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The symptoms, treatment and prevention of fly strike in rabbits

Fly strike (Myiasis) is often caused by the green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata) and related fly species laying eggs on rabbits. The green bottle flies are attracted to damp fur, urine, faeces and the odour of rabbit scent glands. They lay their eggs on or around the rabbit's rear. They hatch within hours into maggots that eat the rabbit's flesh as well as releasing dangerous toxins. Especially, during the summer months, fly strike in domestic rabbits is a serious problem.

Symptoms

Flies will strike any healthy animal, but generally those that have a wet and dirty groin area are most at risk. A rabbit whom is unable to clean itself properly may become infected. Typically this includes obese rabbits, females with large dewlaps, or skin folds around their abdomen. It also affects rabbits with urinary problems or diarrhoea, elderly or arthritic rabbits, long-coated breeds, and rabbits with teeth problems. Flies are also attracted to wounds as the odour and moisture of the flesh provide the perfect habitat for egg laying.

Treatment

If you find maggots on or around your rabbit’s anus you should consult your vet immediately. If possible, ring ahead, so that the vet can be prepared for your arrival and treat your rabbit immediately. Your rabbit will probably be in pain and shock and will require specialised care.
If you cannot get to a vet immediately, 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. This can be done through heat; for example a warm, damp towel. Ideally you should avoid wetting the rabbit’s coat excessively. This is because damp fur will clog the clippers that vets use to shave the infected areas. However, dipping your rabbit’s rear into water can help to get rid of some maggots. Ensure you dry the area afterwards.  

The most effective treatment is done by removing the maggots using tweezers and shaving off any damp or dirty fur. This should be carried out by your veterinarian as rabbit’s skin is very thin and tears easily. Your vet will not only have a skilled and experienced staff on hand, but they will also be able to administer sedation or an anaesthetic to make the process easier. This 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.

Prevention

Fly strike is a distressing and potentially fatal condition. However it is easily preventable. Whilst we cannot eliminate flies from the environment by monitoring your rabbit daily you should be able to dramatically lower the risk of fly strike.

  • Remove all soiled bedding daily
  • Ensure that your rabbit is not being overfed. This can result in diarrhoea, leading to a dirty groin
  • Feed greens and fruit in moderation. Some rabbits cannot tolerate an over-abundance of green food and it can lead to diarrhoea and a dirty anus. For the same reason, take care when putting your rabbit out on the lawn in the summer, so as to prevent access to excessive amounts of 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 weekly.
  • 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.
Ways to Repel Flies

Ridding the environment of flies, by means of chemical insecticides may damage the environment, animals, and people. 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 may 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. 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.

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