Problem

What is flystrike in rabbits?

During the summer months, our Vets Now emergency clinics see a considerable increase in the number of flystrike cases in pet rabbits.

Flystrike is a devastating condition caused by the fly Lucilia sericata, or a green bottle fly, the same species that infests sheep. These green bottle flies are attracted to damp fur soiled with urine or soft faeces.

Each fly can lay up to 200 eggs on the skin at the rear end of an animal which within hours hatch into maggots and grow by feeding on flesh of the rabbit. The maggots can very quickly eat away large areas of tissue around the bottom, tail, scent glands, belly and back, and affected rabbits are quite literally ‘eaten alive’.

Maggots grow and eat away at the surface of rabbits' skin.

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Symptoms

What are the symptoms of flystrike?

Initially, your pet may seem quiet, so it’s important to check your rabbit’s fur daily for any signs of maggots. As the maggots grow and eat away more surface area of the skin, severe shock develops, eventually leading to collapse and death.

If you find maggots crawling in your rabbit’s fur, you must call your vet immediately.

Treatment

How is flystrike treated?

If veterinary help is sought early, your pet can be saved by receiving prompt treatment comprising of the removal of the maggots, clipping, and cleaning of fur from debris, pain relief, topical soothing products and antibiotics. Fluid therapy, treatment of gastrointestinal complications and syringe feeding may be required in more severe cases. If extensive tissue loss has occurred a rabbit may need to be put to sleep to relieve suffering.

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What can I do to prevent flystrike?

Many affected rabbits we see at Vets Now are generally very well looked after, but it only takes a small amount of soiling for the flies to strike. Rabbits who cannot groom themselves effectively due to long fur, obesity, arthritis or painful teeth are at greater risk.

Checking your rabbit’s bottom at least twice a day will help to detect infestation early. Topical product containing the insect growth regulator cyromazine is also effective to prevent fly eggs from hatching. After an application, protection lasts up 8-10 weeks.  Your veterinary practice will be able to supply you with this treatment.

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