Otitis in Rabbits

Key Points

  • The most common causes of head tilt in rabbits are Encephalitozoon cuniculi and bacterial otitis media/interna.
  • Lop-eared rabbits lack normal ear drainage and are at particular risk for developing otitis.
  • Visualization of the horizontal ear canal and tympanic membrane can be difficult even in the normal rabbit. Sedation or general anesthesia may be needed for a thorough otoscopic examination if the ear is painful, or if the canal is filled with exudate.
  • Bacterial infection caused by aerobic and anaerobic microbes is an important cause of otitis. Commonly isolated organisms include Pasteurella multocida, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Streptococcus spp.
  • Ear mite infestation caused by Psoroptes cuniculi is intensely pruritic. A crusty exudate forms within the ear canal and may extend up the pinna. Removal of this crust is painful and unnecessary. Ivermectin or selamectin are effective treatments.
  • Provide analgesia to rabbits with otitis when indicated.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents are often helpful, but avoid corticosteroids since rabbits may be particularly sensitive to the immunosuppressive qualities of these drugs.
  • Use ear lavage to remove debris found deep within the ear canal.
  • Topical therapy should be based on the character of the disease. Always select a product that does not contain steroid. If an ear medication is not available without steroids, ophthalmic drops that contain an appropriate antimicrobial agent can be used in many patients.

The pathogenesis of otitis is often multifactorial in the rabbit. Predisposing factors such as ear conformation increase the risk of otitis in certain breeds. All rabbits have a relatively narrow ear canal, however in Lop-eared rabbits the fold in the ear cartilage is such that the lumen is entirely closed off preventing normal drainage of cerumen from the ear . . .

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