Fly Strike: Do you know how to protect your rabbit?

The Bristol Rabbit Clinic are running a campaign to ensure rabbit owners recognise the symptoms of fly Strike. Fly Strike occurs when flies lay their eggs on a rabbit’s skin and the eggs hatch out in to maggots which burrow under the skin. Without prompt veterinary treatment fly strike is fatal.

You can minimise the risk of fly strike by reducing the flies around your rabbit, making sure your rabbit isn’t attractive to flies and checking your rabbit over regularly.

Fly Control
Basic hygiene and fly control will help protect your rabbit against fly strike. To minimise flies near your rabbit you should:

  • Clean out litter trays/toilet corners daily.
  • Hang non-toxic (no poison) sticky fly papers out of reach of your rabbit.
  • Place rabbit (and house hold) waste in sealed bins, away from the rabbit’s area, and clean bins regularly with disinfectant.
  • Fly screens/netting can be placed over windows or the front of your rabbits hutch.
  • Remove uneaten fresh food

Rabbits at High Risk
Some rabbits are at a higher risk of fly strike than others. The following are high risk factors:

  • Rabbits with mobility problems, arthritis or rabbits that are over weight. Rabbits in this category can have difficulty cleaning themselves which can attract flies.
  • Rabbits that get sticky poops (excess cecotropes) stuck to their fur. This makes rabbits very attractive to flies. It can be improved by changes to the diet including encouraging your rabbit to eat more hay.
  • Rabbits with long fur. This can make cleaning more difficult and provide warm damp areas attractive to flies.
  • Rabbits with injuries. Open wounds are very attractive to flies. You should check your rabbit regularly for wounds and take extra precautions.
  • Rabbits with damp fur. Damp fur is very attractive to flies. You should not bath your rabbit. Also be wary of rabbits with teeth issues that may dribble.

If your rabbit falls in to a high risk group your vet may recommend treating it with a maggot development inhibitor such as Rear Guard made by Novartis Animal Health. This is applied to your rabbits fur and is designed to prevent maggots developing to the dangerous stage in their life cycle.

Checking Your Rabbit
Maggots develop rapidly so rabbits should be checked twice a day to detect fly strike quickly so it can be treated. Fly eggs are small white/cream/yellow and shaped like a grain of rice. Maggots are short stubby looking worms coloured between white and yellow. You should particularly check the area around your rabbits tail and between its legs.

If you find your rabbit has fly strike call the vet immediately. Do not try washing them off your rabbit, as damp fur can make the removal harder for the vet. You can start removing the eggs/maggots with teasers on the way to the vet.

Your vet will shave the area and remove the maggots under the skin then treat the rabbit with fluids (for shock), painkillers and antibiotics to prevent infection.

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16 Responses to “Fly Strike: Do you know how to protect your rabbit?”

  1. I’m definitely heeding your warning about Fly Strike.
    Your warning is subtle and to the point.
    I’m a novice dwarf bunny owner that is thinking about building a rabbit run.
    I had not even thought about needing to take preventive measures to keep the flies and other insects away.
    Thank you for the warning.
    The only things missing front your outstanding article are pictures showing what the flies and maggots look like.

  2. Andrew says:

    I had to have my rabbit put down today because of flystrike. He was OK yesterday but this morning the amount of maggots were so many that I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was as if he was rotting away. I noticed a yellow piece of debris near his tail and didn’t know what it was so I decided to bath him when I got hold of him and turn him on his back I noticed maggots and blood near his genitals. I thought I could drown them but I was very wrong. I called the emergency vet whom told me it was indeed an emergency and thus I wrapped him up and drove to the vet immediately but it appears that they had got into his skin and would have burrowed further in even with treatment. The vet said they could not do anything and that the only humane thing was to euthanise. It broke my heart to see best best friend (literally) in this state but I didn’t want him to die a slow agonising death and so he was put to sleep. If only I had known before what I know now I hope I could have saved him. God Bless You Eeyore (his name) and I hope you are at peace and pain free now. Please forgive my lack of education about rabbits and pet shops should be held accountable for not warning people about these things and for breeding carelessly without thought for welfare of the animals ( my rabbit had numerous other genetic problems which I think played a role in his eventual demise.

