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Ear canker in rabbits

Ear canker can be a painful and irritating condition for your rabbit. Signs of this condition tend to appear 2-3 weeks after the animal is first infested with mites, therefore early detection of the mites that cause ear canker is important when trying to prevent this condition from taking hold.

Your questions answered

What is ear canker?

Ear canker is a condition of the rabbit's ears caused by the ear mite Psoroptes cuniculi. Psoroptes cuniculi is a common parasite of rabbits and occurs worldwide. The mites irritate the lining of the ear which causes oozing serum and thick crusts to accumulate within the ear canal. Lesions can spread to the face and neck and perforate through the eardrum leading to middle ear disease (otitis media).

How will I know if my rabbit has ear canker?

Ear mites cause the rabbit intense irritation, so you will notice your rabbit headshaking, ear flapping and scratching at the ears more often than usual. More severe signs may include twisting of the head (torticollis) and spasms of the eye muscles.

If you look down the rabbits ears you may notice crustings and scabs down the ear canal. The rabbit may resent you touching the ears as the condition is also very painful.

Long-term suffering can lead to further problems where the rabbit may lose skin from the ears and succumb to secondary infections which can damage the inner ear and may reach the central nervous system (CNS).

Can my rabbit be treated?

If you suspect your rabbit has ear canker, you should take it to see your vet as soon as possible, since the longer you leave it before treatment the more serious it will get and the longer the rabbit will suffer.

The recommended treatment is an Ivermectin injection once every 10-14 days for three treatments or a Moxidectin injection once every 10 days for two treatments. All in-contact animals should be treated even if they are showing no symptoms. Mild infections may be treated with eardrops.

The systemic treatment should be sufficient to resolve the crusty lesions down the ears, but if necessary they can be removed by being softened in mineral oil before being very carefully removed. Care must be taken not to damage the lining of the ear canal and your vet may need to sedate your rabbit to carry this procedure out safely.

Painkillers (analgesia) in the form of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) may also be prescribed to help with the pain and irritation the condition causes.

What else should I do if my rabbit is suffering from ear canker?

All bedding within the cage/hutch should be disposed of (preferably burnt) after each of the rabbit injections. Hutches should be carefully cleaned and disinfected to ensure there are no mites present which may cause further infections.

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