All About Flystrike

Flystrike is a serious medical condition in rabbits and requires immediate medical treatment. Flystrike occurs most often to rabbits with wet fur, usually caused by urine or faeces. While this is a dangerous condition, it is treatable if caught and treated quickly.


What is flystrike?

Flystrike is a nasty condition caused by flies laying their eggs on a rabbit’s skin or fur. Flystrike occurs most commonly during spring and summer when the weather is warm, and flies are most active. In particular, it is green bottle flies (Lucilia sericota) that cause flystrike.

Flies can lay as many as 200 eggs on the skin, which means a single fly can cause significant skin and tissue damage by laying just one clutch of eggs. Fly eggs hatch in a matter of hours, which makes flystrike difficult to manage. A fly will land on a rabbit and lay its eggs under the fur, usually in warm, moist areas such as the skin around the anus and the inner edge of the ears.

Once the maggots hatch, they burrow into the skin to feed. Not only is this a painful condition, but it can also lead to further ill health and can even be fatal if left untreated.

Flystrike is more likely to occur if:

• a rabbit is kept in a dirty hutch or cage
• is not groomed regularly
• they have an open wound
• they have dental issues
• they suffer with a joint condition
• they are overweight
• the rabbit suffers with urinary problems
• female rabbit with large dewlap (more likely to get wet)


How can it be prevented?

There are several things you can do to prevent flystrike in your rabbit. Firstly, it is important to keep your rabbit’s hutch or cage clean to prevent flies being attracted to that area. This means daily spot cleans to remove soiled bedding, pellets, and any uneaten food, then a more thoroughly weekly clean. During your weekly clean, but sure to empty all bedding, hay, and water, then disinfect the hutch before adding fresh hay, bedding and cleaning and refreshing the water bottle.

You should try to groom your rabbit once per week if they are shorthaired and daily or every other day if they are longhaired. It is also important to check them daily for any dirt around the ears and rear end, as this is what attracts flies to lay their eggs.

Once spring arrives, use a rabbit-safe fly repellent around the hutch and the outdoor run. This will help to keep flies from landing on your rabbit. Between June and September when the weather is hot, you should check your rabbit twice daily, particularly around their ears and rear end.

Ensure your rabbit keeps to a well-managed diet and is not gaining weight. As rabbits gain weight, it is more difficult for them to be able to groom themselves. This makes it much more likely that flies can lay their eggs on your rabbit undisturbed.

A change to your rabbit’s diet can cause loose faeces or even diarrhoea, which can leave your rabbit wet and dirty. This will attract flies and put them at greater risk of flystrike. Do not keep anything near your rabbit’s enclosure that could attract flies. This includes:

• Dog/cat food bowls
• Bins
• Compost heaps
• Garden fertiliser

Giving your rabbit daily exercise will keep them fit and healthy. If your garden is secure, you can allow your rabbit free time in the garden. alternatively, you can give them an outdoor run, so they can exercise safely outdoors without the risk of escape.

It is best to wait until mid-morning to ensure the grass is dry. Dew can cause wet patches on a rabbit’s feet, belly, and rear end, which provides the perfect conditions for flies to lay their eggs.


What are the signs and symptoms?

Symptoms of flystrike are easily identified, and you should seek veterinary advice as soon as you suspect flystrike.

Symptoms to look for include:

1. Fur loss
2. Patches of wet fur
3. Flies around your rabbit
4. Lack of appetite
5. Lethargy
6. A bad odour
7. Irritated skin
8. Digging into hutch corners (pain relief)
9. Open wounds with fly eggs or maggots
10. Collapse
11. Maggots in the rabbit’s hutch/cage

Treatment should be sought quickly as flystrike can be fatal if left untreated. Flystrike can cause secondary infection which will require antibiotics.


How do you treat flystrike?

Flystrike is considered an emergency so you should see your veterinarian even if you spot only one of these symptoms. A veterinarian will do a quick visual and physical exam, checking your rabbit’s temperature, heart rate and lung function.

They will then prescribe pain relief and begin treatment of the flystrike:
• General anaesthetic is common to ensure the vet can remove all the maggots from the affected area without causing any further distress to the rabbit.
• Medication will be prescribed to kill any remaining maggots.
• Antiseptic saline wash to clean the exposed skin.
• Fluid delivered via IV to provide fluids and electrolytes.
• Antibiotics if vet suspects an infection has developed.

Since the maggot’s burrow into the skin, there is damage caused before the owner even notices anything is wrong. Flystrike has a high mortality rate, but quick intervention can save an affected rabbit.

Recovery is usually 1-2 weeks, but skin and hair regrowth can take longer. Rabbits with flystrike should be kept separate from other rabbits until they are fully recovered.

In severe cases where treatment is ineffective or the maggots have caused too much skin or tissue damage, it may be in the rabbit’s best interests to humanely euthanise them to prevent further pain and suffering.

- Hannah Elizabeth

Animal Health and Behaviour Blogger