Flystrike in Rabbits

Written by Tara Evans

Tara started her dream career in a mixed animal practice in Sussex in 2003. She qualified as a veterinary nurse in 2006 and continued to work in first opinion practice until she joined the Vita team in 2018. Her passion for the care and welfare of animals continues and couldn’t turn her back on veterinary nursing completely so continues to work regular shifts at a local first opinion practice.


Flystrike in rabbits

What is flystrike in rabbits?

Flystrike (myiasis) occurs when damp fur – often due to damaged skin or soiled by urine or faeces – attracts the green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata). The fly can lay up to 200 eggs on the skin which hatch into maggots within nine hours and fully mature within 43 hours. Used for centuries to help manage wounds, maggots will first eat away at damaged tissue to clean the area. However, once clean they will then continue to feed on healthy tissue and can cause extensive damage. The high levels of irritation and pain lead to stress and shock, which can be fatal.

Can a rabbit recover from flystrike?

Over 44% of rabbits presenting in first opinion practice with flystrike result in euthanasia. A 2003 study showed that over 10% of all rabbit deaths were caused by myiasis. Rabbits over five years of age are almost four times more likely to be affected by flystrike. The risks are also increased in entire female rabbits compared to those that are neutered.

How can I prevent my rabbit from getting flystrike?

Preventing flystrike involves ensuring rabbits and their environments are kept clean and dry. Other factors to be considered are: ❖ Examination – rabbits should be examined at least twice a day paying particular attention to their bottom area. Look for tiny white specks stuck to the skin or fur; these are the eggs. Clean away any dirt or soiled urine or faeces and dry the area well. Notice any unusual smells – flystrike can have a pungent odour ❖ Grooming – some rabbits may need to be groomed regularly – especially if they struggle to groom themselves due to obesity, dental disease, or arthritic conditions. Dirty bottoms should be washed twice daily and dried thoroughly. ❖ Diet – avoid feeding too many fresh greens and fruit which can cause diarrhoea. At least 70% of a rabbit’s diet should be high fibre, such as hay. ❖ Medication – spot-ons are available and can help to deter flies for up to 10 weeks, but remember these are not a substitute for regular checking and good hygiene ❖ Environmental – using fly screens around hutches and planting certain herbs such as rosemary, green oregano, peppermint and basil can help to reduce fly numbers. ❖ Risk – NADIS have a blowfly alert map created for sheep farmers, which gives a good indication of fly numbers throughout the year across the UK.

How will a vet treat my rabbit with flystrike?

When you vet treats flystrike they start with a full examination. Priority should be given to managing shock and treating any hypothermia and/or hypovolaemia. Intravenous fluid therapy and assisted feeding may be given depending of the severity of the condition. Pain relief will be required and occasionally sedation may be needed. Manual removal of all larvae and eggs is essential and then ongoing wound management can begin. Treatment is often intensive and investigation into potential predisposing factors must be carried out to prevent future infestations. Omnimatrix is a skin healing cream which is licensed for use in rabbits. It can be used at all stages to support wound healing and is great to use as a barrier cream. Find out more here

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