Rabbits shouldn’t scratch themselves any more than you would. If your pet rabbit seems excessively itchy and scratches a lot, it has a problem that needs to be addressed. Various issues—from mites to allergies—can cause a rabbit to itch and scratch, but fortunately, these are treatable. So why do rabbits scratch?
Cheyletiella parasitivorax are microscopic mites that live in the fur of rabbits. Cheyletiella mites are blood-sucking parasites that bite your rabbit in order to feed, which causes it to itch and scratch.
Fur mites are also referred to as “walking dandruff,” because they’re often seen moving the dead skin around on rabbits, creating the appearance of mobile skin cells. They may start off in a small area on your rabbit, but if left untreated, they can spread all over its fur, into the environment in which they live, and to other rabbits and pets.
Even if your rabbit never goes outside, it can get fur mites from food or bedding that you bring into your home.
While not as common as some other parasites, lice do infest rabbits. They’re species specific, so humans and other nonrabbit pets can’t get them.
Many people don’t think that rabbits can get fleas, but the reality is that any pet with fur can. Fleas, like fur mites, are blood-sucking parasites that bite rabbits, which, in turn, causes them to itch and scratch.
Indoor rabbits can get fleas just like outdoor rabbits. Other pets in the household can give your rabbit fleas and they can be tracked in from the outdoors. Fleas can also find their own way into homes just like other insects, such as ants.
Your rabbit may develop dry skin, which can make it itch and scratch. Rooms with very low humidity, dusty environments, poor diets, and bathing your rabbit too often or using inappropriate shampoos can all contribute to dry skin in your pet. If you can determine the cause of the dry skin, then you should be able to reverse it. For temporary relief, ask your vet to recommend a rabbit-safe spray product.
Psoroptes cuniculiis are ear mites that cause itching and scratching. They can be spread from rabbit to rabbit, so wash your hands after handling a rabbit with itchy ears. You may notice hair loss around the ears and/or scabs, or the rabbit’s ears may look especially dirty. A head tilt, flopped ear, and head shaking are also signs of an ear mite infestation, which doesn’t always affect both ears. If you notice any of these signs, take your rabbit to see the veterinarian.
Just like people, some rabbits are allergic to certain substances that cause them to itch and scratch. Usually, these allergies are environmental and not food-based, so you can make changes to bedding, litter, cleaning solutions, and air purifiers to make your rabbit more comfortable at home.
In addition to allergies, rabbits may be irritated by certain products, especially if they aren’t meant for rabbits. Shampoos, conditioners, sprays, and air fresheners may all cause skin irritation in your rabbit. If you use a new product, such as a shampoo, and the next day your rabbit is itching, it may be because it was too harsh for your rabbit’s skin. This is often the case with products meant for dogs that are used on rabbits.
Caused by two main types of organisms (Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Microsporum canis), ringworm is a fungal infection that causes hair loss, itching, and red “ringworm” lesions in rabbits. People can also contract ringworm from a rabbit.
The main cause of ringworm, as well as mites and fleas, is direct contact with an infected rabbit. When you bring a new rabbit into your home, keep it separate from your other rabbits until you’re sure it doesn’t have an infection. Rabbits can also contract ringworm from dirty environments and brushes that were used on an infected rabbit.