Flystrike in rabbits

Flystrike, technical term 'myiasis', is an extremely distressing condition in rabbits. The term 'Myiasis' means, a maggot infestation of living tissue.

This condition is caused by the fly being attracted to the damp, fur area, of a rabbit's rear end, where the fur may be stained with urine or faeces.

The fly lays its eggs in the damp area of the fur and the larvae develop in the underlying tissue, which hatch within a few hours.

On hatching, maggots (larvae of the fly) attack the healthy tissue, eating into the rabbit's flesh. Toxins are also released creating a state of shock in the rabbit.

Seeing this condition once, is quite enough and it cannot be stressed how important it is, to take your rabbit to the vet immediately.

As you can see, once seen is surely enough. There are worse examples, but this image should be quite adequate to emphasise the severity of this condition.

Flystrike is most widespread in the summer, from May to October but if the temperature remains warm enough, infestation can happen at any time.

Although garden rabbits are most at risk, the condition can also affect house rabbits. Daily examination of a rabbit's rear end, particularly during the high risk period, is important.

An early diagnoses is vital and any condition of flystrike must be considered and treated as an emergency.

Staining of a rabbits rear end can occur for a variety of reasons, such as diarrhoea, loose stools, sitting on its stools owing to cramped conditions, a urinary infection or unable to perform it's natural routine of caecotrophy. (for caecotrophy see below)

To run away from pain, rabbits sometimes try to dig themselves into a tight corner. If you observe any unusual behaviour or your rabbit pulling at the genital area, this should be investigated. An understanding of the factors likely to contribute to flystrike is essential, so that it may be prevented.

Once the cause is identified then the problem can be addressed.

One of the main causes in rabbits, is obesity. If the rabbit is obese it is difficult for the rabbit to groom itself and therefore can't keep its rear area clean.

Obesity may make it hard for the rabbit to perform its normal routine of caecotrophy. Caecotrophy is the practice of eating faeces (food pellets produced by means of digestion and expelled from the anus), directly from the anus.

Since this may not be possible if the rabbit cannot clean it's rear end, the soft droppings can accumulate around the tail base.

In addition to obesity, other reasons for fly strike can be inactive rabbits, those prone to a sticky rear end, if the rabbit has a urinary infection, old rabbits or the rabbit has dewlap or a fold of skin around the rear end.

Rabbits may also soil themselves with urine and contaminate their fur with faeces in a prolonged hutch environment. This is especially true if the rabbit lives in cramped or unsanitary conditions. For prevention of flystrike, the hutch should be disinfected weekly. Bedding and litter area should be changed daily.

The correct diet must be maintained. Any rabbit's diet should contain 70 to 80 % good quality hay and grass.

A change in diet such as putting the rabbit out onto fresh grass may upset the flora of the rabbit's hind gut, so any change should be introduced gradually, starting with an hour or two on the first day and increasing over the next week or so.

Insect repellents for rabbits can be used, but consult your vet on the best ones to use.

Use of a fly screen will help, or a fly 'Zapper' can be hung, in a shed or indoors.

Old fashioned sticky fly papers could be used or nylon netting can be fixed on the inside, or outside, of hutch doors and over runs. This could also be done on the inside of shed doors.

Long haired rabbit's hair must not be allowed to become matted, as this can easily become soiled. There are a number of plants that can be used to repel insects and flies, which can be placed, in pots, on top of outdoor hutches, in sheds, near runs or positioned indoors .

Make sure any plant is placed out of reach of your rabbit. Gilead – Cedronella canariensis, a strongly camphor-scented evergreen shrub with pink flowers. The dried leaves and flowers of the plant make a moth and insect repelling potpourri.

Lads Love - Artemisia abrotanum, a small bush with grey-green leaves and a pungent aroma acting as a general insect repellent.

Nigella - Love in a Mist, a pretty annual, which is a good fly and midge repellent.

In addition, Herbs such as Balm, Basil, Chamomile, Green Oregano, Hemp, Lavender and Peppermint all have pungent smells which repel many insects.

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