Fly Strike and Your Rabbit

Summer is just around the corner, but with the warm weather comes a serious threat to your pet rabbit. Fly strike (technical term ‘myiasis’), is a devastating condition where the female green bottle fly lays her eggs on the fur of the rabbit’s bottom area. The maggots then hatch in as soon as 24 hours after the eggs are laid and proceed to eat their way into the rabbit’s flesh. As you can imagine, this is an extremely painful and distressing condition for the rabbit, who may go into shock. The condition is potentially fatal.

Who gets it?

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The green bottle fly is attracted to damp, warm conditions. Dirty, mucky fur around an animal’s bottom area provides an ideal environment for egg laying. Whereas any healthy animal can be at risk, those with diarrhoea or urinary incontinence are more likely to attract the fly, as well as those who have difficulty cleaning and grooming themselves. This means that over-weight, arthritic rabbits, or those with dental problems can also be prime targets . Animals with open wounds will also attract the fly. Although this article talks mainly about pet rabbits, it is important to remember that any animal can be a victim of fly-strike. This includes guinea pigs, dogs and cats. Fly-strike in dogs and cats is most commonly seen where there is an open wound or the animal is very sick.

What you can do

  • It is important to regularly check your rabbit’s bottom to ensure it is clean and dry. In the summer months it is recommended to check your rabbit at least twice a day, more if you have a long-haired breed or your rabbit lives outside. The fur should be clean and dry, with no redness or swelling. If this is not the case, a trip to your vet is recommended to clear up any problems. As always, prevention is better than cure, and a product called Rear Guard is available to dab onto your rabbit’s fur. This product does not repel flies, but stops maggots from developing on your rabbit. It is effective for up to 10 weeks and should be used as routine in the summer months.
  • Ensure your rabbit eats a healthy diet, with lots of fibre in the form of hay. This will help keep the digestive system healthy and prevent problems with diarrhoea and soft faeces. Fresh food should be given in small amounts only, especially greens. Contrary to popular belief, it is not recommended to feed rabbits lettuce, as they find the high levels of cellulose difficult to digest and this can cause diarrhoea.
  • Check your rabbit’s teeth regularly (about once a week) to ensure they are not too long. Overgrown teeth make it difficult for rabbits to groom themselves and this can lead to a mucky bottom. Make sure your rabbit has enough chewing material in the form of wooden toys and tree twigs. Again, plenty of hay in the diet is essential to help wear down the teeth.
  • Overweight bunnies will find it difficult to reach around to clean their bottoms, so take care not to over-feed and make sure there is plenty of room to exercise. The only food that should be offered unlimited is hay, which should make up between 80% and 100% of a rabbit’s diet.
  • If your rabbit seems to be behaving unusually, this may be cause for concern. Rabbits in pain from fly strike may be less active than normal, overly restless or try to hide away. They may audibly grind their back teeth together and appear overly interested in their bottom area. These signs should not be ignored – pick up your rabbit and checks its bottom. It is important to remember that many rabbits do not exhibit any signs of pain, so it is essential to check its bottom as routine.
  • Hutches should be cleaned and bedding changed regularly. Soiled bedding should be removed as soon as it is noticed.

What should you do if you find maggots on your rabbit?

If maggots are found on your rabbit, your rabbit has fly strike and this is an emergency situation. You need to ring your vet immediately and they should see your rabbit straight away. You can help by picking off as many maggots as you can on the way to the vet, but the most important thing is to get there ASAP.

Simply taking the time to care for your rabbit properly and maintain its living quarters means he can enjoy the nice weather with minimal risk to his health. If you need any further information or would like to purchase some Rear Guard, please contact us and we will be happy to help.