Keep Flea Products Away from Rabbits

pet rabbit lying on bamboo mat

As every rabbit owner knows, pet rabbits can be quite curious and sometimes quite mischievous. That’s why it is extremely important for owners not to leave anything harmful or toxic in areas that the rabbit can enter. You may know that foods toxic to rabbits include avocado, garlic, onions, chives, and chocolate. A less-well-known toxin is fipronil, an insecticide that is used in flea control products for pets, in home pest management products, and in commercial pest control for lawns and crops.

Dr. Michelle Borsdorf, a board-certified specialist in zoological medicine at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, wants to make owners aware of this toxin to keep their pet rabbits safe.

Risks and Signs of Fipronil Toxicity

Dr. Michelle Borsdorf
Dr. Michelle Borsdorf is a board-certified specialist in zoological medicine.

Rabbits can get fipronil toxicity either by ingesting the product orally or by absorbing it through the skin.

Dr. Borsdorf warns, “Rabbits are extremely sensitive to this product, as they have a much higher absorption through the skin, about 10 times that of rats.” Therefore, even a small dose can cause severe toxicity. In young rabbits or rabbits with underlying health conditions, the toxic effects may be heightened.

“This is a life-threatening toxicity that can manifest a few hours to even a few weeks after exposure,” says Dr. Borsdorf. “The main signs to watch for include neurologic signs, such as tremors, seizures, and lethargy. In addition to this, gastrointestinal signs, such as diarrhea, weight loss, drooling, reduced fecal production, and anorexia may occur.”

What Do I Do If My Rabbit Is Exposed to Fipronil?

Dr. Borsdorf emphasizes the importance of immediately seeking an emergency veterinarian if your rabbit is exposed to fipronil or is showing any of the clinical signs previously mentioned.

“Unfortunately, there is no antidote for fipronil toxicity, but treatment may include stabilization and decontamination either dermally or orally. Supportive care may include fluid therapy and pain and/or anti-seizure medications, depending on the case.”

The prognosis is generally poor for these rabbits, so preventing any fipronil exposure is most important. In addition to this, prompt hospital management and treatment is tantamount for survival.

What Are the Best Ways to Prevent Toxicity?  

If fipronil is kept in the house for other pets, such as in flea/tick protection for cats or dogs, it should be securely stored in a place the rabbit cannot enter. Dr. Borsdorf also recommends keeping the rabbit separated from a pet that has been treated with the product to ensure that there is no direct contact or opportunity to groom the product off the treated pet.

She says that other medications to control external parasites, such as pyrethrin/permethrin for dogs and cats, are also highly toxic to rabbits and the same preventive measures should be taken with those.

If your rabbit needs parasite control, consult a veterinarian to choose an appropriate and safe medication, such as selamectin or ivermectin.

The best way to prevent exposing your rabbit to a toxin is to learn which items are toxic to rabbits and then ensure that these curious creatures cannot gain access them. And Dr. Borsdorf says if your rabbit does encounter a toxin, an immediate trip to the emergency veterinarian is critical for treatment.

By Sarah Brink

Featured photo by Ernst Theimer on Unsplash