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Prevention of flystrike in rabbits

Flystrike is an extremely painful and potentially fatal condition that can occur, seemingly without warning, in the warmer months. This article summarises how to prevent flystrike and what to do if your rabbit is affected. If you would like more advice, don’t hesitate to contact your local Healthy Pet Club practice – as with most conditions, prevention is better than cure.

How flystrike occurs

Flystrike occurs when fly eggs that were laid in a rabbit’s fur hatch into maggots. The maggots then eat the rabbit’s flesh, literally eating it alive. Eggs can hatch in a matter of hours so you must keep a close eye on your rabbit in the summer months. Flies will lay eggs in damp fur that is soiled with urine or faeces, so ensuring that your rabbit is clean is key to prevention. The rabbit’s bottom and tail area are typically affected, but any wounds, skin folds or areas that remain damp and dirty are at risk.

Symptoms

Flystrike is usually obvious:

  • Wet, matted fur
  • Flesh and maggots visible.

If you don’t spot the lesion itself, you may notice that your rabbit is quieter than usual, or not eating. If this happens, take a closer look immediately – with flystrike, hours can make the difference between life and death.

If flystrike is not spotted in its early stages, rabbits become depressed, and may go into shock and die. Rabbits that are very distressed on arrival at the vet may require euthanasia.

Management

Flystrike is an emergency – your rabbit is being eaten alive.

  • Contact your vet immediately, no matter what the time of day/night
  • Do not wash the fur (wet fur is more difficult to clip).

Prevention

With a little vigilance and forethought, you can prevent this distressing condition. Here’s how:

  • Check your rabbit (once/day in winter, twice/day in summer), paying particular attention to any wounds, and to her bottom, tail, belly, and any skin flaps or areas that may stay moist
  • Wash dirty areas with warm water and pet shampoo, then rinse and dry
    • If the skin is inflamed, talk to your vet
  • If urine or faeces is building up on your rabbit’s fur, talk to your vet about possible causes
  • Reduce the risk of diarrhoea by providing a healthy diet
  • Control risk factors that make it difficult or unpleasant for your rabbit to squat and stay clean:
    • Obesity
    • Arthritis
    • Painful teeth
  • Remove soiled bedding and litter daily
  • Control flies
    • Fly screens, papers and zappers
  • Talk to your vet about use of an insect growth regulator that prevents fly eggs from hatching.

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