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VETSPEAK: Fly problem can be deadly for pet rabbits says Inverness vet Alison Laurie-Chalmers

By Alison Laurie-Chalmers

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Lionhead rabbit. In the Oriental calendar 2011 - the year of rabbit..
Lionhead rabbit. In the Oriental calendar 2011 - the year of rabbit..

Flystrike or “myiasis” is a devastating condition that can affect pet rabbits. It occurs mostly in summer and is caused by “Lucilia sericata”, the common green bottle fly. These flies are attracted to damp fur, soiled with urine or soft faeces. Not only is Flystrike extremely distressing, it is also potentially fatal.

It is a condition mainly found in outdoor hutched rabbits, though indoor rabbits can also be affected.

The flies will land normally around the rabbit’s rear end and lay their eggs which hatch into maggots that then start to feed on the rabbit. Each fly can lay up to 200 eggs and the maggots can feed through a large area of tissue very quickly.

You should contact your vet straight away if your rabbit is showing any signs of a strike, or if you find maggots on your rabbit.

A severe flystrike can cause shock and death within 24 hours.

Obese rabbits are at risk as their obesity can make it very difficult for them to clean themselves or squat properly, soiling their fur.

For similar reasons female rabbits with large dewlaps, or large skin folds around their abdomen, are also at risk, along with rabbits with urinary or dietary problems; elderly or arthritic rabbits; long-coated breeds; rabbits with dental problems and overgrown teeth.

Any open wounds can also attract flies, and poor husbandry and dirty living conditions put the rabbit at much higher risk.

The most important way to spot flystrike is by regularly checking for any signs of dirty bottoms, wounds, eggs or maggots. Some rabbits can also show symptoms through changes in their behaviour. Affected rabbits may be very quiet and lethargic or may refuse food and drink. You may also notice a strong, putrid smell coming from their hutch. Another typical sign is digging in corners to try to relieve the pain.

The vet will usually carefully sedate or anaesthetise your rabbit before carrying out a more thorough examination, removing any maggots found, clipping, cleansing and flushing affected tissues, administering fluid therapy, pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications, and giving an antibiotic cover.

Flystrike cases normally need to be hospitalised for careful cleaning, monitoring, nursing, and syringe feeding to assist their recovery. In some severely shocked cases the rabbit may need to be put to sleep.

There are ways to prevent this distressing condition: Use a spot-on treatment. A preparation, available from your vet, can provide protection for up to 10 weeks; carry out twice daily checks on your rabbit, particularly during warmer months – check particularly over their rear end to ensure it is clean and dry; keep an eye out for any sores or open wounds and ensure they are kept clean; if your rabbit is dirty, wash them gently with warm water, using a shampoo specifically for small pets, before rinsing and drying; make sure your rabbit is eating normally – if not then have their teeth checked, as if teeth are too long the rabbit will not be able to clean itself; also ensure you are not overfeeding your rabbit as this can result in consistent softer faeces and diarrhoea, resulting in soiled fur.

If you are concerned about flystrike, or your rabbit’s general health, do contact your vet for good professional advice.

Alison Laurie-Chalmers is a senior consultant with Crown Vets in Inverness.

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