  3. nili says:

    I am so sorry for your loos Andrew. I agree with you on pet shops though they lack education on rabbits themselves. People who are considering rabbits should buy it from a good breeder. I was once sold a rabbit from a pet shop and the bunny was ill when I got him but I didn’t know so it died in a couple of weeks when I went back to the pet shop to tell them I found out that all the other bunnies that was kept in the same cage got infected. how careless these people are is just unbelivable. I think the way you treat animals tell a lot about you as a human being. Again i’m sorry you’ve lost Eeyore but I’m sure he knows you loved him.

  4. Emma says:

    My mum’s rabbit has fly Strike – it was absolutely awful. And i’m sure always is.

    The weather is starting to warm & i’m now a very neurotic Lionhead bunny owner myself… All we can do is keep the environment (inside and out) clean and dry and check regularly. Oh, and pray.

    Luckily Peanut is a very clean rabbit, but i am still checking her bits daily.

    Would be interesting to have some photographs of the stages (although graphic, i know) so we know what we are looking for.

    Many thanks,


  5. paul says:

    Our rabbit was put to sleep on the 17th of may 2014. we regularly bathed her and checked her over but the flies hit and within 24 hours she was being eaten from the inside. We were devastated at how it took hold so fast. One day our rabbit (mabel) was prancing round the garden, the next she was hunched in the corner of her hutch. we rushed her to the vets but it was too late. the vet thought the only humane thing was to put to sleep. we are all absolutey devastated by it. She was like a member of the family. She used to come indoors, sit on your knee, lie on her side to have her tummy tickled. The place seems so empty know. I could never have a rabbit again.

    • Tamsin says:

      I’ve very sorry to hear about your rabbit – it’s horrible and can happen so quickly 🙁

    • Sabrina says:

      We lost our girl Tibar on Friday. She was standing begging for her favorite treat Thursday and by the time I got off work Friday she was infested. We rushed her to the vet but it was to late. We are heartbroken. We have our male and are so worried. He’s in the house for now, we still see a couple of the green flies outside. Sorry for your loss.

      • Tamsin says:

        I’m very sorry to hear that. If you are worried about your male, you could use a product called Rearguard which you apply to the rabbit’s fur around the back/tail area. It inhibits the fly development so any eggs laid never get to the stage they can cause harm.

  6. H Collins says:

    My son lost his rabbit Harry yesterday from fly strike , he was a lion head and we checked him constantly to make sure he was clean as having lost a rabbit before from this awful condition we were very aware of how quickly it developes . My boy was devestated and we will after 30 yrs of having these beautiful creatures never have one again . We took every precaution , he had net on his cage , kept spotlessly clean had his nails trimmed which I don’t think many people who buy a rabbit realise they need doing. We showered him if he was dirty and hair dried his fur so he wasn’t damp and still failed to avoid him becoming a victim . Pet shops should not sell rabbits without all the info on fly strike and the other needs of the rabbit that need to be addressed properly . We are gutted we have lost our beautiful gentle Harry .

  7. Susie says:

    Our bunny is currently recovering at the veterinary hospital after being struck down – literally – by flystrike on Sunday. He was fine midday Saturday, he went bouncing out into the garden (he’s a house bunny) and we left him out there munching grass and hopping about. My daughter and I went out but my son was home. A few hours later he texted and said Bubby is acting strangely, he’s darting about all over the place (not in a binky-type way) and there is some blood on his pads in his pen.

    We assumed he may have met up with one of next door’s cats and was just a bit unnerved but his strange behaviour continued on Sunday and he wasn’t eating or drinking either. He seemed messy so I bathed him and discovered a couple of what I thought were worms. I called the 24 hr vets and they said to bring him in immediately, it was an emergency.

