What is flystrike in rabbits?

Flystrike is a devastating condition, which is particularly common during warm weather, caused by the Lucilia sericata, or green bottle fly. These flies are attracted to damp fur soiled with urine or soft faeces. Each fly can lay up to 200 eggs on the skin, usually at the rear end of an animal, which then hatch into maggots within hours. The maggots grow by feeding on the rabbit’s flesh and, collectively, they can get through a large area of skin frighteningly quickly. The rabbit’s bottom, tail, belly and back is usually worst affected.

During the summer months, our emergency clinics see a big increase in the number of cases of flystrike.

Image of two rabbits in a field for Vets Now article on rabbit flystrike
Maggots grow and eat away at the surface of rabbits' skin.

What to do if your rabbit has flystrike?

Flystrike in rabbits is life-threatening. You should contact your vet straight away if your rabbit is showing signs of the disease or if you find a maggot on your rabbit. If it’s out of hours, call your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or 24/7 hospital. Do not wait until your daytime vet reopens as it may be too late.

What are the symptoms of rabbit flystrike?

Initially, your pet may seem quiet and lethargic. They may also refuse food and drink and you may notice a strong smell emanating from their hutch. Another typical sign of rabbit flystrike includes digging into corners to try to relieve the pain. As the maggots grow and eat away more of the skin, severe shock develops, eventually leading to collapse and death. It’s important to check your rabbit’s fur daily for any signs of maggots and if you find them crawling in your rabbit’s fur, you must call your vet immediately.

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Image of a green bottle fly for article on flystrike in rabbits
Flystrike is a devastating condition caused by the green bottle fly

Rabbits with flystrike can and do recover as long as the maggots are removed in the early stages. This is, however, a tricky procedure and should be carried out by your veterinarian. In treating flystrike, it’s likely your vet will clip and clean your rabbit’s fur as well as administer pain relief and soothing products. Rabbits with flystrike may also often need antibiotics to prevent infection. In severe cases, your rabbit may be put on a drip and fed through a syringe. If extensive tissue loss has occurred, sadly, your rabbit may need to be put to sleep to relieve suffering.

 

Flystrike prevention

Rabbits who struggle to groom themselves, perhaps due to long fur, obesity, arthritis or painful teeth, are at greatest risk of flystrike as green bottles are attracted to areas soiled with faeces and urine. Most of the rabbits we see at Vets Now are well looked after, but it only takes a small amount of soiling for flies to strike, so our advice is to check your rabbit’s bottom at least twice a day. If your rabbit is dirty, wash with warm water and a shampoo for small pets before rinsing and drying.

You may also want to apply a topical product containing the insect growth regulator cyromazine as it’s highly effective in preventing fly eggs from hatching. Protection typically lasts for eight to 10 weeks. Your daytime veterinary practice should be able to supply you with this treatment. Another common cause of flystrike in rabbits is housing them in an unsanitary hutch. It’s vital owners clean their rabbit’s bedding regularly.

It’s also worth considering putting up fly screens around your rabbit’s hutch, and growing plants and herbs that repel flies, for example, rosemary, peppermint, basil and green oregano.