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FlyStrike in Rabbits

All rabbit owners should be aware of Flystrike, or “myiasis”

“Pancake” was a lovely, comical, two-year-old Lion-Head Rabbit. His owner called the surgery in some distress, as she had seen a couple of maggots crawling around underneath his tail and hadn’t eaten his food that day. Pancake had Flystrike, and it was advised that he was admitted immediately for urgent treatment. 

All rabbit owners should be aware of Flystrike, or “myiasis”. This is a serious condition in rabbits. Not only is this extremely distressing, but it also can be potentially fatal. 

Flystrike is most common in the summer months. It is caused by flies that are attracted to damp fur, urine, faeces, blood, or discharges, and the odour of the rabbit’s scent. The flies will land on the rabbit normally around the rabbit’s rear end, or on any dirty skin, and then lay their eggs. Within a very short time of 2 hours these eggs will then hatch into maggots. These maggots will then start to feed on the rabbits’ tissues. This process happens very quickly and sadly it is not always caught in time. These maggots can eat into your rabbit’s flesh within 24 hours, and quickly cause shock and sadly death. 

All Rabbits are at risk from flystrike, and so you should never be complacent. Certain factors do increase the risks though. Rabbits most at risk are: Overweight, Obese rabbits; Rabbits with large dewlaps, or skin folds around their abdomen, which makes it difficult to clean and groom themselves; Rabbits with consistently soft faeces causing faecal matting, or with any urinary problems; Elderly or arthritic rabbits; Long coated Rabbit breeds, such as Angora rabbits; Rabbits with dental problems with overgrown teeth, making it difficult to physically groom themselves; and Rabbits with any wounds, eye or ear infections as flies are also attracted to any discharges.  

Typical signs symptoms of Flystrike in Rabbits are not wanting to move and hiding away and digging into a corner of the hutch or run. Being quiet and lethargic. Not eating their usual food. You may also notice a strong, foul smell coming from the hutch. 

If you find any signs of maggots on your rabbit, you must arrange an appointment with your vet immediately, as your rabbit can become ill very quickly. This is an emergency; Flystrike is a very serious condition and sadly it is often fatal. Flyblown rabbits are usually in pain and severe shock, and they do need skilled veterinary and nursing care. The vet will usually sedate or anaesthetise your rabbit to carry out a very thorough examination. Fur will be clipped away so that the vet can find and remove all maggots on your rabbit’s body. Anaesthesia carries a much higher risk than normal because flyblown rabbits are often in shock. If the vet finds that maggots have already eaten deeply into the rabbit’s own body tissues, a humane euthanasia may well be recommended 

There are some things you can do to try to prevent this distressing condition. Do regular thorough twice daily checks on your rabbit during the warmer months (June to October), and once daily checks in the other months of the year. Check your rabbit over particularly under its tail and bottom area to ensure that it is clean. If there is any urine or dried faeces, then clean and dry this area thoroughly, any rabbit with a dirty bottom is at very high risk. If your rabbit cannot easily groom itself, you should be grooming and cleaning him regularly to prevent any soiling. Remember to check over the whole rabbit, as it is not always the bottom that can become affected. Ensure that you keep your rabbit’s diet the same and don’t overfeed, as this can result in diarrhoea. Rabbits are herbivores and they enquire a high fibre diet. Their diet should consist of 70-80% hay or grass, and any rabbit mix or concentrates and other foods should be kept to a minimum. If your rabbit is overweight, it needs to lose weight so that it can squat properly when toileting and is able to clean itself properly. If your rabbit has any wounds, keep these clean and dry and have them checked over. If you suspect your rabbit has a urinary problem, or if your rabbit is producing unusually wet faeces, or caking faeces around their bottom, again take them to your vet for advice and treatment. If you suspect your older rabbit has arthritis, discuss anti-inflammatory treatments to ease pain in joints and again ensure your Rabbit it is not becoming overweight. If your Rabbit has an eye or ear infection, again arrange an appointment for a check-up at your Vet. Make sure your rabbit is eating normally. If not, get your Rabbits teeth checked as rabbit teeth do grow continuously, and if they are too long the rabbit will not be able to eat normally or clean itself. Any soiled bedding and litter must be removed daily, as this will attract flies and will itself soil the Rabbit’s fur. A long-acting repellent spot-on preparation, which you can get from your Vet practice, can be applied to your rabbit to protect against Flystrike for up to ten weeks. 

Thankfully, lovely Pancake's Flystrike was caught in the early stages and all maggots were removed. His owner was then vigilant with twice daily checks and cleaning and used a Spot-on treatment on him as advised additional cover. 

If you are concerned about your Rabbit or want advice about preventative treatments for Flystrike. Do contact your Vet practice for good professional advice. 

 

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, 

Senior Consultant, 

Crown Vets

 

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