Ticks are ectoparasites that feed on the blood of mainly mammals and birds. However, some reptiles and amphibians can have them too. These parasites are arachnids whose typical size is about 3-5mm. Alongside mites, the make the subclass Acari and they are not insects such as lice or fleas that can also affect rabbits.
There are about 850 different tick species classified either into Ixodidae and Argasidae and adult ones have 4 pairs legs and a pear-shaped body which may be engorged as they suck blood from their different hosts. Their general color appearance is often brownish or reddish. However, while immature, they have only three pairs of legs.
Once they get their preferential host, they get attached to them and suck their blood. The saliva that they inject into their hosts as they are sucking blood that might contain not only toxins but also microorganisms and consequently, they are vectors of several diseases.
Finally, the Haemaphysalis leporispalustris or rabbit tick is the most common that affects wild rabbit, hares, cottontails as well as domestic bunnies.
Do rabbits carry ticks or get them?
Yes, bunnies can get ticks, i.e., you can find ticks on wild rabbits, domestic ones including indoor and outdoor pets rabbits, hares, cottontails, jackrabbits, among other lagomorphs. These external parasites can also affect dogs, cats, sheep, horses, cattle, among other domesticated animals.
Both the two types we have mentioned can affect this pet i.e, the Ixodidae (hard) and Argasidae (soft) types of these arachnids can affect bunnies. Let us look at both and give a few examples that affect bunnies.
Ixodidae or hard ticks
This type has a hard shield covering their dorsal surface known as scutum as well as a clearly visible beak-like mouth for sucking blood from their hosts and they are at times known as the hard-shelled ticks.
Their most common species that infest bunnies include the Haemaphysalis leporispalustris, Boophilus spp., Amblyomma spp., Ixodes spp., Dermacentor spp., and Rhipicephalus sp., among others.
Argasidae or soft ticks
Their mouthpart is situated on their underside (making them have a false head) and their body covering, or shell is soft since they do not have the scutum.
They are common in Africa, India and the American continent and those that plague bunnies include the Ornithodoros spp. and the Otobius spp.
Diet, life cycle, and transmission
Except for their eggs, the rest of the stages depend on blood alone. They use their mouth-like structures to suck blood from their various hosts.
Transmission is by the help of Haller’s organ which is a sensory means to help them sense scent, humidity, heat as well as their hosts. Usually, adult ticks will climb on tall grasses and if they sense their hosts, they will craw onto them and attached themselves to their host.
Their life cycle has the egg, larvae, nymph, and adult and most of them depend on three different hosts for a total duration of about 24 months.
Adult ticks lay eggs in the ground during the time when there is moisture and warmth (spring). The eggs hatch into larvae that get attached to a bird or rodent as their first host and begin sucking their blood.
Afterward, when they are fed, they will fall off back to the ground, molt into a nymph. In places that experience winter, the nymph may remain inactive during winter but be active after spring to look for a second host that could be a human being, pet, or rodent. Once fed, they again fall off to the ground and molt into adults.
The adult male and female must again find their final host that could be a pet, wild animal, rodent or a human being. They will feed on their blood, mate and fall off. The male dies afterward but the female waits until favorable weather conditions before they can lay eggs. Their life cycle begins again.
Signs of infestation
If you carefully look at your bunny’s coat, you should be able to see them with your naked eyes especially once they get engorged after sucking a lot of blood from this pet. Check around and between ears, on the dewlap and neck areas.
If the infestation is severe, these arachnids can lead to “macrocytic (enlarged red blood cells) normochromic (referring to a red blood cell of normal color, usually because it contains the right amount of hemoglobin) anemia” 
In some cases, the bites may cause scars and the affected area may be hairless. Therefore, you are likely to notice very tiny spots with scars or areas that do not have fur.
Rabbit tick diseases
In rabbits, ticks can transmit several diseases including myxomatosis (a highly contagious and deadly viral disease as well as rabbit papillomatosis (cause horn-like growth on bunny skin).
Furthermore, they may also transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, haemobartonellosis, ehrlichiosis, cytauxzoonosis, piroplasmosis (babesiosis), hepatozoonosis, among others to not only other animals but also human beings. 
Rabbit tick removal and treatment
This will involve manual rabbit tick removal as well as the use of various products to kill them in cases where the infestation is severe.
If you opt for removal, you need tweezer, forceps or a specialized instrument for removing these parasites. Once you have any of these tools, here is how to remove ticks from rabbits effectively to avoid squeezing their body or crushing them or force some of the bacteria they may have into your bunnies bloodstream.
- Wear gloves and using any of the above tools, grasp the tick by its head or where its attached to the host. Avoid holding it by its body as it can easily burst.
- Pull it outwards without twisting or jerking to prevent its head from breaking off.
- Once removed, immerse it rapidly in alcohol, acaricide or chloroform to kill it and avoid contamination or spreading any of the diseases that the host bunny may have had.
- Disinfect the area where you removed this parasite and in case of inflammation, a hydrocortisone spray will help bring irritation down. Finally, antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin can also be applied.
Avoid breaking or removing it with your fingers as you may catch the various disease it may be carrying. Also, do not apply alcohol or using a hot match to burn it, a lit cigarette or cover it with nail varnish, petroleum jelly, etc., as this will irritate it, make it produce more saliva which may be carrying various diseases.
Note that it is possible for tick paralysis caused by the neurotoxins in the saliva to occur and this tick-borne disease is not caused by infectious organisms.
If carefully removed, it is not easy for the head to remain inside the host and you should not be worried about this unless you did not follow our removal guideline.
Use of ivermectin
Besides manual removal, your vet may consider ivermectin administration if there is a severe infestation. It will effectively get rid of ticks on your rabbit. One good thing about ivermectin is that it one of the mites, worms, fleas and tick treatment for rabbits that is totally safe.
However, avoid the use of insecticides that have ingredients such as amitraz, permethrin, pyrethrin and so on because although they may kill them, their secondary side effects especially toxicity may be a problem. Strictly avoid fipronil use on these pets.
In cases where this pet has become anemic due to a severe tick infestation that has sucked a lot of blood, blood transfusion should be considered. Anemia will be characterized by dizziness, weakness, low energy levels, among other symptoms
Regular rabbit grooming and checking for these parasites is important since your bunny may pick them as it goes to play outside in your backyard. Use a flea comb to brush their fur, feel with your fingers for their presence (bumps), check their ear areas, neck, and dewlap.
Also, consider cutting down nearby grass, bushes, and so own as they often harbor these external parasitic arachnids.