Choosing a Rabbit
Housing a Rabbit
Good news for Tubby Bunnies
Introduction to Houserabbits
Litter Training Houserabbits
Flystrike in rabbits: the gruesome facts
Sonya J. Miller-Smith
Flystrike in domestic rabbits is sadly all too common a problem throughout
the summer months, and with this year’s early spring, the problem
is set to go on for an even longer time than usual. Not only is flystrike,
or ‘myiasis’, extremely distressing for all concerned, but
it is also potentially fatal. So, although the following article makes
unpleasant reading, it contains information that all rabbit owners should
be aware of.
What is flystrike?
Flystrike is the infestation of any animal with maggots. Whereas blue
bottles only lay eggs on dead or rotting flesh, green bottles flies lay
eggs in warm, damp places, such as wet fur on animals. The eggs hatch
a day later, and the larvae, maggots, eat into the flesh, i.e. your rabbit.
As the maggots grow, they eat further into the rabbit and, generally,
if it is not found in time, the rabbit will have suffered so much that
it has to be put down.
Which animals may be affected?
Flies will strike any healthy animal, but generally it is those which
have a wet or dirty groin, which are most at risk. However, any rabbit
which is unable to clean itself properly may become infected. Typically
this includes obese rabbits, females with large dewlaps, or skin folds
around their abdomen, rabbits with urinary problems, elderly or arthritic
rabbits, long-coated breeds, and rabbits with teeth problems who are unable
to groom themselves. Any animal with a wound is also a prime candidate
for the fly to lay its eggs, as the odour and moisture from the flesh
attracts these insects.
Individual rabbits can react in different ways to flystrike. Some will
try to escape from the pain, which is usually around their rear end, so
they dig themselves into a tight corner; whilst others will dart about,
and pull at their genital area. If you observe any unusual behaviour in
your rabbit during the summer months, then pick it up immediately and
What to do if you find maggots on your rabbit
First of all – try not to panic, but do act immediately, as this
is an emergency. Gather up your rabbit, either in a pet carrier or wrapped
in a towel, and take it to the vets immediately. If possible, ring ahead,
so that we can be prepared for your arrival and to treat your rabbit immediately.
Flyblown rabbits are usually in pain and shock and need careful nursing
if they are to survive. Generally we admit cases of flystrike, and hospitalise
them for at least 24 hours to get them through the initial infection and
If for any reason, you can not get to a vet immediately, then pick off
as many of the external maggots as you can, using a pair of tweezers.
The maggots which have burrowed into the flesh, can be encouraged to the
surface of the skin, by heat e.g. a warm, wet towel, or by the use of
a hair dryer on a low setting. Ideally you should avoid wetting the rabbit’s
coat, as damp fur will clog the clippers which a vet will use to shave
the infected areas.
Prevention – Better than Cure
Flystrike is a distressing and potentially fatal condition which can
be prevented by a few simple measures. Good husbandry is paramount in
protecting your rabbit, but fly traps and fly repellent plants can also
be used to great effect.
spot-on preparation, appropriately called ‘Rear Guard’ was
launched last year, which can be applied to your rabbit to protect against
flystrike for 10 weeks. It is a ‘prescription-only medication’
and as such, is only available from veterinary practices.
Remove all soiled bedding daily;
Ensure that your bunny is not being overfed, as this can result in
diarrhoea, leading to a dirty groin;
Feed greens and fruit in moderation, as some rabbits can not tolerate
an over-abundance of green food, again leading to diarrhoea and a
dirty bottom. For the same reason, take care when putting your bunny
out on the lawn in the summer, not to allow too much access to fresh
Check your rabbit twice daily to ensure that it is clean and dry.
This includes house rabbits, who can also be at risk;
Disinfect hutches every week.
Old fashioned sticky fly papers are still available from DIY stores
and garden centres, and may be used in the home or the shed;
Nylon netting can be used to cover outdoor hutches and runs, to prevent
flies entering your rabbit’s environment. It can also be used
to create inner fly doors in sheds. But do take care not to trap any
flies inside when hanging it.
Repellent Plants and Seeds:
A number of plants can be used to repel insects and flies. Some may be
planted in pots to sit on top of outdoor hutches or near runs, whilst
others may be dried and hung in the home, or the rabbit shed. Just make
sure that all these plants are out of reach of your bunny.
- Love in a Mist, is a pretty annual, which is a good fly and midge
- Lads Love - Artemisia abrotanum, a small bush with grey-green leaves
and a pungent aroma which acts as a general insect repellent;
- Gilead – Cedronella canariensis, a strongly camphor-scented
evergreen shrub with showy pink flowers. The dried leaves and flowers
make a moth and insect repelling potpourri;
- Herbs – e.g. Balm, Chamomile, Hemp, Lavender, Peppermint, Basil,
and Green Oregano have pungent smells which repel many insects.
If you have any questions regarding Flystrike or any other aspect of
rabbit care, please feel free to call into the practice to discuss them.
© Darwin Veterinary Centre Limited 2002-2006.
All rights reserved.