Ticked Off!

With Linda Knox, DVM      

Does this Lucky Bunny (Daisy was rescued by Lucky Bunny Rabbit Rescue, a satellite of San Diego HRS) look ticked off?
I'm homeless; can you help?


Well, she was. Why? Because, when I met her, Daisy was literally covered in ticks.     

At first I noticed what I thought were reddish-colored bumps around Daisy’s neck, ears, and back. The reddish-colored bumps were so tightly clustered together that I thought they had to be large scabs.      

Several hours later, a magnifying glass confirmed that those “scabs” had legs, and they were reddish-colored because these little buggers were feasting on Daisy’s blood:      

Scabs with legs?


OK I don’t like bugs. No, I don’t stand on a chair and scream if I see something creeping and crawling, but dealing with them is not a favorite pastime. Especially those of the blood-sucking and flesh-eating varieties.     

Someday, I’ll write about finding a worm burrowed into my rabbit’s belly (a cuterebra/bot fly larvae – another strong argument for keeping rabbits indoors). Stay tuned!     

But, back to the ticks. I steeled my nerves with a glass of tasty Temecula Valley wine, watched a few instructional tick removal videos on You Tube, and got to work.       

After dipping a tweezers into a cup of rubbing alcohol, I drizzled a small amount onto each tick. One by one, the little bloodsucking beasts extracted their heads from Daisy’s skin. I plucked off each tick and dropped them into a container filled with alcohol. I removed over 50 ticks from poor Daisy Jane:     

About 20 of the removed ticks...


To learn more about ticks, I consulted rabbit-savvy veterinarian Dr. Linda Knox of Palomar Animal Hospital in San Marcos, CA.     

Dr. Knox with Miss Harper Lee


Dr. Knox, what can you tell BNN about ticks and rabbits?
Ticks affect both domestic and wild rabbits that are exposed to the outdoors.  The most common rabbit tick is the hard-shelled tick “Haemaphysalis leporis-palustris.”   They can also be fed upon by the common dog and cat tick “Dermacentor sp.”  The ticks stay on the host while feeding and, because of their symbiotic relationship, the host is usually not aware of their presence.    

Can a tick infestation lead to anemia in rabbits?
Absolutely. In fact, severe infestation can cause fatal anemia in rabbits.  Ticks can also transmit the viral infections myxomatosis and papillomatosis.  Myxomatosis causes severe illness in rabbits and there is no treatment for this disease in the United States.      

I thought myxomatosis was only transmitted by mosquitoes in areas near lakes and ponds? Also, a vaccination is available in the U.K.; do you think it will be available in the U.S.?
The primary vectors (transmitters) for myxomatosis transmission are mosquitoes, fleas and black flies.  However, any blood-sucking insects are possible transmitters, and that would include ticks.  There is a vaccine available in the United Kingdom, but nothing on the horizon that I’m aware of in the United States.    

Can ticks found on rabbits affect humans?
Ticks in the Dermacentor group can transmit zoonotic diseases – infections that also affect humans.  The most common of these diseases are tularemia, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.     

What is the best way to remove a tick from a bunny? I’ve heard that lighting a match to the tick can kill it.
The proper way to remove ticks is to grasp it with a thumb forceps or tweezers as close to the skin as possible.  Any remaining ticks that are either not accessible or not visible can be killed with a subcutaneous injection of Ivermectin.  Drowning of the tick or “lighting” with a match is not advised due to safety issues to the host animal (in this case, a rabbit).  A topical application of Revolution, the prescription flea product, once a month is a good preventative, but is only useful against ticks of the Dermacentor group.

Are certain rabbits more susceptible to ticks? For example, a rabbit with a compromised immune system? Or, do some rabbits just have very tasty blood that appeals to certain parasites?
There is no susceptibility difference in rabbits – any rabbit housed outdoors, in an environment with heavy tick prevalence, will be fed upon.      

Daisy was abandoned, and we don’t know her background. How did she get so many ticks? Would you qualify this as “severe”?
Fifty ticks is a “severe” infestation.  She must have been living outdoors for some time in an area near bushes and/or tall grass.  She could have been in a hutch, but definitely near a wooded area!      

UPDATE: Daisy was treated with a topical application of Revolution and is completely tick-free.      

 Thanks, Dr. Knox!      

Dr. Linda Knox is an accomplished and experienced veterinarian. At U.C. Davis she earned: a BS in Zoology, a DVM degree, and a Masters in Preventative Veterinary Medicine.  Dr. Knox has always had an avid interest in small, exotic pets and has many years of experience treating rabbits, rodents, ferrets, and birds.  She currently lives with her Senegal Parrot, Bogart, and rescue dog, Fiona.  When Dr. Knox is not treating cats, dogs, and exotic animals, she donates her time to animal rescue groups and plans adventurous trips to exciting destinations like Africa, South America, Ireland, and Costa Rica. Dr. Knox also enjoys skiing, SCUBA diving, hiking, cycling, and camping. She may be reached at 760.727.7622.