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Rabbit health: a guide to fly strike

Rabbit health: a guide to fly strike
This article contains: pet petplan rabbit pets infections health rabbits

With any luck we will enjoy some sunshine this summer. But while we might love those warm lazy days, they do bring problems: flies. Kath Stathers looks at the danger of fly strike in rabbits.



Fly strike – or myiasis to give it its scientific name – is a problem that can afflict rabbits in hot weather and even be fatal. Flies that are attracted by the smell of urine, faeces or scent glands lay their eggs around the rear end of a rabbit. These eggs then hatch releasing maggots that eat their way into the rabbit's flesh. The maggots release toxins that can cause seizures, listlessness and a state of shock that can be fatal to the rabbit. (Vet Brian Faulkner explains fly strike in this video).


In hot weather you need to check your rabbit's hindquarters twice a day. If at any point you see eggs or maggots, see your vet immediately. If your rabbit has a seizure or seems listless, check them for maggots. Even if you can't see any, contact your vet as they could have burrowed into the anal passage and out of sight.


Any rabbit – healthy or otherwise – can be a victim of fly strike, however those with a wet or dirty groin area are most at risk. There are certain conditions that might make it difficult for a rabbit to clean itself, such as obesity, large skin folds, long hair, arthritis, tooth problems or urinary issues and you should take special care to clean those rabbits' nether regions at least twice a day. It's also worth being extra vigilant if your rabbit has a wound, as flies are attracted to open flesh.


The vet will probably sedate your rabbit then set about removing the maggots with tweezers. He or she might administer a treatment for the shock or toxins and possibly antibiotics to prevent any further infection. The most crucial thing is to get treatment fast.


1. Check on your pet twice a day and make sure that its rear end is clean and dry.
2. Keep your rabbit's hutch clean and dry. Remove soiled bedding every day and disinfect the hutch once a week.
3. Make sure you don't overfeed your rabbit as this can lead to diarrhoea that will stick to the fur and attract flies. For the same reason, don't let your rabbit binge on fresh grass too often.
4. If you think your pet might be particularly at risk, you could cut the fur around its rear end, but don't shave it as a rabbit's skin is very delicate.
5. If your rabbit does have faeces stuck on its fur, use a spot cleanser to clean it as you want to avoid getting your rabbit's bottom wet as much as possible. There are also products that you can apply to your rabbit's fur that prevent fly eggs from developing into maggots. (Talk to your vet before using any treatments to check that they are suitable.)
6. Take measures to keep flies away from your pet's living quarters. You could install fly screens, hang up sticky fly paper or even place plants nearby that are known to repel flies such as lavender, pennyroyal or nigella – make sure these are out of reach of bunny's teeth, however.



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Steve Ridings
Fly strike is the most hideous thing that can happen to a rabbit. My last bunny, Benji, was hit twice due to his not having any teeth to clean himself. Even so, check your bunny! Thanks to a great Vet's Practice and the correct medication he lived to a decent age. Of course thanks to Petplan we were secure in the knowledge Benji got the best and most prompt treatment. But to all.. CHECK YOUR BUNNY'S BUTT!
Alison Langridge
I'd also like to add that it's not just how much is fed, but what is fed. If the bunny isn't getting enough fibre then the teeth won't wear down which leads to spurs, pain and the cessation of caecotroph ingestion - which means the caecotrophs stick to the back end and attract the flies. Fresh air and exercise is also crucial in helping to prevent flystrike, as well as regular checks.I always have advised clients to feed a diet high in fresh, sweet hay - a minimum of 80% - and as much as they like of that. That keeps the teeth worn down, the guts moving healthily and will help maintain ( or acquire) a healthy body weight - all of which encourages caecotroph ingestion and hugely reduces the risk of sticky bottom. It is usually these soft, uneaten caecotrophs that the owners describe as 'diarrhoea'. Mucus is also taken for diarrhoea when there is a gut impaction. However, true 'diarrhoea' in pet rabbits is not common and is usually indicative of enteral disease rather than just overfeeding - unless the rabbit is very young or it has had antibiotics - both of which can upset the gut flora enough to cause diarrhoea.Getting the feeding right isn't enough. It is absolutely essential that the rabbit has constant access to a large predator proof exercise area as that will keep the guts moving well, encourage the eating of hay which in turn is likely to produce normal, dry droppings. It also helps to have a large water bowl rather than a bottle as that will also help the guts perform normally. The run and hutch should have shelter, shade and be well ventilated. Your bunny should also have regular dental checks to ensure that the teeth are not gaining spurs. All of this will hugely reduce the risk of flystrike in your rabbit.
Steve, thanks for your comment on bunny bums! We are bunny butt checking twice a day. Just wondered if you still use this site any ideas as to why our year old lion head bun has gone off her food? Droppings are normal, she's passing urine, just eating really small amounts. We have checked her teeth and given her as advised by a bunny breeder some hawthorn twigs to strip, which she has done - so teeth are obviously fine. She's not listless either. Never had a rabbit before so a tad worried, any ideas? Obviously to the Vet if she doesn't start to eat properly. Cheers.
Deb Edwards
I had pair of lion-heads 2 neutered male litter mates 8 years old at the time. They were groomed regularly, hutch cleaned regularly, vaccinated, claws trimmed and had dentals. One rabbit was dominant - fatter than the other. We had recently changed our rabbits diet as advised by our veterinary surgeon - we had previously been feeding mostly pellets but have moveed to sweey hay, grass, roughage. However disaster struck - fly strike - I was devastated. As soon as I found it - I washed off the maggots, rang the vet - and attended at 0730hrs after staying up with the rabbit throughout the night. He was anesthetised, checked, cleansed, and treated. It was treated with analgesia and antibiotics but unfortunately died 2 days later. His litter mate lived on for a further 2 years and was never affected by the condition
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