*WARNING: Some of the written content within this post as well as the pictures may be a bit graphic for those of a squeamish nature.
Recently we purchased a large quantity of cages from a couple who were no longer raising rabbits. Along with the cages the folks threw in numerous feeders, several dishes, and their last pair of rabbits (a New Zealand White female and a Dutch male), oh, and a SEVERE case of ear mites for each.
In all my life I have NEVER seen any type of infestation like that. We had pets growing up and I can’t recall any of them ever having such a problem; then again I was a Northern suburbanite and all of our animals were kept indoors which is quite a bit different than this Southern homesteading thing we are endeavoring to do. But I digress, y’all.
In researching rabbits we knew ear mites where an issue but we take necessary steps to ensure this doesn’t happen in our rabbitry, chiefly by keeping our facility clean and checking the rabbit’s ears for injury or infestation on a daily basis.
Ear mites (Psoroptes cuniculi most commonly seen in rabbits) are tiny, non-burrowing members of the arachnid family, which includes spider, scorpions, and ticks. The mites consume the wax and oils inside of the ear and then re-breed in the ear canal, if left untreated the cycle continues indefinitely.
Mites cause intense itching and pain that can lead to tremendous suffering and illness. Scratching of the ears and tilting or shaking of the head are the most common indicators that a rabbit has an ear mite infestation. Upon closer examination of the ears raw lesions along with brownish-grey, flaky crusts or scales, composed of mites, mite feces, blood, skin cells, and inflammatory cells can be observed. In severe cases the accumulation of crusts may be so excessive that a rabbit cannot hold its ears erect; there may also be an unplesant odor coming from the ears due to the vile matter within.
If allowed to persist, an ear mite infestation can lead to a secondary bacterial infection which can extend to the middle and inner ear causing torticollis (head tilt) and ataxia (staggering/jerky/uncontrolled movements) and may cause hearing loss. Additionally, a severe mite infestation may extend to the head and neck, or other parts of the body.
Knowing all of the aformentioined and with the new rabbits looking like the picture above you can understand why my stomach turned when I saw them initially; but I had to quickly get over the disgust and decide what our course of treatment would be. First we had to quarantine the newbies as ear mites are highly contagious spreading rapidly even with the briefest of physical contact with any infected area, debris, dishes, bedding material, etc. Next we did some research regarding natural treatments for ear mite infestation. While there are antibiotics that are quite efficient and effective in treating ear mites, specifically Ivermectine (injectable) and Selamectine (topical, marketed as Revolution or Stronghold) which will usually clear up an infestation in a week or two, they cannot be used in meat rabbit production as one of the main points in rasing rabbits for meat is to avoid the antibiotics, hormones, by-products and other chemicals utilized in commercial meat production.
In my research I happened upon THIS article advocating the use of honey in the treatment of ear mites. Honey is known to have antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti inflammatory properties and is effectual in healing stubborn wounds and serious burns. In having used honey with considerable success ourselves, we figured we would give it a try. We added a few drops of Tea Tree oil to our daily application for its antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic qualities hoping that this combination would be all the more efficacious in ridding our rabbits of those nasty little parasites. If we had lavender on hand we would have added a couple of drops of it as well due to its anti inflammatory, antiseptic, and analgesic effects .
Due to the severity of the infestation of our new rabbits we treated them everyday for the 28 day cycle. We noticed significant results after just one week, with continued healing throughout the month. It has been 35 days and both the rabbits ears are clear; however these two remain quarantined as we are observing whether or not the treatment truly stopped the cycle. We have thoroughly cleaned the cages and dishes that were used during the infirmity and for good measure we burnt the grass in and around the area where the “sick” hutches were kept. Though more time-consuming than conventional veterinary treatments the natural remedy seems to have been successful at healing our rabbits. Should you desire to try the same method we suggest you purchase raw honey from your local area as it will have all of its beneficial properties since it has not been commercially processed. As to essential oils you can buy these from a local natural foods store or, for convenience and excellence, purchase them from www.mountainroseherbs.com.
*Note: If you desire to go the conventional route, NEVER us Fipronil (Frontline) on rabbits, it will kill them. Further, even though over-the-counter products (shampoos and flea powders) with permethrin or pyrethrin may indicate they can be used in treating rabbits they are NOT recommended as they are neither as safe nor are they as effective as the medications mentioned above.
In concluding this post we would like to laud our boys as they rendered the majority of care to Ted and Alice during their treatment time; DH and I are extremely proud of our sons as they have stepped up to and met all of the challenges that have been presented to them in the rabbitry.
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body”. Proverbs 16:24
“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward”. Psalm 127:3
*Update: Alic’s Ear Mites were completely erradicated using the treatment chronicled herein; however, Ted seemed to have a more stubborn case that flared back up after he seemed to be healed. We eventually had to rely on a more conventional course of treatment. Our neighbor, who also raises rabbits, suggested Adam’s Ear Mite Treatment with 0.05% Pyrethrins an 0.05% Piperolyl Butoxide; manufactured for Farnam Companies Inc. We treated Ted for 12 days as directed and he finally seems to be Ear Mite free, though at the time of composing this he is still quarantined. Better safe than sorry. Despite all of this if we ever have to deal with Ear Mites again we will try the natural treatment first.