A common and serious ailment in rabbits is “flystrike”. If signs of this are apparent, immediate action should be taken as this disease develops at an alarming rate. Flies are attracted to the smell of urine and faeces around a rabbit’s bottom. They lay eggs here which hatch out into maggots literally within a matter of hours. The maggots feast themselves on the rabbit’s flesh effectively “eating the rabbit alive”.
Domestic rabbits are particularly prone to this disease if they are not kept thoroughly clean and continually suffer from a dirty bottom.
Sometimes excessive carbohydrates in their diet can cause diarrhoea thus attracting flies. Cutting back on carbohydrate-rich grains and changing to pellets which contain more roughage can help. Rabbits should also be given plenty of fresh hay on a daily basis and have access to a grazing area.
In the summer, it is advisable for a rabbit’s bottom to be checked thoroughly twice a day. Any excess faeces should be bathed away. The rabbit’s hutch should be cleaned out daily to help reduce the smell of urine and faeces which attracts the flies.
Your vet will be able to advise you on a suitable diet for your rabbit and on preventative medication which can be applied to your rabbit to help keep flies away for up to 10 weeks.
If you find maggots on your rabbit you should contact your vet immediately for an emergency appointment. Your vet will assess the severity of the situation and if appropriate admit the rabbit for emergency treatment. The maggots have to be carefully picked off with tweezers. This is not pleasant for the rabbit but provided the maggots have not penetrated further than the skin layer, most rabbits can be saved. If the maggots have eaten their way further into the flesh it is usually kinder to put the rabbit to sleep if it hasn’t already gone into shock.
Once the maggots have been successfully removed, the rabbit needs to be treated with antibiotics and painkillers. The rabbit should then be housed indoors and any wounds bathed until healed to prevent the possibility of the flies attacking again
Ownership is on the increase and it is important that owners know exactly what to do if “fly strike” is suspected. Save your pets from this misery by checking them regularly.