Flystrike is a term given to a disease where blowflies (bluebottles and greenbottles) lay their eggs on a rabbits’ body. Generally, we think of this happening when rabbits have dirty bottoms, but that doesn't always have to be the case. The flies will lay their eggs anywhere where they are attracted to a smell of blood, dirt, faeces or urine. This often means bottoms but could be a wound. Rabbits who have dirty bottoms through a poor diet, are overweight or have mobility problems are particularly at risk.
The area at the base of the spine, between the tail and the dorsum is more commonly affected and the commonest site for flies to lay eggs. This is a difficult area for the rabbit to groom effectively, especially if the rabbit is overweight or painful for any reason (e.g. due to arthritis, other back problems such as dislocations, fractures or other traumatic injuries that may prevent normal lifting of the tail, standing up and directing urine away from the body).
Dental disease may also cause pain and prevent the rabbit from grooming effectively, therefore predisposing to fly strike. Urine scalding and sticky bottoms are common triggers for flystrike in pet rabbits too. These problems should always be addressed as they can have a direct impact on the rabbit’s welfare.
Once the eggs hatch out, the tiny maggots eat the rabbits’ flesh and grow bigger and bigger. The maggots can cause intense irritation and a characteristic bad smell. Rabbits are usually in a lot of pain, and may become restless and have little appetite. Often they need to be rushed to the vets in an emergency as within 24 hours the situation can be life threatening.
How to tell if your rabbit has been struck
- Your rabbit will be unhappy and look poorly
- They will be sat in one place, not hopping about
- There will be a disgusting smell
- Your rabbit may be continually turning to pay attention to their rear
- If you look at your rabbits’ bottom you may see the wriggly maggots and the inflamed flesh.
Even if you cannot be sure, take your rabbit to the vet as soon as possible as this condition requires an emergency appointment. Do not wash your rabbit, as wet fur is impossible to clip. Your rabbit will need a sedative or anaesthetic in order for the vets and nurses to try to save them by removing all the blowfly larvae and treating the damaged skin. If you're lucky, and treatment takes place in time, it’s possible your rabbit may be saved, but unfortunately in some cases it is kinder to put them to sleep. Take your vets advice on this.
You can prevent flystrike by doing the following:
Prevention of flystrike involves prevention of factors that attract blowflies to the rabbit and a reduction in the local environmental level of blowflies. The underlying causes of urine scalding and faecal soiling (sticky bottom syndrome) must be investigated and treated as well.
- Check your rabbits’ bottom daily
- Check your rabbits’ diet is correct – plenty of hay and low in carbohydrates. For further advice on rabbit diets >
- If your rabbit is overweight, try to improve their diet.
- If your rabbit is old and immobile talk to your vet about pain relief and diet.
- Clean out your rabbits’ home daily. Never leave dirty litter trays lying about.
- Look into planting plants which have a natural fly repellent in them.
- Use fly sprays as long as they are safe for bunnies.
- Use a mosquito net from an outdoor shop to go over the hutch/run
- Remember – indoor rabbits are just as much at risk so don't be complacent.
- Always treat your rabbit with “Rearguard” in the early summer before flies are about. This is a solution which you apply to your rabbits’ rear end to inhibit the development of the maggots. You may need to apply it every 2 months throughout the summer.
REARGUARD IS INCLUDED IN YOUR HEALTHY PET CLUB MEMBERSHIP, SO DON’T FORGET TO PICK IT UP AND PUT IT ON!