Fly strike kills thousands of rabbits. Flies lay their eggs on the rabbit’s dirty bottom. The eggs hatch into maggots which eat their way into the poor rabbit’s flesh. The rabbit dies from being eaten alive – a slow horribly painful death. Two out of every hundred rabbits die of fly strike (Guard, 2012)
Rabbits most at risk are overweight ones, long-haired ones, those with dental problems, runny eyes, large dewlaps, folds of skin round their tummy or bottom, rabbits with wounds, old rabbits, rabbits with diarrhoea or loose stools, rabbits living in dirty hutches (Rabbit Welfare Fund 2012).
Fly strike is a veterinary emergency. A rabbit can die rapidly so get it to the vet as soon as possible.
You can protect your rabbit by cleaning the hutch every single day in warm weather and carefully inspecting its bottom twice daily in hot weather. If there are moist night droppings in the hutch, then read the article about dirty bottoms and adjust its diet t00.
The best product for preventing fly strike is Rearguard (cyromazine), a special spray for its bottom, which will protect it from fly maggots for several weeks. (Another possibility is F10 Germicidal Wound Spray with insecticide.) Use this in early summer before the hot weather. Follow instructions outlined here. Another possibility is Xenex Ultra, a spot on containing permethrin, which kills or repels adult blowflies before they lay their eggs. This also kills lice, mites and ticks. Details here.
As well as using either of these, clean the hutch daily and inspect the bottom twice daily in summer as well. High risk rabbits may need checking twice daily (Rabbit Welfare Fund 2012). Insect repellants and fly screens sold over the counter are no substitute for good hygeine.
Note. Some of the brand names given here apply only to the UK or Europe. If in doubt look at the generic name in brackets.
NEVER use an over-the-counter flea treatments sold for dogs or cats. Some of these can kill rabbits. Even prescription treatments for dogs and cats can also kill. Remind your vet of this when you are asking him for an anti-flea treatment. One flea treatment commonly used for cats and dogs, Fipronil, can be fatal (Vogelnest 2007). You can’t afford to make a mistake.
Fleas can pass myxomatosis from one rabbit to another so zap them fast, as well as vaccinating against this fatal disease. As well as treating the rabbit, you may need to treat the environment (hutch, run or your house) so ask your vet for a spray, which is safe for rabbits. Follow the instructions EXACTLY. Don’t use a household or hutch spray on the animal itself.
Advantage (Imidacloprid) kills rabbit fleas. Stronghold or Revolution (Selamectin) from your vet is useful for Cheyletiella mites (Kim et al., 2007) and ear mites (MrTier et al., 2003). In the UK the spot-on Xenex Ultra (permethrin) (see fly strike article above) will also control fleas and Cheyletiella mites. But it is poisonous to cats which might be a concern in a household which includes rabbits and cats. Another UK spot-on, Xeno 450 (ivermectin) kills earmites, Cheyletiella mites, lice and roundworms. But it can be poisonous to dogs, which may be a concern in a household which includes rabbits and dogs. It’s always important to use the right dosage and not to treat rabbits that are too young, or in poor health.
A rabbit with bald patches that is over grooming is usually suffering from parasites, pain or disease. If these are ruled out it, may be a behavioural problem. Read: Rabbits that chew their feet or body. After veterinary investigations, get advice in the UK from www.rabbitbehaviour.co.uk
Guard, M., (2012), ‘Study into Premature Rabbit Death,’ CottonTails. Accessed at http://www.cottontails-rescue.org.uk/prematuredeath.asp. Downloaded 21 December 2012.
Kim, S-H., Lee,J-Y., Jun, H-K., Song, K-H., Park, B-K., & Kim. D-H., (2008), ‘Efficacy of selamectin in the treatment of cheyletiellosis in pet rabbits’ Veterinary Dermatology, 19, 26-27
McTier, T. L., Hair, J. A., Walstrom, D.J., & Thompson, L., (2003), ‘Efficacy and safety of topical administration of selamectin for treatment of ear mite infestation in rabbits’ Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 223, 322-324 Abstract
Rabbit Welfare Fund (2012),’ Flystrike. Is your rabbit at risk?’ RWF, Accessed at http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/resources/index.php?section=leaflets.html Downloaded 20 December 2012.
Vogelnest, V., (2007) ‘Itchy Exotics,’ Proceedings of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association Sydney, Australia – 2007