How to Detect Flystrike in Rabbits (and how to prevent it)

The buzz of flies signals the start of maggot-infested horror. Flystrike can turn a fluffy bunny into a writhing mass of suffering as these pests transform soft fur into a crawl of tiny torturers. This invisible menace lurks right under pet owners’ noses, undetected until it’s too late. But with knowledge and vigilance, you can protect your rabbits from flystrike’s grip. Arm yourself with the information in this article to keep your bunnies healthy and thwart these winged foes. Learn the repugnant signs, emergency response, and foolproof prevention tactics. It’s fight or flight time against flystrike – let’s win the battle for the hoppiness of our furry friends!

What is flystrike?

Flystrike, also known as myiasis, is a potentially fatal condition that affects rabbits. It occurs when flies, usually blowflies, lay their eggs on a rabbit's skin. The eggs hatch into larvae (maggots), which feed on the rabbit's tissue. This causes severe pain, distress, and can lead to death if left untreated.

Flystrike is more likely to occur when rabbits have soiled bottoms due to diarrhea or a dirty living environment. Flies are attracted to damp, dirty fur and will lay their eggs there. Elderly, obese, disabled, and otherwise immobile rabbits are at higher risk of flystrike as they may struggle to groom themselves properly. Hot, humid weather also increases the likelihood of flystrike.

Rabbits with flystrike require urgent veterinary treatment. The wound needs to be cleaned and flushed, with dead tissue and maggots removed. Antibiotics, pain relief, and anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed. Supportive care such as subcutaneous fluids are often required. Even with rapid treatment, flystrike can be fatal. Prevention is crucial to protect the health and welfare of pet rabbits.

What types of flies cause flystrike in rabbits?

The main flies that cause flystrike in rabbits are:

  • Greenbottle fly (Lucilia sericata): These common flies are attracted to wounds and wet/soiled fur. They lay batches of up to 200 eggs that hatch within a day.

  • Bluebottle fly (Calliphora vicina): Bluebottles target exposed skin and wounds. Their eggs hatch within 1-2 days.

  • Common house fly (Musca domestica): While less likely to cause flystrike, house flies may lay eggs in damp, dirty fur. The eggs hatch within 1-2 days.

  • Stable fly (Stomoxys calcitrans): Found around livestock, these flies bite rabbits to drink blood. They may lay eggs in moist, soiled fur.

  • Lesser house fly (Fannia canicularis): These flies thrive in unclean environments and lay eggs in soiled fur.

  • Face fly (Musca autumnalis): Face flies mostly feed on secretions from the eyes, nose and mouth but can cause flystrike.

  • Horn fly (Haematobia irritans): A cattle pest fly that bites rabbits, potentially laying eggs.

The greenbottle and bluebottle flies pose the biggest threat. They are attracted by scents from wounds, urine, feces, and decomposing matter. Female flies can detect the right conditions from up to 10 miles away.

The symptoms of flystrike

It's vital for rabbit owners to watch out for the symptoms of flystrike and contact their vet immediately if it’s suspected. The most common signs include:

  • Maggots – The obvious sign is white maggots wriggling in the rabbit's fur or on the skin's surface. Maggots may be found around the anus, genitals, feet, eyes, mouth, ears, legs, underside, tail.

  • Clustered flies – Flies gathering around a rabbit, especially around moist/soiled areas, may indicate flystrike.

  • Skin lesions – Red, raw skin lesions that may ooze pus. The area will become inflamed and infected.

  • Wet fur – Patches of damp, stained fur from urine, diarrhea, weeping wounds or pus. These attract egg-laying flies.

  • Restlessness – Discomfort may cause rabbits to seem tense, jittery, or unhappy. They may seem unsettled and repeatedly lick or bite the affected area.

  • Loss of appetite – Rabbits are prey animals so tend to hide illness. However, reduced appetite or ceasing to eat may signal flystrike.

  • Hunched posture – A hunched pose with the front legs close together may indicate abdominal pain caused by flystrike lesions.

Not all cases of flystrike are obvious at first. Subtle signs include the rabbit becoming withdrawn or inactive, matted fur, weight loss, tooth grinding, and poor coat condition. Owners should check their rabbits at least twice daily during fly season and contact a vet promptly if flystrike is possible. Delay can be fatal.

How flystrike is treated

Flystrike is a veterinary emergency. Prompt, intensive treatment gives a rabbit the best chance of survival. Usual steps include:

  • Sedation – The rabbit is sedated so the wound can be examined and treated with minimal stress and pain.

  • Shaving – The affected area of fur is clipped to expose the skin and allow easy removal of larvae and cleaning of the lesion.

  • Wound cleaning – The area is gently but thoroughly flushed with sterile saline to wash away debris such as pus, urine, feces and maggots.

  • Maggot removal – Tweezers are used to remove all larvae along with any dead, infected tissue. Antiseptic creams may be applied.

  • Antibiotics – Broad-spectrum prescription antibiotics like penicillin are given to control infection. Pain relief is also provided.

