What is flystrike?
Flystrike, or ‘myiasis’, is a very serious condition that can affect rabbits (but also other species) particularly in the warmer months. It is caused by flies laying their eggs on the rabbit’s fur, mostly around their bottom as the flies are attracted to wet fur. The eggs then hatch into maggots that start to eat into the rabbit’s flesh. This condition can be rapidly fatal and can be very difficult to treat once the maggots have become established and extensive damage has been caused.
What causes flystrike in rabbits?
The bluebottle and greenbottle flies are most dangerous – each fly can lay up to 200 eggs on the rabbit’s fur, which hatch into maggots within hours. Flies are attracted to wet and dirty fur – hence the rabbit’s bottom is most appealing for them. Anything that makes the flies more attracted to this area can increase the risk of flystrike occurring. Common risk factors therefore include:
- A dirty hutch or living space
- A mucky bottom / diarrhoea
- A condition which makes it more difficult for the rabbit to clean itself, such as arthritis, obesity and dental problems
- Urinary incontinence
What are the symptoms of flystrike?
The symptoms can initially be subtle and difficult to spot, as rabbits are a prey species and so they tend to hide signs of illness and pain, as this would lead to them being killed by predators in the wild. It is therefore very important to keep a close eye on your pet rabbit, to identify any symptoms early. The symptoms of flystrike typically include:
- Quiet and reduced activity
- Sitting with hunched posture
- Teeth grinding
- Reduced food/water intake
- Bad smell
- Wet fur around back end
- Eggs or maggots visible in fur
- Wounds visible
If left undiagnosed or untreated flystrike can be rapidly fatal, so if you have any concerns then please contact your vet straight away.
How is it diagnosed?
On examination of your rabbit, the vet will be able to see the fly eggs and maggots, and the skin damage that they have caused. Maggots will be present within these wounds, thus many more maggots may be present than is immediately obvious, and the wounds are often more extensive than they initially seem.
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How is it treated?
The treatment of flystrike involves emergency care to administer pain relief and a drip if the rabbit is severely affected. The fur will need to be clipped and thoroughly cleaned, removing all the maggots and eggs. Medication will usually be given to kill any remaining maggots and antibiotics may well be needed to treat any infection present.
Often, rabbits with flystrike are not eating, or only eating small amounts. They are therefore at risk of gut stasis, which is a dangerous condition where the gut movements decrease or stop, causing gas to accumulate in the bowl exacerbating the condition. Gut stasis in itself can be fatal. Treatment for gut stasis usually involves nutritional support e.g. syringe feeding with a recovery food, pain relief, medications to promote gut movement and fluids given into the vein or under the skin if the rabbit is dehydrated.
When treating your rabbit for flystrike, the vet will also check for any underlying predisposing factor(s), such as dental disease, arthritis or obesity. They would then suggest additional treatment or management as needed.
What is the prognosis?
Sadly, flystrike in rabbits is often fatal, due to the severity and extent of the wounds that the maggots cause. The best chances of survival are when it is caught early, before too much damage has been caused. It is therefore very important to check your rabbit’s bottom very regularly especially during the Spring and Summer and seek immediate veterinary assistance if you have any concerns.
Can flystrike be prevented?
When it comes to flystrike, prevention is definitely better than cure. The following are ways in which you can reduce the risk of your rabbit suffering from flystrike:
- Ensure their living environment and bottom are clean – check them daily to make sure they don’t have a wet and dirty bottom.
- You can use a fly repellent such as Rear Guard on their bottom in the warmer months. This is available to buy in our Shop.
- Make sure you feed them enough fibre (roughly 85% of their diet should be hay or fresh grass) to help prevent dental disease, as this can increase the risk of flystrike.
- Do not overfeed them – obese rabbits find it more difficult to keep themselves clean, hence increasing the risk of flystrike. Also, overweight rabbits are more likely to suffer from arthritis, which can also inhibit the rabbit’s ability to groom and keep themselves clean, therefore also predisposing to flystrike.