Most healthy rabbits will change their coats twice yearly. Other rabbits may lose their coat more often, probably through inbreeding or skin disorders. A majority of rabbit skin problems can be easily treated and should be done as soon as signs of disease are present, as some rabbit skin diseases can be transmitted to other animals, including humans.
Fur-plucking and Chewing
Alopecia, or abnormal fur loss in rabbits can occur due to hormonal changes, such as fur-plucking. Pregnant females close to delivery may pluck the fur around their neck or belly area to line their nests. Rabbits may also pluck their fur when they need more fibre in their diets. When too many rabbits are housed together, they will chew on each others' fur causing bald spots and skin irritation.
Cheyletiella parasitovorax is the most common skin mite in rabbits. Other skin mites affecting rabbits are Leporacus gibbus and the mange or scabies mite known as Sarcoptes scabei. These mites will affect the skin by causing it to flake severely and may or may not cause itching. The mites are not visible to the naked eye and a veterinarian may have to take a sample of the flaky skin and check under a microscope for their presence. Cages should be cleansed well, as the fallen skin flakes contain mite eggs that can easily reinfect the rabbit after treating the condition. Psoroptes cuniculi is an ear mite that will cause red-brown crusts in the rabbit's ear canals. It is a very uncomfortable condition, causing the rabbit to droop its ears or scratch them fiercely. The mites can be visible in the rabbit's ear canals or on other parts of the body if the mites have migrated from the ears. Cages should also be kept clean to avoid reinfection after treatment.
Fleas and ticks can cause itching, fur loss and crusty skin. Veterinarians encourage regular grooming of pet rabbits to catch the first signs of flea or tick infestation. Myiasis, or fly-strike infestation usually occurs during hot and humid summers. Several kinds of insects can lay their eggs in a rabbit's wounds. The maggots from those eggs will burrow into the skin causing bacterial infections and shock, which can ultimately kill the rabbit. When treating the rabbit for parasitic insects, its cage and any bedding or nest it has should also be treated or eliminated.
Fungi and Bacteria
Chronic wetness of the rabbit's fur and skin must be avoided. Excess moisture causes the fur to fall and the skin will become reddened, scaly and crusty, exposing raw skin to ringworm and bacteria. Excess drooling, exposure to urine and faeces, excess grooming from another rabbit and leaky water bottles cause the rabbit's environment to be too moist. The bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa will cause a moist skin infection and a bluish discolouration of the rabbit's fur.
Bumps, Lumps, or Skin Cancer
Some infections can cause abscesses filled with thick, cottage cheese-like pus on a rabbit's skin. These lumps must be surgically removed, as lancing or draining them hardly affects them. Some lumps may be warts caused by a papilloma virus, or benign growths. Though malignant skin cancer growths are not common in rabbits, they can occur often due to the metastasis of another cancer present.
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