Lice are wingless insects that belong to order Phthiraptera (and should not be confused with mites or ticks which are arachnids). They are obligate ectoparasites (requires a host to complete their life cycle) and they live externally on most mammals and some birds with some few exceptions.
Do rabbits get lice
Yes. Rabbits can be affected by Haemodipsus ventricosus, which is a sucking louse, especially where these pets are overcrowded or there is poor husbandry. However, their occurrence is not so common as opposed to rabbit fleas, mites, and other external parasites.
These insects are common on the back, rump areas, as well as the side of your bunnies body and they, can be noted if you carefully examine your pet's fur as you are grooming it.
They have a life cycle of 2-5 weeks depending on if the conditions are favorable and their oval-shaped eggs can be seen on the hair shaft of your bunny, even with naked eyes.
Signs of lice on rabbits
Clinical signs will largely depend on the severity of infestation. Some of the symptoms of infestation may include the following:
- No symptoms at all
- Visible eggs and lice on your bunnies coat
- Itchiness or pruritus may lead to self-trauma or self-mutilation. Your bunny may look very irritated, agitated and restless.
- Patches of baldness, fur loss, and thining
- Weight loss since they will spend most of their time scratching instead of eating.
- Anemia is a young bunny in case of severe infestation since these insects are bloodsuckers. Severe cases of anemia may result in weakness and possibly cause death.
Rabbit lice treatment
Diagnosis will involve looking at the "clinical signs, hair brushings, and plucking, adhesive tape strips, microscopy" These parasites are visible with naked eyes and if you look carefully, you should be able to see them.
Let your vet handle their treatment. Treatment is by the use of "ivermectin injections at 7-10 days apart for 3-4 treatments are normally effective."  Since ivermectin may not kill its eggs, you need to prolong the treatment so as to eradicate their eggs as they hatch.
The use of Imidacloprid (AdvantageR) used for lice on dogs can also be used on your bunnies. However, avoid the use of fipronil due to the toxicity it will cause.
Bunny bathing may also be advised by your vet using medicated treatments or pet shampoos such as Beaphar Anti-Parasite Spot On for Rabbit and Guinea Pigs or Johnsons Insecticidal Shampoo. Your vet will advise you accordingly and ensure you do not submerge this pet completely in the water as this stresses it.
Finally, topical ivermectin or selamectin can also be used in a mild infestation. Let your vet advise you further on the right treatments as some insecticides might be harmful to your bunny especially those containing amitraz, permethrin, and pyrethrin.
Can a louse spread myxomatosis and tularemia
Yes. These insects are vectors of various diseases and they can potentially spread myxomatosis, a deadly infectious viral disease as well as tularemia which is also an infectious disease caused by Francisella tularensis bacterium.
If you are in places where rabbit vaccines are available, consider going for the myxomatosis and well as rabbit hemorrhagic disease vaccines or shots.
Prevention will involve proper husbandry as well as treating their environment to avoid reinfection. Consider the following:
- Thoroughly clean their cages disposing of anything that you cannot wash including their bedding, littering tray substrate and so on. Toys, feeding bowls, their cages, can be disinfected using 1 part of bleach to 10 parts of water mixture.
- Brushing your bunny's fur regularly while grooming it using a comb that has fine teeth.
Whereas there has been no reported case of Haemodipsus ventricosus spreading to human beings since they are host specific, ensure they are treated. Also, those affecting guinea pigs, mice, etc are specific to these hosts.