From May 1st to October 1st is the period of greatest risk from flystrike in rabbits. The term flystrike is used to describe the appalling damage inflicted on rabbits when certain types of flies lay eggs on their soiled fur due to them having “mucky bottoms”. These eggs hatch in to maggots that subsequently feed on the skin and flesh. The main fly culprit is the greenbottle. These are seasonal flies, emerging in April/May after winter and growing in numbers over the summer until the last generation of adult flies enter dormancy between September and October. Hence the May 1 to October 1 danger period for rabbits.
Is my rabbit at risk?
Any rabbit is at risk of flystrike if their droppings become loose and so get stuck to the fur around their back end. This risk is increased in certain rabbits such as those that are over-weight, have dental problems (and so don’t digest their food properly) or are kept in conditions that are at risk of becoming unsanitary when the weather warms up.
At this time of year it’s best to regard all rabbits as “at risk” and so checking their rear ends twice daily is highly advised. Additionally, if any bunny is unusually quiet and listless or even appears restless and shows signs of discomfort then pick them up and check for eggs or maggots. Not all rabbits are that easy to handle though. During annual health checks at your Vets the easiest and most comfortable way of checking a rabbit will be demonstrated so as to make this task as hassle-free as possible. If any matted fur is seen around their back end it’s essential to clean this off immediately. A much more restricted diet should then be offered until their stools become normal again and there is no matting of the fur. In older rabbits though the problem may be more one of arthritis making it difficult for them to get round to clean themselves. At the annual health checks treatment is available for these rabbits now that can aid their mobility and allow them to groom more easily.
How is flystrike treated?
Flystrike is a very serious condition and, sadly, often fatal. However, rabbits can make a full recovery if it is found and treated quickly. Flyblown rabbits are usually in pain and suffering with shock. In the first instance the external maggots need to be removed and the fur clipped away. This is most usually undertaken with a rabbit sedated or under general anaesthetic, which carries a much higher risk when they are flyblown. Affected rabbits may need fluids to help with the loses they’ve suffered as a result of the flystrike, antibiotics to try and help with any infection and pain relief.
Preventing flystrike from happening
The primary reason why rabbits get flystrike is due to their diet being too rich. They are much better suited to a course, tough diet consisting of grasses and hay. If the majority of a rabbit’s daily diet consists of hay with a very limited amount of fresh greens and/or commercial food then most rabbits get through the year without any problems. To be remembered though is the fact that many rabbits get access to a lush, fast growing lawn during the summer. This in itself may then be the source of trouble and restricting access at times may be necessary. Alternatively, cutting back on any ‘extras’ is another way of reducing the chances of your rabbit getting a soiled rear end during the summer.
It is important to remove any soiled bedding daily from the hutch and also disinfect the hutch on a weekly basis. Physical barriers such as adding fly-screens to hutches and runs is another help.
There are a number of products now available that help to repel flies from landing or stop the eggs from hatching if egg laying has occurred. A spray solution called “Rearguard” is a liquid that is applied by sponge to the rabbit and prevents flystrike for up to 10 weeks. It stops maggots maturing to a stage where they can become dangerous. Two applications (May and Mid July) covers the high risk period (May 1 to October 1). Flies have already become attracted to a rabbit if this is needed, which is what we are trying to avoid. But it is a useful help for high risk individuals or where twice daily checks of a rabbit may be difficult for an owner.