I remember the moment I realized I had become a rabbit farmer.
It was last spring. Or, rather, a very warm day in late winter when I decided to drag all of my cages out of the chicken coop entry way where I’d been housing my meat rabbits during the cold months. I shook out my makeshift droppings pans which were nothing more than giant cookie sheets and plastic tote covers. Re-zip tied the homemade hay racks. Used a broken hoe as a mini shovel for pulling out accumulated straw, rabbit berries, and shed fur.
Besides feeling a wee bit redneck for my re-purposed setup, and promising myself that the following winter I would figure out a much better way of doing this whole thing (which I have, thank goodness), I was suddenly aware of the fact that I had become a rabbit farmer.
There were grow out cages suspended from the rafters of the coop, which I’d somehow convinced my husband to help with. Not once, but twice.
I had revived frozen kits successfully more than once. Unsuccessfully more than once.
Spent countless days catching escaped 3-week old kits, finding where they escaped, patching their cage, only to have them get out again the next day. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Gone from crying like a baby when we butchered our very first litter to accepting the process with a grateful heart.
There have been bad purchases, multiple escapes, raising and growing a breeder only to have him die unexpectedly just before getting his chance to produce some wonderful meat stock of his own.
But truthfully, I hadn’t experienced any real health issues with my rabbits. They had been very low maintenance in that respect. That was until I discovered what I recognized immediately as ear mites in my oldest breeder doe.
Thankfully ear mites are easy to treat. And they are a common issue that you can run into when raising rabbits.
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First, let’s talk about how an ear mite infestation develops, and what you should look for:
- Ear mites are most common among rabbits who are housed outside or in a rabbit tractor. And because mites can spread rapidly by direct contact, rabbits in a colony setup are most susceptible to a widespread infection.
- Early detection of ear mites is pretty difficult. The nasty little buggers start out deep inside the outer ear canal, out of sight. There they embark on a 21-day cycle of life going from egg to adult in that time, and hatching eggs just 4 days later. They feed on your rabbit’s oils and wax inside of the ear as they continue to mate, lay eggs, and produce fecal matter. As this occurs, the ears get very irritated and inflamed, which will result in your rabbit scratching its ears and often shaking its head. These scratches bleed and then in turn feed the parasites. As time goes on, the infestation will become visible in the form of a brownish waxy substance which will then give way to gray, flaky, crusties.
- This scab-like situation is a buildup of blood, skin, mite feces, etc. If this problem is allowed to continue untreated, the mites will invade even further, and can cause your rabbit to lose the inability to hold up its ears, lose its equilibrium, and eventually lead to skin issues affecting the entire body including hair loss, terrible itching, scabbing, and more.
What to do:
- First of all, separate the infected rabbit from the rest. It is best to move your rabbit to a temporary cage where it can live during the course of treatment before returning to its permanent residence.
- Next, clean the entirety of the environment that your rabbit came into contact with. This is especially important if your rabbit was in a colony setup or a hutch that is shared with other members of your herd. Feeders, dishes, cage, hutch, bedding, etc- all should be cleaned and bedding replaced. If your rabbits are in a tractor, move them.
- It is very easy to naturally treat an ear mite infestation. I use coconut oil with just a couple drops of tea tree oil. You can use many different oils including olive oil, mineral oil, and vegetable oil. The oil will suffocate the mites while the tea tree aids in the relief of the itching/swelling, in addition to its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Alternately, you can also use just your base oil (without the tea tree) if that is what you have on hand.
- Only a few drops are needed, gently massaged into the ear. Do not be tempted to remove the flaky scabs! They will fall off in a couple of days on their own following the start of treatment.
- After the initial treatment, you will want to treat again the next day. And then every other day (even numbered days) for 2 weeks (days 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14). Following this regimen, treat one more time on days 21 and 28, just to be sure that the mite cycle has been completely broken.
- Following application, your rabbit will do a lot of head shaking and grooming…and look at you rather irritably. As she does this, mites will go flying (gross visual, I know)- hence, why it’s a good idea to keep her in a temporary hutch. You don’t want to reinfect her permanent living quarters. After treatment has been completed, you can put her back in her home and completely sanitize the quarantined station.
Of course, be sure to use good hand washing when handling an infested rabbit, so as to prevent transferring mites to the rest of your herd.
And that is it!
Make it a part of your routine to check ears regularly. Keep an eye out for head shaking, scratching, or limp ears as these can all be indicators of an early infestation. You can also treat preventatively by applying a few drops once a week.
Is your skin crawling yet? Mine too. Now get out there and check your herd.
Until next time…
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