Ringworms, tinea or dermatophytosis in rabbits is a superficial cutaneous fungal infection (mycosis) and not a worm as the name ‘ringworm’ may imply. It is characterized by circular lesions.
This rabbit skin problem can affect any part of the body, i.e., it will “invades keratinized structures” or stratum corneum  including your rabbit’s hair, nails, or skin.
The circular lesions, which characterizes dermatophytosis are common on the nose, ears, feet, and eyelids but can spread to any other part of the body including the toenail bed. Also, the lesion sizes may vary.
Besides affecting bunnies, ringworms can affect other pets and animals including sheep, dogs, cats, horses, birds, rodents (including guinea pigs), goats, among other animals. However, it is relatively uncommon in rabbits.
Finally, dermatophytosis is often noted young rabbits that older ones. Furthermore, any stress factor including overcrowding, poor nutrition, or any other environmental factor often increases the chances of ringworms in this pet.
Ringworms are caused by a fungus in the Microsporum and Trichophyton genera. Cases in “outdoor and laboratory rabbits are most commonly caused by Trichophyton mentagrophytes, whereas Microsporum gypseum and M. canis are more common in pet and house rabbits.”
The M. Canis is often noted in dogs and cats but can also affect bunnies. However, Trichophyton mentagrophytes the most common cause of ringworms in rabbits.
Ringworms can be “transmitted easily by direct contact with fungal spores on haircoats, bedding, and soil“. Grooming brushes, gloves, and so on can also transmit these fungal infections. Note that these fungal spores can stay in the environment for several years.
The presence of ectoparasites such as fleas and mites may also aid in the spread of this infection and some types of fungal infections can spread from humans to these pets or from other animals including dogs, cats, wild rodents, livestock and so on to your rabbit and vice versa.
In kits, the infection can arise from contaminated nesting box and contaminated material often from their mother or other adult rabbits. While nursing, direct contact may also be a way through with kits may end up with this infection.
Finally, it is worthwhile noting that some rabbits may be asymptomatic carriers i.e., they can harbor as well as a shed and spread the dermophytes without showing any clinical signs.
Signs of ringworms in rabbits
After infection, it may take up to four weeks (incubation period) before some clinical signs begin showing. Some of the indications that your rabbit has dermatophytosis include the following:
- Circular lesion– The affected area as will have a raised circular lesion with reddened skin. This is the primary symptom that you may note. These lesions often appear to be spreading outwards with the central part seem to be healing.
- Crusting, flaking, and scaling – Also, there may be a yellowish crust that comes off after three weeks, accompanied by scaling. The crusting can be heavy or mild.
- Alopecia or hair loss often occurs in circular patches with a slightly red skin appearance or “hairs may be broken close to the skin surface and become matted.”
- Itchiness characterized by scratching by be noted or not. However, “ringworm usually does not cause itching”  and you do not expect your animal to scratch the affected area.
In case of scratching, note that it can cause skin trauma as well as open a gateway for secondary bacterial infections that may cause rabbit abscesses.
Diagnosis is by direct examination of the hairs or skin scrapings where there is a lesion or by use of a microscope to check for any spores which lines the outside part of the fur shaft.
If the examination is conducted under Wood’s light, it may show the presence of only the Microsporum as the T. mentagrophytes do not fluorescence. Therefore, this test is not conclusive as not all the Microsporum species fluoresce either.
Also, your vet may consider scrapings of the skin “mounted in 10% KOH. This enables to identify the different arthrospores”. Similarly, the Gridley fungus stain, Gomori methenamine silver stain and periodic acid-Schiff may be used to identify arthrospores.
Furthermore, a fungal culture can be used to more accurately diagnose ringworms. Unfortunately, it takes a long time, i.e., up to three weeks before any growth in the culture is noticed.
It is important that this fungal infection in rabbits be differentiated from other skin diseases, infections or conditions including hair pulling, mite infestation, molting, fighting wounds, deficiencies of some vitamin, and so on.
Ringworms in rabbits treatment
Although dermatophytosis is a self-limiting infection which can clear on its own, this may take several months. However, being zoonotic, it can be transmitted to and affect human beings including children who are susceptible.
Additionally, it can spread to other pets and animals. Therefore, treatment is highly recommended as this will also reduce environmental contamination and fasten recovery from this infection.
Treatment will involve the use of oral and topical antifungal creams. If it affects a few spots on the body, consider clipping “the fur around the affected area and treat them with tolnaftate,” miconazole, clotrimazole creams as well as enilconazole spray. These treatments are recommended only for small lesions
For widespread infections, your vet may recommend oral antifungals such as Griseofulvin (not cleared for rabbit treatment in the US), itraconazole, terbinafine, ketoconazole, etc., or both topical and oral medications.
Furthermore, products like Ring Out – Ringworm & Fungus Control, Forces of Nature -Natural, Organic Ringworm Treatment, and Banixx Horse and Pet Care may help you manage bunny ringworms.
Your vet may also recommend medicated dips, or baths including the use of miconazole and keratolytic shampoos as well as lime-sulfur dips if he or she finds it necessary.
Recovery from ringworms may be noted after two weeks from the time you begin a treatment therapy with the improvement of some of the noted clinical signs.
There are some rabbit ringworm home treatments that some people have noted to be effective. We recommend letting your vet help you or try some of the ringworm creams we have mentioned for mild cases.
Stressed and immunosuppressed rabbits are more vulnerable to ringworms and they may take longer to heal.
First, quarantine the infected rabbit to stop the spread of this fungal infection to healthy ones. This will reduce the chances of transmission by the various ways we have discussed.
Secondly, when handling an infected bunny, always wear gloves as it can be transmitted to and affect human beings including children who are susceptible.
Also, consider the disinfection of the rabbit’s cage or hutch. Vacuum or discard any bedding, rugs, blankets, or any other items that your pet encountered. Furthermore, consider cleaning or scrubbing any non-porous items or surfaces using 1:10 of bleach with a contact time of at least 10 minutes or use enilconazole (0.2%).
Remember, proper nutrition, treating any underlying disease and reducing stress can help boost the immunity of these pets and reduce such infections.
Finally, keep in place proper sanitation measures by routinely clean your hutches, cages, and groom your bunny regularly and do not forget to check for the symptoms of this fungal infection.