How flies pose potential death threat to rabbits
AT this time of year, our rabbits are most vulnerable to a potentially fatal condition most commonly known as 'fly-strike'.
Rico, a five-year-old female rabbit, happened to be an unlucky sufferer of this disease earlier in the summer – however, fortunately due to the quick thinking of her owners, she has survived the ordeal.
Fly-strike involves flies laying eggs in the fur of rabbits which can, within 24 hours, hatch into maggots. These maggots feed on the flesh of their victim and this quickly leads to the formation of large and nasty skin wounds. If left even for a few hours, overwhelming infection can occur and unfortunately the affected rabbit may die. For this reason, the condition is a veterinary emergency.
Rico's owners recognised this fact by contacting the 'out of hours' emergency service one Sunday morning after noticing a foul smell and a sore red patch by the rabbit's tail. They knew that if left until Monday, the rabbit may not have been well enough to survive. Rico was seen immediately at the practice, and admitted for treatment of her wounds.
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Flies can be attracted by the smell of urine, faeces or scent glands – for this reason rabbits suffering from diarrhoea, a bladder infection or pets that aren't cleaned often enough are at very high risk from fly-strike. Overweight or older, arthritic rabbits and those with overgrown teeth are less able to clean themselves and can also be very vulnerable. However, Rico has always been cleaned out twice daily, which just goes to show that all rabbits are at risk.
Rico was still bright and had eaten that morning; this counted in her favour – rabbits that become too painful will stop eating and this may speed up any deterioration in their health. She was given pain relief, antibiotics and sprayed with an insecticide to kill any maggots in her fur. Rico was then left for an hour in a quiet, dark kennel before any further action was taken – this is important as rabbits can become very stressed at the vets, and it is this stress that could tip a painful rabbit into life-threatening shock.
Once she was settled and comfortable, Rico's smelly fur around her tail was clipped away. Due to rabbits' thick fur, the extent of a fly-strike injury isn't apparent until a wide enough patch of hair is removed – maggots can burrow down away from sight and the true size of the wound may be hidden. This preparation revealed a large, sore and infected wound surrounded by tens of maggots.
After all of Rico's parasites were removed, her wounds were flushed and cleaned up. She was then returned to her kennel and tempted with an array of dandelion leaves and hay, to be kept in for the rest of the day for observation to ensure she didn't suffer any after effects of the maggots and could make a good, peaceful recovery.
By the evening, we were satisfied that Rico was well enough to continue her recuperation at home, with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories; she had in fact been extremely resilient and brave throughout the day as many rabbits with her level of injuries often show signs of severe illness. Her owners had spent the day disinfecting her hutch and were well prepared to treat her wound with a special healing gel to use at home. Since that day, Rico has never looked back and must be very grateful to her owners for spotting her injuries quickly and getting emergency treatment to pull her through this nasty and often fatal condition.
Shepton Veterinary Practice