Flystrike is also called ‘myiasis’. It happens when flies lay their eggs on your rabbit, and those eggs hatch out into maggots. Maggots from blowflies: bluebottles and green bottles, are the most dangerous. They can eat into your rabbit’s flesh within 24 hours which can cause death in a very short time.
Prevention is better than cure
Check your rabbit’s bottom every day, more than once a day in the summer. If there is any urine or faeces, clean and dry the area.
Keep the rabbits’ environment clean so that flies are not attracted. Remove dirty litter and bedding.
Apply Rearguard or a similar product as recommended by the manufacturer. This product can be used if your rabbit is at risk of flystrike, as recommended by your vet.
If your rabbit is obese, it needs to lose weight so that there is less strain on joints, it is able to squat properly when toileting and it is able to clean itself properly.
If your rabbit has a wound, keep it clean and dry. If you suspect your rabbit has a urinary problem, then take it to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.
If your rabbit is producing unusually wet faeces, take it to the vet for diagnosis and treatment, and be prepared to change the diet accordingly.
If you suspect your rabbit has arthritis, ask the vet for anti-inflammatory medicine to ease pain in joints and ensure it isn’t overweight.
Are my rabbits at risk?
All rabbits are at risk from flystrike. You should never be complacent. Certain factors increase the risk:
Time of year Flystrike is especially common during the summer, but can occur at any time of the year.
Rabbits with a dirty bottom This usually happens because of poor diet, where faeces or caecotrophs accumulate, or because of painful joint conditions such as arthritis. Any rabbit with a dirty bottom is at very high risk of flystrike. Urine on your rabbit’s fur can also attract flies.
Wounds If your rabbit has an injury flies will be attracted to the smell of blood.
What to do if you find your rabbit has maggots
This is an emergency. Do not delay. You need to get your rabbit to a vet immediately. Its life is in danger and it is in severe pain because it is being eaten alive.
Firstly, keep calm, but phone your veterinary practice immediately. Flystrike is a true emergency – day or night – and treatment cannot wait. So long as it does not delay your trip to the vet, pick off any maggots you can see with tweezers. Do not dunk the rabbit in water. Fur in the affected area may need to be shaved and wet fur clogs the clippers.
Flystrike is a very serious condition and sadly it’s often fatal. However, rabbits can make a full recovery if the condition is found and treated quickly. Flyblown rabbits are usually in pain and severe shock, and they need skilled veterinary and nursing care.
How is flystrike treated?
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 may be in shock. If the vet finds that maggots have already eaten into the rabbit’s body, euthanasia may well be recommended.
What else do I need to know?
Rabbits are particularly susceptible to Flystrike if they are unable to keep themselves clean of urine and faeces. Urinary infection or bladder stones/sludge can cause urine dribbling, soaking the fur with urine and attracting flies. Obesity can make it impossible for a rabbit to clean urine or faeces from its fur and so can arthritis, which is made even more problematic by obesity. In addition, obesity can make it very difficult for a rabbit to squat properly when it toilets and the fur can become soiled. Painful dental problems can make a rabbit reluctant or unable to clean itself properly and can also result in a soiled bottom.
Another problem is unsanitary living conditions. Soiled bedding and litter must be removed regularly, preferably daily. Left in the rabbit’s home, it too will attract flies, and will itself soil fur.
The onus is entirely on the owner to keep a regular check on the rabbit. Even healthy, active rabbits get dirty bottoms from time to time and we can never assume, because our bunnies are usually clean, that they will always be clean. In the summer months especially, rabbits must be checked at least twice per day. It only takes a few hours from flies laying eggs to maggots hatching and eating into a rabbit’s flesh and once they are established, huge damage can be done, from which many rabbits don’t recover. If the bottom is dirty, wash it with warm water and a shampoo for small pets. Rinse thoroughly and dry. The smell of damp fur has been known to attract flies too! Urine left on the fur and skin can cause scalding, where the skin becomes red, inflamed and very sore. Ask your vet for anti-inflammatory medicine and for a topical cream that will form a barrier and at the same time moisturise the skin. As well as treating the immediate symptoms, try to establish why this is happening, prevention being far better than cure.
Please note that it is not always the bottom that can become soiled, for example, Flystrike is surprisingly common just above the tail and in other areas of the rabbit’s body.
It is possible to buy preparations to apply to your rabbit’s fur that will prevent fly eggs from hatching. However, these alone are no substitute for ensuring that your rabbit is healthy enough not to become susceptible in the first place, and they cannot be relied upon to replace regular checks of the rabbit’s bottom and dealing with any soiling immediately.