Fly Strike in Your Rabbit is an Emergency!
What is fly strike?
During the summer months, pet rabbits allowed to run outdoors might be affected by a fly maggot infestation. Different terms are used for this but fly strike is a common one. Another is to say that the rabbit is fly blown. Healthy, well cared for rabbits are generally not affected by fly strike.
"These fly larvae survive,
thrive, spread and may cause
a tremendous amount of
damage as they eat through
the rabbit's tissues."
Three main factors lead to the development of this condition. First, the fly must be attracted to lay its eggs on the rabbit's skin. Attractive sites from a fly's point of view are skin wounds or areas of soiled and matted fur, especially fur that is soiled by urine or feces. Second, the rabbit either cannot or does not feel like turning round to groom itself around the base of the tail and anus. Third, damp and soiled bedding is an ideal environment for flies to lay eggs, and for maggot growth and development. When the maggots hatch on the rabbit, and if the rabbit cannot groom or clean itself, these fly larvae survive, thrive, spread and may cause a tremendous amount of damage as they eat through the rabbit's tissues.
How can I prevent my rabbit from getting fly strike?
The key factors in preventing fly strike are to ensure that bedding is dry and is cleaned daily, that the rabbit does not have any wounds or ulcerated areas of skin and that there are no problems that prevent him from grooming.
Dental disease can impair the inability to groom. An animal that has sharp hooks on its molar or cheek teeth will not want to groom, since these hooks cause pain when the rabbit extends its tongue to groom in the normal manner. Similarly, overgrown incisor teeth (at the front of the mouth) will impede grooming. Your rabbit's teeth should be checked regularly by your veterinarian and appropriate treatment given if necessary.
Rabbits with back problems may not be able to turn around to groom properly. Any rabbit with diarrhea will be especially prone to fly strike, and will have many other problems associated with the diarrhea.
Rabbits with cystic calculi (bladder stones), crystals or sludge accumulation in the bladder (hypercalcinuria) and/or a primary or secondary bladder infection (cystitis), are prone to having a wet hind end and thus will attract flies.
What is the treatment for fly strike?
The animal will need to be sedated or anesthetized so that all the maggots can be removed and the whole area is cleaned and clipped free of soiled hair. Any wounds will need to be cleaned and debrided (all dead or infected tissue is removed), and be well disinfected with an antiseptic solution. Your rabbit will need antibiotics since there is a high probability of secondary bacterial involvement. In severe cases hospitalization, intravenous fluids, vitamins and other supportive care may be needed. Such intensive care may cure your rabbit of the maggot infestation but in severe cases, extensive surgery may be needed to remove all the dead maggot-ridden tissue. After treatment, it will still be necessary to address the original problem(s) that led to the fly strike.
Are there other things I should consider?
"Dry, clean and well-ventilated housing is an ideal, simple and inexpensive way to minimize the possibility of fly strike."
Ideally, you should take your rabbit to your veterinarian twice yearly for a routine health check, to ensure that dental disease, urinary issues or back problems do not predispose your rabbit to this dangerous condition. Providing dry, clean and well-ventilated housing is an ideal, simple and inexpensive way to minimize the possibility of fly strike.
Contributors: Rick Axelson, DVM
© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.