Flystrike in rabbits is particularly common during warm weather, and can be fatal. It’s important to stay vigilant and protect your pet this summer.
What is flystrike?
Flystrike (also known as myasis) is a serious condition in rabbits caused by flies laying eggs on their body.
These eggs hatch out into maggots that feed on your rabbit’s skin. Sadly, flystrike is often fatal within 24 hours.
Bluebottle and greenbottle flies are the most dangerous; each fly can lay up to 200 eggs, usually on the rabbit’s rear, which hatch within hours.
These maggots can get through large areas of the body very quickly, with the bottom, tail, belly and back usually the worst affected.
What causes flystrike?
Flies are attracted to warm, damp areas that are soiled with waste and urine, usually around a rabbit’s bottom.
Although any healthy rabbit can develop flystrike, there are factors that increase the risk:
- Warm weather: the fly population increases over summer, although it’s important to remember that flystrike can occur at any time of the year
- Poor diet: this increases the production of soft waste called caecotrophs, which can easily become stuck to the rabbit’s fur
- Elderly or arthritic rabbits: can struggle to clean themselves properly, particularly their rear, which can result in a build-up of waste and urine
- Long-haired breeds: breeds such as angora rabbits are much more prone to picking up dirt and waste, and equally difficult to keep clean
- Dental problems: rabbits with painful dental issues are often reluctant to clean themselves thoroughly
- Open wounds: the scent of blood from an open wound can attract flies
- Poor living conditions: dirty hutches can attract flies, which puts the rabbit living inside it at risk
- Females with large dewlaps or skin folds around their abdomen: these can make it difficult for the rabbit to clean and groom themselves
The symptoms of flystrike
The most important way to spot flystrike is by regularly checking their fur for signs of eggs or maggots. However, some rabbits can show symptoms through their behaviour.
- reduced appetite
- digging into a corner
- being quiet/lethargic
- not wanting to move.
You may also notice a strong smell coming from the hutch.
If you spot maggots or eggs on your rabbit’s fur, contact your vet immediately to arrange emergency treatment. Don’t dunk your rabbit in water. It’s important to handle them with care as flyblown rabbits are usually in pain and severe shock.
The vet will usually sedate or anaesthetise your rabbit to carry out a thorough examination. The rabbit will need careful monitoring after their treatment and will generally be prescribed a course of antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. They may also be given painkillers or anti-inflammatory medication.
If treated early, rabbits can make a full recovery from the condition.
Prevention is essential to keep your rabbits safe from flystrike. Check them over every day, with special attention around their bottom and tail. This should be increased to at least twice a day in summer. Clean off any urine and waste with a mild pet shampoo and warm water, making sure to dry them thoroughly afterwards.
Keeping their hutch and run clean with fresh bedding will also help keep flies away. Bedding and litter should be refreshed every day, with a thorough clean out at least fortnightly. Don’t forget to use pet-friendly disinfectant every time you clean out to kill bacteria.
Make sure your rabbit’s diet is primarily hay-based, with a small portion of fresh vegetables and an even smaller amount of high-quality pellets (a ratio of 80-15-5). This will keep their weight in check and ensure they don’t produce an excessive amount of caecotrophs (although it is normal for your rabbit to produce some, as eating them is an essential part of their digestive system).
Keep an eye out for sores or open wounds and ensure they’re kept clean and dry. If your pet is elderly, arthritic or has large skin folds, take extra care to ensure their body is clean and dry to reduce the risk of infection. For long-haired breeds, carefully trim away excess fur around the tail and bottom in summer months to prevent a build-up of urine and waste.
There are products available to protect rabbits that are at a higher risk of flystrike. These include spot-on formulas and sprays that prevent fly eggs from developing. Speak to your vet for advice that’s tailored to your pet.
For more information about preventing flystrike in your rabbit, speak to your local Medivet practice.
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