Apologies in advance for a depressing post today. I wanted to use a sad situation to make other bunny owners aware, or to remind them, of danger.
My second bunny son, Binky, sadly passed away, absolutely unexpectedly due to fly strike. I had never had a case of fly strike before this with any of my buns past or present and I was absolutely in disbelief at how quickly his life was taken without any warning signs. There, of course, would have been some kind of clinical sign at some point before his death, but nothing unusual enough for me to suspect any ill health (or they may have come over night before his death). In other words, Binky ate his dinner last night and grazed on his hay and grass throughout the day yet was suddenly dead and infested with maggots by the morning.
Many sources and fellow bunny owners who have had fly strike victims have been able to save the bunnies life before it has proved fatal. They describe the bunnies having seizures, showing signs of depression, not eating or behaving more aggressively than normal. I had none of this. I held Binky yesterday and he nibbled on kale from my hands,, there were no maggots in or around his bottom. This is why I felt the need to share this story, as I have realised how frightening this parasite is, how quickly it can kill and how you can’t rely on the bunny showing clinical signs to then fix the problem.
Fly strike is a case of flies laying their eggs in or around the bottom area. They hatch within just hours and they feed on the flesh of the bunny and release toxins. It is not a disease thus it is not something that can be vaccinated or treated with antibiotics. It is a case of thorough prevention. If you are unlucky enough to have a victim but lucky enough to have a sign of a strike and enough time before fatality to get your bunny to a vet, there are ways to rid of the infestation and treat the damage and in many cases, when caught in time, the bunny can be rid and well before long.
We cannot eradicate flies altogether, but we can control them. I had thought my level of control was pretty good. I have spent many pounds trying all the pet safe fly repellents and eradicators. I have tried natural repellents, citronella, tea tree, my latest all natural, very expensive, ‘promises the world’ product was based on tea tree. My bunnies litter trays and houses are disinfected weekly as is any other areas that harbour fly attracting odours. I have used fly repelling cleansers and regularly trim fluffy bottoms (Binky was particularly fluffy thus particularly susceptible) and keep them clean and dry. They live in an outbuilding just out of the main house with good ventilation yet fully enclosed (when they are not running around the garden!). I could go on, I tried to eliminate the risk yet I was still hit with a nasty, fast, fatal case.
All it takes is one fly.
As you can probably gather from my preventative methods discussed above, rabbits are more at risk if they are particularly fluffy around the bottom area and/or tend to be soiled around their bottom as the moist, warm environment is the most attractive area for a fly to lay eggs. This can be common in longer haired breeds, overweight bunnies that can’t reach to clean themselves or bunnies who live alone without a grooming buddy to reach those awkward bits. Also, if you’re bunny has had (even very temporary) loose stools.
Binky had two of the above against him. He was so fluffy. So fluffy. Especially around his bottom, he always looked like he was wearing a skirt! He also, pretty much always had loose stools. He has had a range of tests since he was a tiny young bunny, from two different vet surgeries who found absolutely no medical cause for this. He simply had a very sensitive tummy, just as some humans do. Even on a diet of pure hay and water, he suffered. I constantly had to gently pull at the dry, soiled fur as I cuddled him and have full on soaks and trims every few weeks. The trouble was, as soon as I removed any soiled fur from the area, within minutes it was back again. My best hope was to try and eliminate as many flies as I could and eliminate that which attracts such flies through thorough cleaning, ventilation and disinfection.
But it only takes one fly.
Although with my efforts I have still lost a dear bunny, I know it could have been worse without these efforts to reduce the risk. It would have happened to Binky sooner and it would have killed more bunnies. It is so worth the effort.
Ensure bedding is dry and soiled bedding (especially in hutches or cages) is removed at least every other day, keep the bottom clean, dry and trimmed if necessary, and deal with cases of diarrhea with urgency. Do speak with your vet for further advice and information.
I am now going to take even more measures against the nasty parasite as of now. I will invest in mosquito nets, zappers and bring the bunnies inside the main house for the remainder of the summer. With the heat waves we have been having here in the South of England, the issue is even more prevalent.
It is so important to know your bunny and to know what his/her personality is like and common behaviours are, otherwise you never know what is not normal and hopefully in any case of fly strike, you will see a sign that I sadly didn’t.