As the weather starts to warm up, insect life becomes more active and start to breed. While insects are vital to the world’s ecosystem, some can cause serious health and welfare problems to our pets and rabbits are at particular risk.
What is flystrike?
Greenbottle flies lay their eggs in moist areas. The eggs hatch out into maggots which have voracious appetites. If the eggs have been laid in fur or on skin, the maggots will start to eat the flesh of their ‘host’. This causes severe pain, deep wounds with secondary bacterial infection and, if left untreated, will lead to the death of the ‘host’.
Any animal can be affected but particularly those who are older and weaker, or who have matted or dirty fur, or existing wounds. Of our pet animals, rabbits seem to be especially prone to fly strike. It usually affects their rear end.
In warm weather, a fly can lay their eggs and they can hatch into maggots within 24 hours.
How can I tell if my rabbit has flystrike?
It is really important to check your rabbits over at least twice a day in summer, paying particular attention to the area around their tail and bottom.
The first thing you may notice are the fly eggs. These look like tiny grains of rice attached to the fur. If the eggs go unnoticed, they will hatch into maggots which will start crawling down the hair to the skin. You may notice the maggots moving. Other signs of fly strike include:
- not eating
- sitting still in the corner of the enclosure
- pungent smell
If you notice any of these signs, contact your vet immediately. Fly strike is an emergency! Do not bath your rabbit as this can cause shock and will make treatment much more difficult.
How is fly strike treated?
In severe cases, the kindest option may be to euthanase the rabbit, particularly if the maggots have caused damage to the genital area.
If fly eggs alone are noticed, these can be brushed out and a product applied to kill any maggots or stop them from developing.
In milder cases of maggots, intensive treatment will be needed to ensure good recovery. This will usually include:
- pain relief
- clipping the fur around the area with manual removal of as many maggots as possible (this may require sedation)
- treatment to kill any remaining maggots
- management of the wound
- antibiotics to prevent or treat secondary wound infection
- fluid supplementation
- gut motility medication to prevent or treat secondary gut stasis
The wound may take several weeks to heal fully.
Causes of fly strike
It is also important to try to find out why your rabbit got fly strike in the first place. There is usually an underlying cause which has prevented your rabbit from keeping clean such as:
- urinary infection
- urinary incontinence
- dental disease
- poor living conditions (dirty hutch, not enough space)
How can fly strike be prevented?
Making sure your rabbit is clean is the best way to prevent fly strike as flies are generally not attracted to clean, healthy rabbits. If your rabbit keeps getting dirty around their rear end, the cause of this needs investigating by your vet.
There are various fly repellents available, some are applied directly to the rabbit and others to the environment. This includes:
Please be aware that many of these products are highly toxic to cats so any cats should be kept away from treated rabbits or housing.
Rearguard is a product which will stop any maggots developing to the stage of eating flesh.
Rabbits who have a health condition which makes fly strike more likely will benefit from all of the above to reduce their risk.