Rabbits and Alopecia
Alopecia is the complete or partial lack of hair in areas where hair is normally present. This common disorder in rabbits may often be the symptom of another cause, such as infection, trauma or immune disorder. For rabbits, there is no specific age, breed, or sex that is more susceptible to this disorder.
Symptoms and Types
The primary sign of alopecia is unusual hair loss. Symptoms may progress suddenly or slowly. The exact pattern and degree of hair loss may help determine the cause of alopecia, and identify the condition as primary (happened on its own) or secondary (occurred due to another illness).
Alopecia is associated with some sort of disruption of hair follicle growth. This may result from a number of causes, including parasitic infection (such as fleas or ear mites), infectious disease (such as a bacterial infection), a nutritional defect (especially protein deficiencies), or neoplastic causes (the presence of unnatural clusters of cell growth, such as a tumor). Also, if there are multiple areas of hair loss (multifocal), it is most frequently associated with a parasitic or bacterial infection.
In some cases alopecia may be the result of a behavioral problem known as “barbering.” This is where a dominant rabbit will chew or pull the hair out of its fellow cage-mate; hair loss predominantly appears on the flanks. Alopecia can occur because of normal shedding patterns, especially in breeds such as the Dwarf, Miniature Lop, and Angora.
If alopecia is apparent, there are a number of diagnostic procedures that may be done to determine the cause. A skin scraping and biopsy may be done to rule out any bacterial, parasitic or fungal infections. Additional tests that can be conducted include urine analysis, blood tests, and X-rays.
Treatment and the medications prescribed depends specifically on the underlying cause of alopecia. Medications to treat parasites such as ear mites or fleas, as well as medications to treat bacterial infections, are available. Of course, if the cause is more serious, such as related to a tumor, more drastic measures, like chemotherapy, may be necessary.
Living and Management
Follow-up care after initial treatment depends on the causes of alopecia. If the alopecia is suspected to be the result of “barbering”, the two rabbits must be separated to avoid future incidents.
As there are numerous causes leading to alopecia, no specific prevention method can be recommended. However, a healthy lifestyle, well-balanced diet with sufficient protein, and general cleanliness of the rabbit’s habitat may be helpful in avoiding needless hair loss.
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