    While waiting for the vet a nurse took him straight away to start cleaning him. From what I have read and heard since I am very grateful for their speed. I knew nothing about it even though I’ve had rabbits in the past! I feel my ignorance let him down as we could have taken him in on Saturday 🙁

    Bubby has some other medical issues, he’s had stones before and gets a bit grubby below, he doesn’t always clean himself as he should so he is – we now know – a prime target for flystrike.

    On Sunday night the vet told us this is a very severe case and was talking possible skin grafts, tail amputation and possible death anyway as the maggots release toxins which shock the rabbits. She said treatment would be very expensive and we may want to think about putting him down. Thankfully our bunny is insured so I said the cost is irrelevant its about his welfare and not letting him suffer.

    She said they would do everything they can for him but that we should expect the worst and asked if we wanted to be called during the night or wait until the morning. I said wait until the morning (although none of us slept!)

    In my heart I had pretty much said goodbye to him and we shed more than a few tears that night. However, on Monday morning when I called them, the nurse said he was quiet but had managed a few bits of food which was a good sign! I couldn’t believe it. When I spoke to them this morning (Tuesday) they said he was eating like a horse, passing pellets and doing amazingly well. They are talking about possibly letting him home later today. Feeling very, very relieved and happy! 🙂

  8. Paula Dixon says:

    I too totally empathise with everyone here. My gorgeous bunny Tufty was showered and happily hopping around with her best friend (guinea pig) yesterday but by this morning she was very subdued and listless. When I clipped her and checked her fur on Monday there was nothing but by this morning she had certainly taken a turn for the worst. I got an emergency vets appointment for this afternoon and was expecting a course of antibiotics. Sadly the vet took one look at her and said she would need to be put down. I am devastated. Thankfully, she did not suffer for long but I can’t help thinking, in much the same way as when other animal are bred to exaggerate a particular characteristic, that this isn’t right. This breed is so fluffy and limited in their ability to self clean that I imagine problems like this are far more common than we ever realise.

  9. Jill says:

    I have never heard of such a thing…but my beautiful bunny aged seven just died in my arms…she was fine yesterday although she did have a dirty bum…which I cleaned and aged seven I thought at her age it was to be expected that she may need some help in that department….. I can’t believe what a state I found her in this morning!… Her back end was crawling with maggots…’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen!… I shall never have another rabbit again…ever!….its soul destroying and I feel incredibly guilty!

    • Tamsin says:

      Hi Jill, I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s a horrible thing. It can happen very quickly though – in just a few hours and even to the most experienced rabbit owners, so don’t feel like it’s something that you overlooked, a few hours earlier they may have been nothing to see.

  10. alice says:

    My rabbit has had flystrike twice and i am very glad i found this website before she ever had it, she struggles with a sub dislocated back and arthiritis so she can’t clean her self. The vet has told us we need to wash her every day so we keep her fur short to be able to see the skin and check for maggots, her skin is all cracked and bleeding due to a urine infection. The vets told us she has a low immune system so we also have F10 spray to kill any eggs and keep the flys off. I am very sorry for everyone who has lost their rabbits and fully agree that pet shops should educate buyers on how to keep the flys at bay

    • Tamsin says:

      It sounds like her skin may have an infection, I’d suggest going back to the vet and they may prescribe some antibiotics or ointment which will help it be less sore. After bathing her I’d suggest applying barrier cream like Vaseline to the area – this is water proof so it acts as a barrier between the acidic urine and the skin preventing the soreness. It’s the same sort of idea as preventing nappy rash in babies.

      • alice says:

        Thank you, but we have already tried a steroid cream which she is now resistant to, I apply sudocream as advised after the bath and that does help to keep it cleaner. She has had many different antibiotics but there is no infection just irritation from where the wee sits on her all day, hopefully a specialist we are going to see will know the underlying problem.

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