:

  • Cottontail Rabbit Papilloma (CRPV), which manifests as warts throughout the body. These can become cancerous, and turn into malevolent tumors.
  • Oral Papilloma, which causes tough nodules to grow on the tongue and mouth. Thankfully, these correct themselves and are rarely painful.

Naturally, it’s the cancerous tumors that cause concern. These will typically need to be surgically removed. Chemotherapy or radiotherapy may also be required, depending on how widespread the tumors have become.

Oral nodules can be left alone until they clear themselves up. They only require surgical intervention if they prevent your rabbit from eating.

can ticks kill rabbits?

Do Rabbits Spread Ticks Among Themselves?

It’s possible for two rabbits to experience an infestation from the same tick. Here is a specific example of how this can happen:

  1. Two bunnies, let’s call them Rabbit A and Rabbit B, share a hutch.
  2. While exercising outside, Rabbit A is bitten by a tick. Rabbit B escapes this fate.
  3. Both Rabbit A and Rabbit B are returned to their hutch. The tick on Rabbit A goes unnoticed.
  4. The tick eats its fill from Rabbit A. Eventually, once full, it drops off organically.
  5. The tick now has a finite amount of time to find their next host, or they’ll die. They spot Rabbit B, and attach themselves to them.
  6. If the tick continues to avoid detection, the process repeats itself. They can then feed on Rabbit A again. This cycle can continue until the tick dies.

If the tick is female, they will lay eggs in your rabbit’s shared hutch. Your pets will be trapped with hundreds, or even thousands, of ticks in an enclosed space.

This scenario makes it clear why ticks cannot go ignored. Check your rabbit regularly, and remove any ticks that you find. Better yet, prevent them from attaching themselves in the first place.

Do Rabbits Spread Ticks to Other Animals?

Ticks are not necessarily species-specific. Most ticks will be just as happy feeding on a dog or cat as a rabbit. They even bite humans.

This means that, if you run a multi-pet home, you must check all animals for ticks. The more pets you have, the more potential food sources exist for ticks. This, in turn, means that ticks will live longer and lay more eggs.

Take preventative measures to keep ticks away from all your pets, not just rabbits. If you spot one of these arachnids, remove it immediately and check your other pets.

Ticks carry all manner of disease. Some of these will not impact a rabbit, could be fatal to a cat or dog. Examples include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Piroplasmosis, and Cytauxzoonosis.

Preventing Ticks on Rabbits

Preventing a tick from attaching to a rabbit is better than removing them after the event. If ticks cannot feed, they’ll quickly die out. This minimizes the risk of an infestation.

If your rabbit exercises outside, low your lawn regularly. Ticks thrive in the long grass. Shorter grass makes it tougher for them to hide. Sweep away any piles of leaves, and discourage your rabbit from playing in them.

Tick repellent sprays are available in pet stores. UltraCare is a reputable brand. Ensure that any product you purchase is designed especially for rabbits, though. Tick treatments for dogs and cats are often toxic to bunnies.

Never fit your rabbit with a flea or tick collar designed for cats. Even if it fits, this will make your rabbit unwell. The dose of chemicals it releases is too high for a bunny to cope with.

Changing your rabbit’s hay daily, and regularly cleaning their hutch, will also keep ticks at bay. The ticks will have nowhere to hide in such instances.

Can I Make a Natural Tick Repellent?

Ticks loathe the test and smell of certain foods, so you could make your own repellent. Just be aware this will just repel ticks, not kill them. To create a natural tick deterrent:

  1. Mix one cup of water with two cups of white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  2. Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil. This contains sulfur, which also deters ticks
  3. If your rabbit is not averse to citrus, squeeze in a pinch of lemon juice too
  4. Mix these contents up, and pour them into a spray bottle
  5. Spray your rabbit before and after they spend any time outside

Obviously, you’ll need to be careful with this technique. Don’t spray it in your rabbit’s eyes, and don’t let them lick it off their fur. If they show any signs of distress, stop using the spray immediately.

You’ll also still need to check your rabbit for ticks. If ticks develop a tolerance to the scents and tastes of your spray, it won’t work.

Do I Need to Worry About Ticks in the Winter?

Prime tick season is spring and summer. Many ticks are inactive during the winter. Some still thrive, though. This means that you can never let up on your vigilance.

Cold weather does not kill ticks. When the temperature drops, they go into a form of hibernation. If a host presents itself, though, they’ll still attach themselves.

Maintain your anti-tick regime, even through a harsh winter. If you fail to do so, you may find an unexpected infestation in the spring.

How to Resolve a Tick Infestation in the Home

Most ticks will not make their way into a home by choice. If a tick attaches to your rabbit and is not removed, though, they may lay eggs. This can lead to an indoor infestation.

Ticks are attracted to dirty laundry. This appeals to their sense of smell. Do not leave laundry lying around your home. Always use a solid hamper, unless you spot a tick on your clothing. In such a case, wash the clothing immediately.

Any garment or soft furnishing that has hosted a tick must be washed on the highest heat possible. Use an antibacterial agent in the laundry, too.

Once this is done, clean your house from top to bottom. Vacuuming will suck up any ticks in your carpet. Wash all fabrics on the highest heat they’ll tolerate, including sofa cushions and curtains.

If it’s safe to do so, sprinkle pesticide throughout your home. This will kill any stubborn ticks that survived the cleanup. Just ensure that the pesticide is not toxic to your pets.

If these steps do not help, you’ll need the help of a professional exterminator. A tick infestation cannot be left untreated. It places your entire family in danger, human and animal alike.

Removing ticks from rabbits is not a fun job, but it’s an essential one. Leaving pets to resolve this issue by themselves is not recommended. Take action straight away.