  • Anti-inflammatories – Drugs like meloxicam tackle inflammation and swelling around the flystrike lesions.

  • Fluids – Subcutaneous or intravenous fluid therapy is often needed to treat dehydration and stabilize the rabbit.

  • Additional care – The rabbit is monitored closely for several days for shock, sepsis, organ damage and other potentially fatal complications. Appetite stimulants, nutritional support and nursing care may be required.

  • Prevention planning – Before discharge the vet will advise on keeping the rabbit clean and dry. Tailored flystrike prevention begins as soon as the rabbit gets home.

Rapid treatment gives the best prognosis. However, flystrike can be deadly even with veterinary care due to the possibility of complications such as organ failure and blood poisoning. Yet early vet treatment is a rabbit's best hope for survival.

Can you treat flystrike at home?

Flystrike should never be treated at home. It requires urgent professional veterinary expertise. While waiting for the vet, rabbit owners can:

  • Confine the rabbit in a clean, quiet space if possible. Do not try to remove maggots.

  • Use a weak saltwater solution to gently moisten and soften debris around maggots if the vet is not immediately available. Avoid rupturing the larvae.

  • Apply a loose, dry bandage over the area to discourage more flies landing and laying eggs. Do not use sticky bandages or cover maggots completely.

  • Feed the usual diet and offer water via syringe if the rabbit is not drinking.

  • Monitor breathing, alertness and other signs of deterioration. Call the vet if the rabbit seems to be in distress.

It is never advisable to try removing maggots without sedation and pain relief. Maggots have nasty hook-like mouthparts so pulling them out is extremely painful. It can also leave heads embedded under the skin to cause further infection. The area must be professionally cleaned, debrided and treated with prescription medication.

Well-meaning but incorrect home treatments like applying vinegar, alcohol, turpentine or coconut oil could burn or poison the rabbit. Household disinfectants are also inappropriate. While waiting for the vet, the focus should be on keeping the rabbit calm and as comfortable as possible until expert care is available. Flystrike home remedies are risky and inhumane.

How to prevent flystrike

Flystrike prevention is much better for bunny welfare than dealing with an active case. Rabbit owners can help protect their pets by:

  • Daily health checks – Handling and inspecting rabbits twice daily to check for early signs of flystrike or conditions that attract flies. Pay attention to the rear, belly, legs, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, genitals and anus.

  • Clean housing – Keep the rabbit hutch or housing spotlessly clean. Remove soiled bedding, droppings and uneaten food promptly. Use disinfectants and safe insecticides on housing between occupants.

  • Hygiene – Gently wash the rabbit's rear end, belly, legs, feet and tail every few days if soiled. Check for maggots if the area is damp or dirty.

  • Parasite prevention – Have the vet advise a program to prevent parasitic worms and protozoa which can cause diarrhea and attract flies.

  • Diarrhea management – Consult your vet if the rabbit has loose droppings. Feed hay not greens, give probiotics and monitor closely.

  • Grooming assistance – Help elderly, obese or disabled rabbits keep their fur clean and dry if they struggle to self-groom.

  • Topical repellents – Apply rabbit-safe insecticidal sprays or talk to your vet about longer-acting topical products. Reapply after bathing or if rain is forecast. Avoid eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

  • Premises control – Use fly screens, electric fly killers, baited traps and natural fly predators like nematodes and fungi to reduce flies around the rabbit's environment.

  • Weight management – Help overweight rabbits slim down to improve their ability to groom themselves.

  • Companionship – A bonded companion grooms hard-to-reach spots. Single rabbits have a higher flystrike risk.

Constant vigilance and proactive steps to protect rabbit health are the best defenses against the misery and high mortality of flystrike. Prevention is so much kinder than the cure.

Flystrike in the summer vs. winter

Fly activity and flystrike risk increase significantly in the warmer summer months. Factors that raise summer susceptibility include:

  • More flies – Fly numbers multiply rapidly from spring through summer into fall. Greenbottles and bluebottles peak from May to August when flystrike is most prevalent.

  • Hot weather – Flies thrive in warm, humid conditions. They are more active in summer, laying more eggs. High temperatures also increase tissue necrosis in fly lesions.

  • Moulting – Rabbits shed more fur in summer, making them prone to skin injuries that attract flies.

  • High humidity – Wet weather creates damp fur attractive for egg-laying flies. It also allows larvae to thrive.

  • Softer stools – Dehydration and different diets in summer may cause stools to stick to fur and draw in flies.

  • Reduced grooming – Hot rabbits groom less frequently, especially obese individuals or those with heavy coats.

During winter, fly activity drops along with the risk of flystrike. But year-round vigilance is still needed:

  • Overwintering flies – Some adult flies find places to survive over winter and start seeking rabbits again in spring.

  • Winter eggs – Larvae and eggs deposited in nooks and crannies of rabbit housing can hatch out when temperatures rise.

  • Indoor rabbits – Rabbits living fully indoors are still at risk if housing is dirty or stuffy.

