It has finally got to that time of year where we can start to enjoy a little bit of sunshine. However, as the warmer months approach, spare a thought for any indoor and outdoor rabbits.
Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the UK after cats and dogs; however their health and welfare needs are often very much misunderstood.
During the summer months, in particular June- August our pet rabbits are highly susceptible to a very common and preventable disease called Myiasis or more commonly known as Flystrike. Although Flystrike can occur at anytime of the year, during the summer months at the practice we will most certainly come across this distressing and potentially life threatening condition.
As the name suggests, flies (specifically blue bottle and green bottle flies) are attracted to the urine and faeces produce by rabbits, either on the animals themselves or in the environment. If the faeces and urine is not cleaned away regularly, then these flies will lay eggs, which will very quickly (usually between 2-3 days) hatch and produce maggots. These maggots will potentially latch onto your pet rabbit and attack the skin surrounding the perineum, or the bottom of your rabbit.
Recent studies have shown that, non - neutered females, rabbits over the age of 5 years old, overweight and poorly fed rabbits are more prone to suffer from Flystrike. Therefore, it is vital that we neuter our rabbits and feed them the correct diet. Ideally a rabbit’s diet should comprise of at least 70% hay and grass.
Rabbits fed on a muesli based diet are more likely to produce an increased number of uneaten Caecotrophs (soft, sticky poo). Any uneaten Caecotrophs can clump around the bottom of your pet rabbit, which in turn will attract any unwanted flies. Likewise, if your rabbit is overweight then they are going to find it difficult to keep themselves clean.
So, what do you do if you suspect your rabbit has Flystrike?
Firstly, contact the surgery and ask to speak to one of the nurses. When dealing with a potential case of Flystrike time is of the essence. When cases get presented to the surgery, Flystrike has usually been present for a couple of days.
As Rabbits are prey species, they will show minimum clinical signs, therefore making it harder to spot a problem. Apart from visibly seeing maggots on your rabbit, other common symptoms include lethargy. Your rabbit may be less active than normal and appear more depressed. They may interact less with other companions and be ‘off’ their food. In extreme cases rabbits will go into shock and sometimes the kindest thing to do is to prevent any further suffering.
With most common illnesses and diseases, prevention is always recommended. At the practice we recommend that you check your rabbit daily. Check that they have a clean bottom. Remove any soiled bedding and clean and disinfect accommodation weekly. Fly screens, net curtains and pesticide free sticky fly paper can all act as deterrents.
Feeding the correct diet will minimise the amount of Caecotrophs produced, thus decreasing the amount of waste produced.
As well as basic hygiene standards preventative medications can also be used. Rearguard is a well known preventative medication used in practices across the country. However, it must be stressed that Rearguard is not a cure. As suggested it is a preventative treatment that stops maggots from forming. Likewise, another popular preventative medication used to prevent Flystrike is a product called Xenex. Xenex is a spot on treatment that kills fleas, lice and ticks. As well as acting as parasitic control, Xenex spot on also kills flies, which of course is the main cause of Flystrike.
Finally, at Shepton Vets, we are committed to be the welfare and needs of all our patients regardless of species and condition. If you have any concerns about your rabbit, then please contact or pop into the surgery and make an appointment with one of our nurses, whom will be more than happy to help.
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