ISSN 2398-2969      

Spilopsyllus cuniculi


Synonym(s): European rabbit flea, S. cuniculi




  • Class: Insecta.
  • Order: Siphonaptera.
  • Family: Pulcidae.
  • Genus: Spilopsyllus.
  • Species: cuniculi.

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Clinical Effects



  • Breeds in rabbit burrows in late winter and early spring being dependant on the blood of breeding rabbits.


  • The lifecycle of S. cuniculi is influenced by the reproductive status of the rabbit host.
  • Reproduction is under the control of hormones in the blood of the rabbit host.
  • Corticosteroids within the blood of the rabbit increase just before parturition; this attracts fleas to feed and stimulates the development of eggs within the female flea.
  • A few hours after parturition, the fleas move from the doe and onto the young rabbits to feed, mate and lay their eggs in the nest.
  • The eggs hatch and the larvae feed on flea feces in the nest. 
  • Larvae are legless, creamy-white in colour and have a brown head; they undergo three larval stages before pupating.
  • The mature larval three stage spins a cocoon and undergoes metamorphoses within the cocoon to emerge into the adult flea. Once emerged, the adult flea requires a blood meal.
  • Adult female fleas on bucks and non-pregnant does are more mobile and will move to pregnant does if able.


  • Direct contact.

Pathological effects

  • Hypersensitivity to its antigens has been demonstrated experimentally.
  • Crusts and papules in the sites where it feeds on the ears.
  • Pruritis.
  • Hair loss.
  • Can lead to secondary bacterial dermatitis.
  • In severe cases, anemia can occur.
  • Can act as a mechanical vector and transmit the myxoma virus and rabbit hemorrhagic disease. Within the UK, S.cuniculi is the main arthropod vector to transmit myxomatosis. The virus can persist in the flea for several months.

Other Host Effects

  • A parasite of rabbits and dependent on rabbit blood.
  • Specifically requires blood from pregnant rabbits or from very young nestlings in the breeding season.
  • Will feed on dogs and cats but will not breed on these hosts.


Control via animal

  • Treat with insecticide to kill adult fleas.

Control via chemotherapies

  • Topical administration of selamectin Selamectin at 20 mg/kg every 7 days.
  • Alternatively:
    • Topical administration of imidacloprid Imidacloprid at 10-16mg/kg applied to the base of the neck; this can be repeated after 2 weeks. Imidacloprid is licensed for use in domestic rabbits in the UK.
    • Imidacloprid at 10 mg/kg and moxidectin Moxidectin at 1 mg/kg can be applied topically at the base of the neck once every 4 weeks; this can be repeated three times. This is unlicensed in rabbits.
    • Ivermectin Ivermectin at 0.1-0.2mg/kg administered subcutaneously, and repeated every 14 days.
Note that Fipronil can cause neurological signs and death, and its use is contraindicated in rabbits. Do not use flea collars on rabbits. Discourage owners from dipping or bathing rabbits due to high risk of skeletal fractures, stress and excessive chilling.

Control via environment

  • Treat hutch, run or house with insecticide to kill adult fleas; ensure product is safe to use in rabbit's environment.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Fehr M & Koestlinger S (2013) Ectoparasites in small exotic mammals. Vet Clin North Am Exotic Anim Pract 16 (3), 611-657 PubMed.

  • Carpenter J W, Dryden M W & Kukanich B (2012) Pharmacokinetics, efficacy and adverse effects of selamectin following topical administration in flea-infested rabbits. Am J Vet Res 73 (4), 562-566 PubMed.

  • Pinter L (1999) Leporacarus gibbus and Spilopsyllus cuniculi infestation in a pet rabbit. JSAP 40 (5), 220-221 PubMed.

  • Studdert V P & Arundel J H (1988) Dermatitis of the pinnae of cats in Australia associated with the European rabbit flea (Spilopsyllus cuniculi). Vet Rec 123 (24), 624-625 PubMed.
  • Sobey W R & Conolly D (1971) Myxomatosis: the introduction of the European rabbit flea, Spilopsyllus cuniculi (Dale) into the wild rabbit populations in Australia. J Hyg (Lond) 69 (3), 331-346 PubMed.
  • Rothschild M & Ford B (1966) Hormones of the vertebrate host controlling ovarian regression and copulation of the rabbit flea. Nature 211 (5046), 261-266 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Richardson J (2016) Rabbits and Hares. In: BSAVA Manual of Wildlife Casualties. 2nd edn.  Eds: Mullineaux E & Keeble E. BSAVA, UK. pp 192-209.

  • Varga M (2014) Infectious Diseases of Domestic Rabbits. In: Textbook of Rabbit Medicine. 2nd edn. Elsevier Ltd. pp 435-471.

  • Bourne D, Duff J P & Vikoren T (2012) Poxvirus Infections. In: Infectious Diseases of Wild Mammals and Birds in Europe. Eds: Gavier-Widen D, Duff J P & Meredith A.  Blackwell Publishing, UK. pp 191-209.

  • Oglesbee B (2011) Fleas and Flea Infestation. In: Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult.  Rabbits. 2nd edn. Ed: Oglesbee B L. Wiley-Blackwell, UK. pp 418-419.

  • Kraus A, Weisbroth S H, Flatt R E & Brewer N (1984) Biology and Diseases of Rabbits. In: Laboratory Animal Medicine. Eds: Fox J G, Cohen B J & Loew F M.Academic Press Inc, USA. pp 207-237.

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