Flystrike is a nasty and painful condition for rabbits – and it can quickly kill. We recommend keeping a very close eye on your rabbit over the warm summer months so you can prevent flystrike and spot any signs early on.
What is flystrike
Flystrike – also known as 'myiasis' – is caused by maggots feeding on your rabbit's flesh. As well as being very painful, flystrike can be deadly if it's not treated quickly.
Flies are drawn to lay their eggs in dirty and moist fur, especially around your rabbits' bottoms. It only takes a few hours for their maggots to hatch and they can eat deep into your rabbit's flesh in as little as 24 hours.
If you see any maggots on your rabbits, take them to the vet straight away. If flystrike is treated early, rabbits can recover. However, prevention is always better than cure so we recommend:
- Checking your rabbits twice a day in summer for any dirt or signs of maggots around their bum
- Using a preventive insecticide spray
- Properly managing any wounds or ongoing health problems your rabbits might have.
Why do rabbits get flystrike?
Any rabbit can get flystrike, which is why it's important to keep a close eye on them even if they seem perfectly healthy. However, there are some factors which can put your rabbits at more risk:
- Time of year. Flystrike is more common during the summer months.
- Buns with dirty bums. Flies will be drawn to the smell of poo and wee on your rabbit's fur. For them, a dirty bum is the ideal place to lay their eggs. There are lots of reasons your rabbit might struggle to keep their rear-end clean – tooth pain, obesity, a poor diet or bladder problems can all contribute to a dirty bum. However, even perfectly healthy rabbits can occasionally get a dirty bottom, which is why it's important to check them regularly.
- Wounds. The smell of blood from an open would will attract flies to lay their eggs around that area. Any wounds should be checked by a vet and they'll show you how to keep it clean and protected.
What can I do to stop my rabbits getting flystrike?
Prevention is always better than cure. By following some simple guidelines, you can significantly reduce the risk of this horrible condition affecting your rabbits.
Rabbits are most vulnerable when they can't keep their bottoms clean. Here are some things you can do to help them stay clean and well groomed:
- Check your rabbits for maggots every day – and twice a day in summer.
- Use preventive sprays in the summer. Insecticidal sprays help kill any fly eggs on your rabbits before they develop into maggots. Sprays need to be regularly applied during the summer and you'll still need to check your rabbits regularly for signs of flystrike.
- Make sure your rabbits have a perfect diet. Rabbits produce soft poo called caecotrophs which they eat as an important part of their diet. If your rabbits have a poor diet, these soft poos can stick to the fur around their bottom. A diet packed with healthy hay, lots of leafy greens and a side of high-quality rabbit nuggets will keep your rabbits in tip-top condition.
- Remember: really runny poo – diarrhoea – is never normal for rabbits and should be checked by a vet.
- Make sure your rabbits have enough space to exercise. Overweight rabbits will have difficulty grooming and keeping their bottoms clean. Exercise, along with a healthy diet, is really important for keeping their weight in check. Lots of space to hop and fun activities will keep your rabbit active and they'll also have plenty of room to properly groom themselves.
- Look after your rabbits' teeth. Rabbits use their mouths to groom, and painful teeth make it difficult for them to keep clean. Read our tips on keeping your rabbits' teeth healthy here.
- Watch out for water infections (UTIs) or bladder problems. If your rabbit is dribbling wee onto their fur or legs, the smell might attract flies and it can cause other health problems too. Your rabbit will need to be checked by a vet.
- Make sure your rabbits get regular health checks from the vet. It can be difficult to pick up on the early signs of some health problems so it’s important they get regular check-ups. Hidden health problems like arthritis and dental pain may stop your rabbits from being able to groom as easily.
- Trim long hair. In summer, it’s important to ensure your long-haired rabbits – such as Angoras or Lionheads – are regularly groomed. Trimming the fur around their rear end can help avoid problems with sticky poo or dirt getting matted in.
- Monitor wounds closely. Keep them clean and dry and make sure there are no sign of maggots. Your vet can give you tips to reduce risks and help healing.
- Keep their house clean. A clean home is a happy home. Keep your rabbits’ environment clean so that flies aren’t attracted to it. Remove any dirty litter and wet bedding daily.
What should I do if I find maggots on one of my rabbits?
Take them to a vet right away – flystrike is an emergency. Your rabbit will need urgent, skilled care from a vet and nursing team. The quicker your rabbit is treated, the more likely they are to recover.
- Remain calm
- Phone your vet right away
- Take them to the vet without delay - also bring along the bunny they're bonded with, if that's possible.
- Don't treat your rabbit at home – e.g. trying to remove the maggots yourself. This will cause pain and could send your rabbit into severe shock
- Don't dunk your rabbit in water to try to 'drown' the maggots. This can also cause shock.
- Don't delay in getting treatment once you have found a problem. The sooner treatment beings, the better the chances of survival are.
How will my vet treat flystrike?
Your vet will examine your rabbit and assess their condition. They'll advise you on the best course of action.
If the maggots have already eaten far into your rabbit's body it's unlikely they'll be able to recover. Sadly, your vet might recommend that euthanasia (putting your rabbit to sleep) is the kindest option.
If your vet thinks your rabbit's flystrike is treatable, they will clip your rabbit's fur so they can have a proper look at the area. The vet will often sedate your rabbit, or put them under a general anaesthetic, so they can remove all the maggots without causing your rabbits pain or stress. Your rabbit might also be given medication to kill any maggots that have burrowed deeper into the skin, as well as any remaining eggs. They'll probably also need fluids to treat shock, antibiotics to stop any infection and pain relief.