“The Vet says…” Fly Strike in Rabbits Part 2

In Part 1 we talked about what fly strike is, in Part 2 we talk about what signs you should be looking for and how to prevent fly strike. The first thing an owner must do to prevent fly strike is regularly check their rabbit. This may seem like a very obvious statement but it never ceases to amaze me how many people do not handle and interact with their rabbits on a daily basis. Just putting some food in the cage once or twice a day is not properly caring for your rabbit! It is essential that the rabbit’s perineal area (area underneath the tail around the bottom and vulva/penis) is checked on a daily basis. In a healthy rabbit, this area should be completely clean and free from faecal matter and urine. Any urine soaked fur or faecal material is abnormal and should not be ignored. If the perineal area is found to be dirty then it is a real concern. As a minimum the owner should clean the area by bathing, but ideally the rabbit should be checked by a vet to determine why it is not grooming properly.

Other signs of fly strike that may be noted on examination include smell. The skin lesions associated with fly strike exude a characteristic and unpleasant smell. Also, fly strike is painful and irritating for the rabbit. Therefore, they are often restless and off their food. Careful examination of the soiled perineal area can reveal tiny white fly eggs before they have hatched. More often than not though, fly eggs will hatch to produce maggots that are not initially visible because they are concealed by the matted soiled fur. Signs of fly strike only become apparent when the rabbit gets ill. If you have any suspicions your rabbit is suffering from fly strike get an urgent vet check. As well as careful monitoring of their rabbit for signs of perineal soiling, owners can also prevent fly strike by regular cleaning of the rabbit’s cage to reduce the risk of attracting flies. Also, there are insecticidal products on the market that can be applied to the rabbit to reduce the risk of fly strike. These can be very useful – especially in rabbits where underlying disease makes prevention of perineal soiling difficult. However, they are poor substitute for actually treating the underlying causes of perineal soiling and certainly do not replace regular owner monitoring. Finally, the rabbit’s diet is a vitally important part of prevention of fly strike in rabbits. Why do you think diet is so important and what constitutes an ideal diet for a rabbit?

“The Vet Says…” Fly Strike in rabbits

Summer has arrived and we’re seeing the usual flurry of cases of fly strike in rabbits. Fly strike (proper name myiasis) is an extremely distressing condition for the affected rabbit and can be very challenging to treat. Due to a variety of possible reasons, the rabbit’s perineal area (back end underneath the tail) becomes contaminated with urine or faeces. In the summer months, this will attract flies – especially bluebottles and greenbottles. They lay their eggs in the contaminated fur and when these hatch out the maggots infest the rabbit and literally start eating them alive. It is a dreadful condition and still so common. Healthy rabbits do not get fly strike. There is always an underlying reason for the urine and faecal soiling of the perineum. The most common underlying reasons are diseases that stop the rabbit from grooming itself normally. These include dental disease, inappropriate diet, obesity and spondylosis (spinal arthritis), other forms of arthritis and sore hocks. Normally food passes through a rabbit’s digestive tract twice. The first passage of food through the digestive tract does not produce the typical firm hard pellet that we associate with rabbit droppings. Instead a soft, sticky capsule of material called a caecotroph is produced. A healthy rabbit on an appropriate diet will eat these directly from its anus- a process known as caecotrophy. Although it sounds revolting it is vital that the rabbit performs caecotrophy. Otherwise, they do not obtain all the nutrients from their food and their back ends becoming caked in soft faeces that are ideal for flies to lay maggots on. Caecotrophs are produced several hours after feeding when the rabbit is quiet and undisturbed. This is usually at night time for a domesticated rabbit and hence caecotrophs are sometimes called “night faeces”. The term coprophagia is still used by some people to describe the process of caecotrophy but this is not strictly accurate as coprophagia strictly means eating waste products such as dung and faeces – caecotrophs are rich in vital nutrients for the rabbit so are not waste products. Once caecotrophy has been perfomed, they pass through the digestive tract for the second time and then hard pellets are passed by the rabbit. These will not stick to the fur. Coming up in the next “The Vet Says…”; what steps can an owner take to prevent fly strike in their rabbit?