  • Climate change – Warmer winters allow flies to be active for more months of the year as seasonal patterns shift.

While flystrike prevention can be relaxed a little in cold winter months, there is no period when rabbits are completely safe from potential flystrike. Their living conditions and health must be continually monitored whatever the weather.

What rabbits are more at-risk for flystrike

All rabbits are vulnerable to flystrike. However, some rabbits are at greater risk:

  • Elderly rabbits – Older rabbits often find grooming hard and become obese. They are prone to arthritic immobility and sometimes incontinence.

  • Disabled rabbits – Rabbits with disabilities or arthritis that inhibit grooming have higher flystrike susceptibility.

  • Obese rabbits – Heavy rabbits cannot groom themselves adequately, especially along the spine and hindquarters.

  • Rex breeds – Their short, dense fur traps moisture against the skin which can attract flies. Rex rabbits must be vigilantly groomed.

  • Lop breeds – Floppy eared breeds don't groom their ears well. Ear mites and infection can invite flystrike.

  • Continually dirty rabbits – Messy backsides, urine scalding, fecal staining all predispose rabbits to fly attraction.

  • Diarrhea – Chronic loose stool from illness or diet sticks to the coat and draws in flies. Diarrhea increases pH of the skin.

  • Urinary incontinence – Constantly wet fur from dribbling urine puts rabbits at perpetual risk.

  • Obese or inactive rabbits – If rabbits cannot properly groom themselves, flies and maggots can thrive out of reach.

  • Arthritic or disabled rabbits – Mobility issues make it hard for rabbits to keep themselves clean.

  • Hot humid climates – Fly activity escalates substantially in ideal weather for them to thrive and breed.

All rabbits need their wellbeing safeguarded against flystrike. But the at-risk groups above need enhanced monitoring and prevention to avoid this horrible fate.

Can indoor rabbits get flystrike?

Indoor rabbits are not invulnerable to flystrike. While fly activity is reduced indoors, it can still pose a threat if:

  • Windows/doors left open – Flies easily gain indoor access on warm days if there is an open route. Just a few flies could lay disastrous eggs.

  • New food brought in – Fruit, vegetables and greens bought from outside can transport fly eggs and maggots into the home. Produce should ideally be refrigerated.

  • Poor household hygiene – Homes with general garbage and unwashed dishes can sustain indoor fly populations. Small flies hide and breed in cracks. Windows should be screened.

  • Visiting pets – Dogs or cats entering from outside can carry flies in on their fur. Some flies attach to clothing too.

  • Untidy litter habits – Rabbits with continually soiled bottoms or bedding attract any flies that do make it indoors.

  • Hot rooms – If indoor housing is too warm and airless, flies brought inside will thrive. Good ventilation is essential.

  • Stuffy enclosures – Ammonia build-up in confined hutches or enclosures creates an attractive environment for flies.

While far fewer flies make it into well-managed homes, indoor rabbits should still have their living quarters kept clean, receive daily health checks, and have any signs of flystrike promptly investigated by a vet.

Is it okay to use topical fly-repellant medications or sprays?

Fly repellent products can be useful for protecting rabbits from flystrike when used cautiously under veterinary guidance. Two main options are:

  • Topical spot-ons – Long-lasting spot-on insecticides are applied to the skin for 1-2 months protection. Common active ingredients are cypermethrin, permethrin and fipronil (e.g. PetArmor). Avoid eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

  • Fly sprays – Water-based fly repellent sprays containing pyrethrins provide short-term protection if frequently reapplied. Rinse skin after use. Do not spray near eyes.

Before using any topical fly control products:

  • Consult your vet – Discuss the best options for your rabbit's breed, age, environment and health status.

  • Carefully follow instructions – Check the product is labeled for use on rabbits and use exactly as directed. Do not exceed recommended frequency of application.

  • Monitor for irritation – Ensure the product does not cause skin redness, itching or blistering which could indicate sensitivity.

  • Prevent ingestion – Ensure the rabbit cannot lick the area until the product is dry. Prevent rabbits grooming each other immediately after application.

  • Check interactions – Do not use other topical products together as this could cause toxicity. Read labels carefully for exclusions.

  • Reapply judiciously – Use sparingly and only when flystrike risk is high. Overuse of insecticides could lead to resistance in fly populations.

With proper veterinary guidance, topical anti-fly products can be a valuable additional part of protecting rabbits from flystrike. But diligent prevention and monitoring are still essential. There are no shortcuts when safeguarding bunnies from this cruel syndrome.


Flystrike is a disturbing, high-risk condition that pet rabbit owners strive to avoid at all costs. Understanding the causes, vigilantly spotting the signs early, having an emergency action plan, and proactively protecting bunny health are the key defenses. While even well-monitored indoor rabbits could potentially develop flystrike, attentive owners have the best chance to detect issues fast and get life-saving veterinary care. With commitment to prevention and early intervention, our beloved bunnies can thrive free from the menace of flies and maggots.

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