Flystrike in rabbits

photo of rabbits on white background

Overview

Flystrike happens when a fly lays its eggs on a rabbit’s fur which hatch into maggots and burrow under the skin to feed on flesh.

Flystrike is a serious condition that can cause death. Contact your vet immediately for an emergency appointment if you suspect your rabbit has flystrike.

Flies prefer areas of wet, warm fur, which is why one of their favourite places to lay eggs is the base of a rabbit’s tail and around their bottom – especially if there has been a build-up of droppings or urine.

Flystrike needs treatment from a vet as quickly as possible – the sooner your rabbit is seen by a vet the better their chance of survival.

Symptoms

  • Not eating (anorexia)
  • Diarrhoea/very soft pellets
  • Maggots visible around back end
  • Patches of moist fur
  • Bad smell
  • Being quieter than usual
  • Collapse.

When to contact your vet

Contact your vet immediately for an emergency appointment if you notice any of the symptoms above or suspect your rabbit has flystrike.

You know your rabbit best. If they don’t have the symptoms listed above but you are still concerned it’s always best to contact your vet.

Causes

Dirty environment

  • Your rabbit is at a much higher risk of flystrike if their living space is dirty - flies will be attracted to them.
  • Make sure to keep your rabbit’s environment very clean, especially during spring and summer.

Dirty back end

  • A build-up of droppings and urine under your rabbit’s tail will attract flies.
  • This is a problem if they are unable to clean themselves properly (common in overweight rabbits, rabbits with tooth problems, arthritis or any other type of pain).

Poor diet

  • A bad diet can lead to diarrhoea which will stick to your rabbit’s fur and attract flies.

Wounds

  • Open wounds will attract flies to lay eggs.

Flystrike is more of a problem in the summer when flies are most active and infections happen more easily.

Treatment

Cleaning and removing maggots

  • All maggots need to be removed.
  • This is usually done under sedation or general anaesthetic.
  • Your rabbit’s fur will be clipped and the skin cleaned with an antiseptic wash.

Insecticides

  • Insecticides will be given to kill any remaining maggots.

A drip

  • If your rabbit has become very poorly, your vet may suggest that they stay in hospital for fluids to be given through a vein in their ear or leg.

Antibiotics

  • Antibiotics aren’t always necessary but might be given if your rabbit has developed an infection due to fly strike.

Pain relief

  • Your vet is likely to give your rabbit pain relief because maggots eat flesh and this is very painful.

Treat the underlying cause

  • Your vet will attempt to treat any health issues that have prevented your rabbit grooming, such as tooth problems, arthritis or spinal problems.
  • If you are feeding a poor diet your vet will advise how to improve it.

Ongoing care

Depending how severe the problem is, your rabbit may need to stay at your vet practice for monitoring and further medication. If/when your rabbit goes home, you will need to finish any courses of medication that have been started and regularly bathe their sore skin.

Outlook

Flystrike is a very serious, often life-threatening condition. Your rabbit has the best chance of survival if it’s discovered and treated quickly. Sadly, it’s often fatal because maggots cause so much damage.

If your rabbit becomes very poorly because of flystrike you may need to consider the difficult decision of putting your rabbit to sleep.

Prevention

Cleanliness

  • Making sure your rabbit and their environment stays clean throughout the year is crucial for fly control.
  • Check your rabbit’s bottom daily, especially in summer.
  • Be aware of any health problems.

Diet

Insecticide/repellent sprays and lotions

  • Can help to keep flies away if they’re a problem.

Monitor toileting and pellets

  • Contact your vet for an appointment if you notice any changes in your rabbit’s toileting habits, especially soft droppings.
Published: January 2019

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Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst