What Causes Alopecia in Rabbits?

When you notice your rabbit is losing fur, it can be worrying and puzzling, all at the same time. Rabbits of all ages can be affected by alopecia and it is a common problem seen in many different breeds. Shedding in rabbits can be normal during certain times of year and especially in breeds such as Angora, Dwarf and Miniature Lop, it is when it is notifiable and significant that it could be attributed to alopecia. The causes vary in severity and can include both physical or behavioural issues, so it is important to take your rabbit to see a vet as soon as you notice so that they can treat the underlying root cause and prevent any potential secondary problems.

Signs of Alopecia in Rabbits

The signs of hair loss can vary from small or large bald patches to generalised hair loss seen all over the body, together with visible signs of shedding in their hutch or exercise area, this may be seen gradually over time or appear suddenly. Depending on the cause, other accompanying symptoms may include, flaky or crusty skin, dandruff, inflammation, redness or open sores.

Causes of Rabbit Losing Fur

As mentioned above, the causes can be related to physical or behavioural health problems and on occasions may be attributed to both. The specific type of hair loss and other symptoms affecting your bunny, such as pattern, extent, location etc will help determine what further investigation and treatment your vet will take. Here are some of the common causes:

Diseases and Conditions

  • Parasitic infections such as fleas or mites
  • Bacterial or viral infections for example from excessive exposure to moisture
  • Fungal infections such as ringworm
  • Autoimmune and urinary tract disorders
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Hereditary conditions
  • Tumours and other abnormal growths
  • Dental problems
  • A side effect of certain medications

Behavioural Problems

  • Pregnancy and False pregnancy – they will physically pull hair from hind end to line the burrow before giving birth
  • Over-grooming or hair pulling, usually caused by environmental stress or boredom
  • Barbering – hair pulling or over grooming for the dominant rabbit companion
  • Fighting between rabbit

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet will examine your rabbit to establish the scale of the hair loss, pattern and condition of the affected areas. To rule out other causes, they may also take skin scrapings, blood and urine tests and in some cases biopsies and radiography.

Depending on the cause, treatment for parasitic, bacterial or fungal infections will usually include medication to treat the disease. In the case of tumours, surgery and/or chemotherapy may be required. If the cause is found to indicate a behavioural or nutritional problem, your vet will give you specific husbandry advice and guidance such as changing to a different brand of complete food.

Prognosis of Hair Loss Recovery

After successful identification of the cause of your rabbit’s alopecia, how quickly you start to see a visible difference, will largely depending on what the underlying cause was discovered. With infections, after a short course of treatment, you should notice an improvement relatively quickly whereas treatment for tumours may take much longer.

Prevention

Can anything be done to prevent your rabbit from baldness and hair loss? In some cases, it is possible. Here are some of the actions you can take to prevent episodes of alopecia in your pet rabbits.

  • Ensure your rabbit is regularly treated for parasites where preventative treatment is available.
  • When purchasing a new rabbit, check with the breeders to find out of any relevant medical history of the parents and do some research into the breed.
  • Avoid buying rabbit breeds susceptible to hair loss.
  • Take your rabbit to the vet for 6 monthly health checks so that diagnosis of any conditions can be determined as soon as possible.
  • Ensure your rabbit receives appropriate dental care, e.g. providing suitable chews and gnawing options and having their teeth clipped by a vet where required.
  • Research the best quality complete rabbit food, speak to your vet if you would like further advice on this.
  • Be wary of getting another rabbit without doing some research as introducing certain ages and sexes can cause behavioural
  • Regularly clean and disinfect your rabbit’s hutch to ensure it is free from potentially harmful bacteria.

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