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Flystrike in rabbits, how bad is it? Can it be prevented?

Rabbits are a very popular pet, being the third popular household pet. They are also the most neglected pet, as they are often just left in a hutch. They seem easy to look after but in reality, they aren’t, we need to look after them and protect them from things like flystrike, something that they can’t themselves get away from. 

What is flystrike?

So, flystrike is how it sounds, flies are the problem. During the summer or warm periods flies rear their ugly heads and start finding their next victim. Flystrike happens when the fly lays its eggs on or around the rabbit. The fly eggs then hatch into maggots. Once hatched on the rabbit they then dig their way through the hair to find the flesh, they can then begin eating the flesh within 24 hours of hatching. Frightening! 

Are all rabbits at risk?

Unfortunately, all rabbits are at risk of flystrike. Some rabbits may be more likely to get it then others depending on how they are kept and other factors. A common problem is when a rabbit has a dirty bottom. By a dirty bottom I mean when they have faeces stuck around their bottom and tail. Once this has started then this is a problem. Flies will love to lay their eggs on this. So why does this happen?

There are several possibilities…

  • A poor diet is a key factor: when the rabbit isn’t eating a good diet, it affects the faeces, muesli diets should be avoided as it allows selective eating. 
  • Have you noticed your rabbit is less active? Maybe they don’t want to go up and down a ramp or maybe they don’t want to have a wonder around the outdoor run? Rabbits can get painful joints too. This is often overlooked, we often don’t think about rabbits and painful joints. If a rabbit has painful joints, it can mean it cannot squat properly to pass faeces or urinate, therefore they end up urinating on their hair, or sitting in it, and faeces are getting stuck to it. If you think this may be the case, it’s always worth getting a vet to check because arthritis like this requires medical management. 
  • Wounds, flies love a wound! If your rabbit is outdoors and has a wound be very aware that flies would absolutely love to lay their eggs on that wound. 
  • Dirty hutches, how often is the rabbit cleaned out? As rabbits are confined to hutches it’s so important, we give them daily fresh bedding, not only because it is nice for them but flies love dirty faeces and urine infested environments. 
  • Overweight, now how many rabbits out there are overweight? Probably a lot more than we think. An overweight rabbit is likely to have painful joints and be unable to turn to clean its bottom, therefore fly haven! 

How do I know if my rabbit has flystrike?

Rabbits are so stoic. They just carry on until it gets too uncomfortable. Signs of flystrike are;

  • Pain.
  • Lethargy.
  • Not eating.
  • Not drinking.
  • No wanting to move around the hutch. 
  • Unusual nasty smell coming from the rabbit/hutch. 
  • Sightings of maggots. 
  • Wounds. 

If your rabbit has any of these signs and you see wounds with active maggots it is very important you seek veterinary help straight away. Untreated flystrike is rapidly fatal. Maggots will keep eating flesh and eating deeper and deeper into the rabbit. 

Can treatment be given?

Depending on how bad the situation is, treatment can be given. Vets will try to remove as many of the maggots as they can. Remove any surrounding hair and treat the wounds. Antibiotics will usually be needed along with powerful pain relief. Bad cases are when the maggots have eaten deeper than just the surface of flesh. This is very painful for the rabbit and sometimes the kindest thing is euthanasia.

Prevention is better than cure. 

Prevention is always better than cure. Some rabbits can recover from fly strike whilst others may not. It is fatal depending on how bad it is. So how can we prevent this?

  • Check your rabbit’s bottom every day, more than once during the summer/warm months. 
  • If your rabbit gets matted hair around their bottom, get this shaved off. It’s probably better you ask your vet/nurse to do this as rabbits’ skin is like tissue paper and cuts very easily so care needs to be given with this. Doing this will help stop faeces sticking around the bottom.
  • Remove any urine and faeces out of the hutch as often as possible.
  • Use a suitable treatment such as Rearguard. This is a non-prescription product that is very effective at helping to prevent flystrike if used correctly. 
  • Encourage your rabbit to lose weight: attend weight clinics if your practice holds them, get advice on how to get your rabbit to lose weight. 
  • Seek veterinary advice if you think your rabbit has joint problems. 

What is Rearguard?

Rearguard is a product that can be purchased from a veterinary practice and big pet shops – it must be supplied by a vet, a pharmacist or an SQP, but you will not need a prescription. It’s a sponge applicator treatment that should be put all around the rabbit’s bottom. It is advised that you start using well before the fly season starts. However, even if you use this treatment, it is still advisable to check a rabbit’s bottom daily.  

If you have any concerns over your rabbit’s health, contact your vet they can advise you. This is a horrible, painful situation for a rabbit to be in so daily checks and clean hutches are the way forward. 

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