Flystrike or “myiasis” is a devastating condition that can affect pet Rabbits. It occurs mostly in the summer months, and is caused by “Lucilia sericata”, the common green bottle fly. These flies are attracted to damp fur, soiled with urine or soft faeces. Not only is Flystrike, extremely distressing, but it is also potentially fatal. It is a condition mainly found in outdoor hutched pet rabbits, though indoor rabbits can also be affected.
Each year, particularly during the summer months, our clinics sadly see some upsetting cases of flystrike.
Flystrike is caused by the flies that are attracted to the odour of the rabbit’s scent, damp fur, urine, and faeces. The flies will land on the rabbit normally around the rabbit’s rear end and then lay their eggs. Within a very short time of two hours, these eggs will then hatch into maggots. The maggots will then start to feed on the rabbit’s flesh. Each fly can lay up to 200 eggs on the skin. Collectively these maggots can feed through a large area of tissue frighteningly quickly.
This process happens very quickly and is not always caught in time. Flystrike is life-threatening. You should contact your vet straight away if your rabbit is showing any signs of a strike, or if you find maggots on your rabbit. A severe flystrike can cause shock and death within 24 hours.
Flystrike in mainly seen in warmer weather, as the fly population naturally increases over summer, although it’s important to remember that flystrike can occur at any time of the year.
The rabbits most at risk are: Obese rabbits, as obesity can make it very difficult for the affected rabbit to clean themselves and hinders their ability to squat properly, and their fur becomes soiled. If your rabbit is obese you should speak to your vet about a weight-loss programme; Females rabbits with large dewlaps, or large skin folds around their abdomen; Rabbits with urinary, or dietary, problems; Elderly or arthritic rabbits, that can struggle to clean themselves properly, particularly around their rear end; Long-coated breeds, such as Angora rabbits; Rabbits with dental problems and overgrown teeth who are often unable to groom themselves.
Also, any open wounds can attract flies, and poor husbandry and dirty living conditions put the rabbit living inside these at a much higher risk.
The most important way to spot flystrike is by regularly checking your rabbit for any signs of dirty bottoms, wounds, eggs, or maggots. Some rabbits can also show symptoms through changes in their behaviour. Affected rabbits may be very quiet and lethargic. They may also refuse food and drink and you may notice a strong, putrid smell coming from their hutch. Another typical sign is digging in corners to try to relieve the pain.
As the maggots grow and eat away more of the skin, a severe shock can then quickly develop, eventually leading to collapse and death.
If you find any maggots on your rabbit you must contact your vet immediately. This is an emergency. The vet will usually carefully sedate or anaesthetise your rabbit, to be able to carry out a more thorough examination, remove any maggots found, clip, cleanse, and flush affected tissues, administer fluid therapy, pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications, and give an antibiotic cover. Flystrike cases are normally in severe shock, so they do need to be hospitalised for careful cleaning, monitoring, nursing, and syringe feeding to assist their recovery. In some severely shocked cases, or if extensive tissue loss has occurred, sadly, the rabbit may need to be put to sleep to relieve any further suffering.
There are ways to prevent this distressing condition: Use a preventative spot-on treatment. A preparation, which you can get from your vet, can be applied to your rabbit to protect against Flystrike for 8-10 weeks. It is a ‘prescription-only medication’ so your rabbit will have to have been examined by your vet before dispensing; Carry out twice daily checks on your rabbit, particularly during the warmer, summer months. Check particularly over their rear end and bottom area, to ensure that it is clean and dry; Keep an eye out for any sores or open wounds and ensure they are kept clean; Rabbits who struggle to groom themselves, perhaps due to long fur, obesity, age, arthritis, or painful teeth, are at greatest risk. So, take extra care to ensure that they are kept clean to prevent any soiling of their fur. If your rabbit is dirty, wash them gently with warm water, using a shampoo specifically for small pets, before rinsing and drying; Make sure your rabbit is eating normally. If not, then have their teeth checked, as if teeth are too long the rabbit will not be able to eat normally or groom and clean itself; Also, ensure that you are not overfeeding your rabbit, this can result in consistent softer faeces and diarrhoea, resulting in soiled fur. Their diet should consist of 70-80% hay or grass and their concentrate pellets and veggie’s part should be kept to a minimum; Another common cause of flystrike in rabbits is housing them in an unsanitary hutch. Therefore, it is vital that owners clean all their rabbit’s housing regularly. Remove all soiled bedding daily and disinfect all rabbit hutches and runs every week with a pet-friendly disinfectant. It is also worth considering putting up safe fly screens around your rabbit’s hutch.
If you are concerned about flystrike, or your rabbit’s general health, do contact your vet for good professional advice.