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What is it?

Fly-strike is what happens when flies (bluebottles or greenbottles) lay their eggs in dirty fur or infected skin/wounds, these then hatch into maggots and burrow into the skin.

Why is it important?

The condition can occur in a short period of time (less than a day to maggots, under four days to severe disease), it is very painful and can result in death of the animal. It’s often a sign of an underlying disease which has weakened the rabbit and made them susceptible. It requires you as an owner to recognise risks for the disease, help to avoid them and also to act quickly if you see the start of signs of disease.

What’s the risk?

The risks are higher through the warmer months and when it is most humid, i.e. spring/summer. However, don’t get caught out as it can happen any time of year, especially in nice warm homes. Healthy rabbits should not be affected by fly-strike, there will always be an underlying reason why the fur becomes soiled/skin is damaged:

  • Obese rabbits are less able to reach and clean their bottoms, they also have skin (fat!) rolls which can get infections between them.
  • Mobility issues (e.g. arthritis); affected rabbits are less flexible and unable to groom themselves as effectively.
  • Dental disease can mean rabbits are less able to groom themselves and also to eat their caecotrophs (edible poos), which can then form dirty mats around the bottom.
  • Runny eyes (often associated with dental disease) can cause wet and infected skin around the face and eyes.
  • Abscesses/wounds will often attract flies if not cleaned thoroughly and regularly.
  • Damp and dirty bedding, and other poor hygiene.

  • What happens to the rabbit?

    The flies are attracted to dirty fur or wounds where they lay their eggs. Within 24 hours the eggs hatch into first stage larvae or maggots (L1 larvae), these young maggots don’t cause damage to the tissue directly, but the condition of the skin (damp and dirty) will still cause scald and progress towards infection. It takes around 3 days for L1 larvae to develop to second (L2), then third (L3) stage larvae which will cause tissue damage. Signs of disease are usually seen around 4 days after the eggs have been laid on the skin.

    How do you know what’s going on?

    The flies tend to lay their eggs most frequently around the base of the tail, around the bottom and along the back. This location can change though, to include anywhere with a wound/damp skin. You may detect a bad smell or notice an area of wet fur in these areas. You may see the eggs, maggots or flies around the affected areas when checking your rabbits.

    If the disease has progressed then you may note that your rabbit is quiet or off their food, or they may be restless and appear irritated around the back-end. This is a life-threatening emergency.

    What can be done?

    Your rabbit must be taken to a vet as soon as possible - this is urgent and life threatening. Treatment will consist of all or most of the following:

  • Pain relief.
  • The maggots will need to be removed; your rabbit may be sedated to allow for this to happen in a calm manner. This will involve clipping the fur and cleaning the affected areas.
  • Antibiotics will be administered if the skin has been broken.
  • Open wounds may be treated with an appropriate topical cream, often containing an insecticide.
  • Drugs may be given (injected or spot-on applied to the skin) to kill any maggots that can’t be removed.
  • Investigations will be made into any underlying disease.

  • What can I do to protect my pet?

    It is important to check your rabbits (bottoms and bits) at least once daily; this should be increased to twice or more a day in high risk rabbits or during high risk weather. Ensure you keep the bedding and litter trays as clean as possible to avoid fur-soiling and attracting flies.

    Speak to your veterinary team about products which can be used to prevent/reduce the risk of fly-strike. Book an emergency appointment with your vet if you see any signs - it will not wait until later or the following day.