Rabbit health: a guide to fly strike

While we might love the long hot days of summer, they can be challenging for our long-eared friends.

Flystrike is an extremely serious problem for rabbits during warmer weather. So, what do you need to know about this condition and how can you help prevent your own precious bunnies from becoming victims?

What is flystrike?

Flystrike, or myiasis, happens when flies are attracted to wet or dirty areas on your rabbit’s fur. The flies lay eggs, which then hatch into maggots. The maggots start to eat away at your rabbit’s flesh, releasing toxins at the same time.

If flystrike is left untreated, your rabbit can go into shock and suffer serious illness or death.

Where does flystrike occur?

The most common place to see flystrike is on your rabbit’s bottom, as flies are attracted by the smell of urine, faeces, and your rabbit’s scent glands.

Flystrike can happen in other places, too. Any patches of damp or dirty fur will attract flies, as will wounds. Another common spot for flystrike is just above a rabbit’s tail.

Flystrike is common in warm, humid weather, which is when flies will be more active.

Symptoms of rabbit flystrike

Some symptoms of flystrike can be very obvious, but there are also more subtle signs that your bunny is suffering.

Signs to look out for include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Less active than usual
  • Bad smells
  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Patches of wet fur around your rabbit’s bottom
  • Fur loss around your rabbit’s bottom
  • Open wounds containing maggots or fly eggs

Are some rabbits at higher risk of flystrike?

Rabbits that have trouble cleaning their bottoms will be more susceptible to developing flystrike. This often applies to rabbits that are obese, arthritic or have dental disease. Rabbits with urinary tract infections may dribble urine, which then wets their fur and attracts flies. Dental problems, such as maloccluded and overgrown teeth, prevent rabbits from cleaning their bottoms properly.

A healthy rabbit who tries to keep clean will be at higher risk if their hutch is full of soiled bedding that attracts flies.

How to treat flystrike in rabbits

Flystrike is a serious condition that needs immediate veterinary attention. As soon as you notice any symptoms, request an urgent appointment with your vet.

Do not wash the affected area, as your vet may need to clip the fur and this is impossible if it’s wet. You can brush off eggs and pick off maggots, but the most important thing is to get your rabbit to the vet as soon as possible.

The treatment offered may include:

  • Removal of eggs and maggots under anaesthetic
  • Pain relief
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Antibiotics
  • Treatment of the underlying cause – such as dental disease

Can rabbits survive flystrike?

Yes, but rapid treatment is critical.

If it’s left untreated, flystrike can cause your rabbit to go into shock. Flystrike causes severe pain as the maggots eat away at a rabbit’s skin and even into the deeper tissues. If the damage caused is extensive, your vet may recommend euthanasia.

How to prevent rabbit flystrike

The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) recommends a three-stage approach to preventing flystrike:

  1. Control flies. You can use a combination of approaches including chemical deterrents, flyscreens, and even planting herbs like lavender with fly-repellent qualities. You may also choose to use chemical pesticides, which work in two ways: deterring and killing flies, or preventing fly eggs from hatching. These should only be used under consultation with your vet.
  2. Treat any conditions that could put your rabbit at high risk of developing flystrike. Help them maintain a healthy weight, keep an eye on their teeth, and make sure they’re mobile and can groom themselves regularly. Have your rabbit checked over by a vet at least once per year. Doing this can help you identify any issues as early as possible.
  3. Stay vigilant. Fly eggs can hatch out within hours, so checking your rabbit once or twice daily, as well as maintaining a regular grooming routine , will reduce the risks of your bunny being affected. Make sure you feel and visually examine any high-risk areas, including around your rabbit’s back legs, tail, and genitals.

As always, I’m hoping this information is useful.

Many thanks for taking time out to read our latest blog!

SuPaw Nanny

Source: Brian Faulkner Veterinary Surgeon