Scratching in rabbits | Causes and symptoms

Rabbits are quite fastidious creatures. They love to groom and will have the odd scratch. It is important to know what is normal for your rabbit, so you are able to spot potential problems quickly. Scratching more than normal, overgrooming, dandruff, or fur loss may be signs of a parasite infestation. Mites and fleas are the most common parasites affecting rabbits.

PEXELS | Waqed Walid

why do rabbits itch and scratch?

Scratching in rabbits is also known as pruritus. This is a condition that often results in intense chewing, itching, licking, rubbing, and scratching. It frequently causes inflamed and sore areas on the skin. Various issues from mites to allergies can cause a rabbit to itch and scratch, but fortunately, these are treatable.

fur mites

The fur mite, Cheyletiella, is often called ‘walking dandruff’. They measure 0.5mm so may be visible with the naked eye, but are made more obvious because, as they move on the skin surface, they carry dead skin with them, making the dandruff appear to walk. Other signs include scabs, clumps of hair loss and itching.

They are transmitted from other rabbits or via infested bedding but it’s also quite normal for rabbits to carry a few mites. Individuals vary in their response to mites and it’s when numbers get out of control that signs show. This can occur without an underlying reason, but is frequently linked to obesity, arthritis, or dental disease.

ear mites (psoroptes cuniculi)

Ear mites can cause rabbits to scratch their ears intensely, causing hair loss around the ears and head, and thick painful crusts within the ear. The thick crusts may lead to ear infections, causing more pain and signs such as head tilt. 


Rabbits can get fleas, like fur mites, which are blood-sucking parasites that bite rabbits, which, in turn, causes them to itch and scratch.

The fleas do not stay on the body long. They jump on to bite and feed, then jump off again laying eggs in the environment, only going back to the host when they need another blood meal. Other pets such as cats and dogs 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.

PEXELS | Ron Lach


Lice are uncommon, seen usually in large colonies, young rabbits, or in ill and run-down rabbits. They may cause no signs at all, but may cause itching. They are visible with the naked eye so your vet can confirm the diagnosis and provide treatment, as well as look for any underlying issues.


Ringworm, which is a fungus, may also cause itching alongside hair loss. It’s rare in pet rabbits but can be seen in young rabbits, especially living in dirty environments. Ringworm can affect people so it’s important to handle infected rabbits with care.

The main cause of ringworm, 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.

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