Flystrike, a ‘terrible horror movie’ for bunnies
I went to an appointment last week which made me think that I had neglected my rabbit owners and should maybe write a column for them.
The bunny I visited had flystrike, which is a serious and sometimes fatal condition in rabbits. It can occur in other species but rabbits are definitely overrepresented.
Flystrike is caused by flies that are attracted to damp fur, urine, faeces and the odour of the rabbit’s scent.
The flies will land on the rabbit, normally around its rear end, and lay their eggs. Within a very short time, around two hours, the eggs will hatch into maggots.
The maggots will then start to feed on the rabbit. Like some terrible horror movie, the maggots quite literally eat the rabbit alive.
The rabbit I saw was perfectly healthy otherwise, but obesity, age and other illness definitely increase the risk of flystrike.
The rabbit’s owner had been very proactive. She had noticed a few flies buzzing around her bunny and that he was being a little more quiet than usual; maybe not eating quite as much as normal.
She picked up her bunny and looked at his skin and fur, particularly around his tail, and saw little eggs which were white in colour.
She was really lucky to find the eggs before the maggots had hatched and was able to trim the hair with clippers to get all the eggs off.
It’s a good idea to use a fine-toothed flea comb to make sure you get every egg out of the fur. She then bathed the bunny – problem solved.
If you do find a maggot on your rabbit you must call your vet immediately, as your rabbit can get ill very quickly. It is an emergency situation and time is short to save them.
As with most illness, prevention is better than cure and there are some simple rules to follow to help keep flystrike at bay:
1. Check your rabbit a minimum of twice daily to make sure you know their natural healthy state and how much they eat, drink, urinate and poop. This way you can spot changes quickly.
2. Clean the living area daily to remove soiled bedding, which attracts flies. Disinfect once weekly.
3. If your rabbit cannot groom itself, you should be grooming and cleaning him regularly to prevent any soiling of the fur, especially around the tail base.
4. Make sure your rabbit is eating normally. If not, it may be good to get your vet to check the teeth as rabbit teeth grow continuously. If they are too long the rabbit will not be able to eat normally and will not be able to clean itself.
5. Rabbits are herbivores and require a high-fibre diet. Their diet should consist of 70 to 80 per cent hay or grass; concentrates should be kept to a minimum. Overfeeding can lead to obesity which increases the risk of flystrike.
I’m very pleased to say the bunny I saw made a complete recovery, thanks mostly to the swift actions of his owner.
When you’re dealing with flystrike, don’t wait. Your bunny will definitely thank you for it. Speak to your vet about flystrike and keeping your bunny fit and healthy.
Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda