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Flystrike

Flystrike, also known as myiasis, can affect many species but is especially common in rabbits.

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What is flystrike?

Flystrike occurs when certain types of fly lay their eggs on a rabbit, which then hatch into maggots. This is a horrible disease, as these maggots then eat the rabbit’s flesh. This is often fatal, due to infection or from toxic shock. The best prevention is by keeping your rabbit clean and in good health, and applying preventative treatments in peak season.

Flies, especially bottle flies, like to lay their eggs in warm, damp places. These flies are attracted by the smells of faeces, urine and blood, and therefore like to lay their eggs on any animals that are injured, or dirty and damp.  In the world of pets, sadly rabbits are most at risk of being in this condition, especially as flies are also attracted to the smell of their scent glands.

When the eggs hatch into maggots, which can be within hours, they start to eat the flesh of the rabbit, with disastrous and often rapid results. Affected rabbits can lose large parts of their flesh to the maggots, and the severe shock associated with this is often fatal. 

Due to the rapid development of flystrike, cases can become very serious in a very short space of time. 

Read more about common pet parasites

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Keeping clean & dry

Keeping your rabbit clean and dry is the main way to prevent them developing flystrike. 

Monitor your rabbit’s urination by checking for damp fur regularly. Any incontinence will lead to urine soiling of the fur and attract flies. 

Diet

Feed your rabbit a healthy diet, of hay or fresh grass and vegetables. This will: 

  • Help keep their digestive system in good working order, reducing the risk of diarrhoea
  • Keep them a healthy weight. Tubby rabbits will struggle to clean themselves properly, and can get dirty very quickly, especially around their bottom. 
  • Help keep them in tip-top dental health. Overgrown teeth can cause pain, and affect the way your rabbit eats and grooms. This can quickly have a knock-on effect on their tummy health and cleanliness, and lead to soiling.
  • Avoid rapid diet changes, as this can upset rabbit’s tummies Do not overfeed your rabbit, as this can lead to development of diarrhoea and cause soiling.  


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Preventative treatments

Products are available from your vet to help prevent flystrike. These either:

  • Repel flies or prevent fly eggs from developing into maggots
  • Products are sponged or sprayed on to your rabbit regularly – the schedule will depend on the product you are using, and your vet will be able to advise you on the best option for your rabbit.  Products should be used throughout the fly season, which runs from about May to October.
  • Seasonal flystrike products are a part of our Complete Care Health Plan for rabbits, which also includes their annual vaccinations against deadly diseases myxomatosis, RHD and RHD2, as well as a range of other perks! 

 

 

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The signs of flystrike

Although live maggots are the most obvious sign of flystrike in your rabbit, live maggots may not be the first thing you notice.

Other signs of a rabbit with flystrike include:

  • Your rabbit becoming quiet and tired
  • Lack of appetite
  • Stopping drinking
  • A strong smell from them or from the hutch

Although these are quite generalised signs, if you ever see your rabbit behaving abnormally, always make sure to have a good check of them all over to make sure there is no evidence of flystrike.

Even if you cannot see live maggots, if your rabbit seems unwell, always take them to see your vet. Rabbits naturally hide being unwell, so if they are showing signs of distress they are often quite sick.

How is flystrike treated

If you see maggots on your rabbit, this is an emergency. Call your vet immediately, and take your rabbit to your clinic. The best thing you can do is to get your rabbit to a vet as soon as possible.

Treatment from your vet will involve:

  • Removing the maggots
  • Clipping your rabbit’s fur around the affected area and cleaning the area thoroughly
  • Pain relief
  • Antibiotics

Your vet may also recommend putting your rabbit on a drip, giving medications and supportive care for your rabbit’s gastrointestinal tract, and applying topical products to the affected area.

Your vet will do their best to save your rabbit if they are affected by flystrike, but sadly many rabbits will die from the shock, or need to be put to sleep if tissue damage is extensive. 

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Guinea pigs and flystrike

Although flystrike is commonly associated with rabbits, it can actually affect any animal that has soiled fur or open wounds. Guinea pigs, who often have similar housing arrangements to rabbits, can also be affected and keeping them clean and dry is also of utmost importance, along with regular full-body checks.