Flystrike in domestic rabbits is sadly all too common a problem throughout the summer months, and with this year’s early spring, the problem is set to go on for an even longer time than usual. Not only is flystrike, or ‘myiasis’, extremely distressing for all concerned, but it is also potentially fatal. So, although the following article makes unpleasant reading, it contains information that all rabbit owners should be aware of.
Flystrike is the infestation of any animal with maggots. Whereas blue bottles only lay eggs on dead or rotting flesh, green bottles flies lay eggs in warm, damp places, such as wet fur on animals. The eggs hatch a day later, and the larvae, maggots, eat into the flesh, i.e. your rabbit. As the maggots grow, they eat further into the rabbit and, generally, if it is not found in time, the rabbit will have suffered so much that it has to be put down.
Flies will strike any healthy animal, but generally it is those which have a wet or dirty groin, which are most at risk. However, any rabbit which is unable to clean itself properly may become infected. Typically this includes obese rabbits, females with large dewlaps, or skin folds around their abdomen, rabbits with urinary problems, elderly or arthritic rabbits, long-coated breeds, and rabbits with teeth problems who are unable to groom themselves. Any animal with a wound is also a prime candidate for the fly to lay its eggs, as the odour and moisture from the flesh attracts these insects.
Individual rabbits can react in different ways to flystrike. Some will try to escape from the pain, which is usually around their rear end, so they dig themselves into a tight corner; whilst others will dart about, and pull at their genital area. If you observe any unusual behaviour in your rabbit during the summer months, then pick it up immediately and check underneath.
First of all – try not to panic, but do act immediately, as this is an emergency. Gather up your rabbit, either in a pet carrier or wrapped in a towel, and take it to the vets immediately. If possible, ring ahead, so that we can be prepared for your arrival and to treat your rabbit immediately. Flyblown rabbits are usually in pain and shock and need careful nursing if they are to survive. Generally we admit cases of flystrike, and hospitalise them for at least 24 hours to get them through the initial infection and toxic stages.
If for any reason, you can not get to a vet immediately, then pick off as many of the external maggots as you can, using a pair of tweezers. The maggots which have burrowed into the flesh, can be encouraged to the surface of the skin, by heat e.g. a warm, wet towel, or by the use of a hair dryer on a low setting. Ideally you should avoid wetting the rabbit’s coat, as damp fur will clog the clippers which a vet will use to shave the infected areas.
Flystrike is a distressing and potentially fatal condition which can be prevented by a few simple measures. Good husbandry is paramount in protecting your rabbit, but fly traps and fly repellent plants can also be used to great effect.
A spot-on preparation, appropriately called ‘Rear Guard’ was launched last year, which can be applied to your rabbit to protect against flystrike for 10 weeks. It is a ‘prescription-only medication’ and as such, is only available from veterinary practices.
Remove all soiled bedding daily;
Ensure that your bunny is not being overfed, as this can result in diarrhoea, leading to a dirty groin;
Feed greens and fruit in moderation, as some rabbits can not tolerate an over-abundance of green food, again leading to diarrhoea and a dirty bottom. For the same reason, take care when putting your bunny out on the lawn in the summer, not to allow too much access to fresh grass;
Check your rabbit twice daily to ensure that it is clean and dry. This includes house rabbits, who can also be at risk;
Disinfect hutches every week.
Old fashioned sticky fly papers are still available from DIY stores and garden centres, and may be used in the home or the shed;
Nylon netting can be used to cover outdoor hutches and runs, to prevent flies entering your rabbit’s environment. It can also be used to create inner fly doors in sheds. But do take care not to trap any flies inside when hanging it.
A number of plants can be used to repel insects and flies. Some may be planted in pots to sit on top of outdoor hutches or near runs, whilst others may be dried and hung in the home, or the rabbit shed. Just make sure that all these plants are out of reach of your bunny.
If you have any questions regarding Flystrike or any other aspect of
rabbit care, please feel free to call into the practice to discuss them.