The symptoms, treatment and prevention of fly strike in rabbits
Fly strike (Myiasis) is predominantly caused by the green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata) and related fly species which lay eggs on living rabbits. The green bottle flies are attracted to damp fur, urine, faeces or the odour of rabbit scent glands. They lay their eggs on or around the rabbit's rear end where they hatch within hours into maggots that eat into the rabbit's flesh, eating it alive and releasing toxins in the process. Fly strike in domestic rabbits is a common problem throughout the summer months.
Flies will strike any healthy animal, but generally those that have a wet and dirty groin area are most at risk. Any rabbit which is unable to clean itself properly may become infected, typically this includes obese rabbits, females with large dewlaps, or skin folds around their abdomen, rabbits with urinary problems, elderly or arthritic rabbits, long-coated breeds, and rabbits with teeth problems who are unable to groom themselves. Wounds also provide a perfect place for the fly to lay its eggs, as the odour and moisture from the flesh attracts them.
If you find maggots on or around your rabbit’s anus immediate veterinary attention is required and the situation should be treated as an emergency. If possible, ring ahead, so that the vet can be prepared for your arrival and treat your rabbit immediately as your rabbit will probably be in pain and shock and will require careful nursing if it is to survive.
If you can not get to a vet immediately, then pick off as many of the external maggots as you can, using a pair of tweezers. The maggots which have burrowed into the flesh can be encouraged to the surface of the skin, by heat such as a warm, damp towel. Ideally you should avoid wetting the rabbit’s coat, as damp fur will clog the clippers that vets use to shave the infected areas, however, dipping your rabbits rear into water can help to get rid of some maggots providing the area is dried afterwards.
The preferred method of treatment for fly strike is to remove the maggots using tweezers and shave off any damp or dirty fur. This should be carried out by your veterinarian as the rabbits skin is very thin and tears easily. Your vet will not only have skilled and experienced staff on hand but they will also be able to administer sedation or an anaesthetic to make the process easier, which in turn will ensure that your rabbit does not experience discomfort. Rabbits that have fly strike will also often need antibiotics to prevent infection. Anti-inflammatory and pain killing drugs are sometimes also administered.
Fly strike is a distressing and potentially fatal condition which can be prevented by a few simple measures. Unfortunately we cannot eliminate flies from the rabbit’s environment and therefore we should keep a watch full eye over the rabbit, especially during the summer months.
Remove all soiled bedding daily
Ensure that your rabbit is not being overfed, as this can result in diarrhoea, leading to a dirty groin
Feed greens and fruit in moderation, as some rabbits can not tolerate an over-abundance of green food, again leading to diarrhoea and a dirty anus . For the same reason, take care when putting your rabbit out on the lawn in the summer, not to allow too much access to fresh grass
Check your rabbit twice daily to ensure that it is clean and dry. This includes house rabbits, who can also be at risk
Disinfect hutches every week.
Keep the rabbit dry and use a cleanser to remove faeces
Keep the hair around the anus very short by trimming with scissors or clippers.
Ridding the environment of flies, by means of chemical insecticides may damage the environment, animals, and people along with the flies. Fly traps catch many flies but not all. Repellents may work temporarily, but one must remember to use them repeatedly. Screens on doors and windows reduce the number of flies that get into the house, but some slip through.
Nylon netting can be used to cover outdoor hutches and runs, to prevent flies entering your rabbit’s environment. It can also be used to create inner fly doors in sheds. But do take care not to trap any flies inside when hanging it.
A number of plants can be used to repel insects and flies. Some may be planted in pots to sit on top of outdoor hutches or near runs, whilst others may be dried and hung in the home, or the rabbit shed. Just make sure that all these plants are out of reach of your rabbit.