Myiasis – what is it and how does it happen?

There’s nothing quite like the sound of maggots chewing through living flesh. Even the thought is enough to make anybody shudder, but it’s something that we as vets have to deal with this time of year. 

There’s nothing quite like the sound of maggots chewing through living flesh. Even the thought is enough to make anybody shudder, but it’s something that we as vets have to deal with this time of year. Whether it’s called the scientific ‘myiasis’ or the normal ‘fly-strike’ it’s an all-too-common occurrence in our rabbits and guinea pigs in the heat of summer.

What is myiasis?

Myiasis happens when a fly (usually the green bottle fly) lays its eggs on the fur of a host – often a rabbit or a sheep, but we’ve seen it in guinea pigs too. When the eggs hatch, the maggots bury themselves into the fur and begin to eat the skin, muscle and other tissues of the animal.

What does myiasis look like?

It can often be really hard to spot myiasis from a distance – most of the fur will be left intact and the animal may look normal. Underneath is a whole different story. As the maggots eat the flesh they cause a lot of pain and leave the wounds open to infection. Animals with myiasis often go off their food or grind their teeth in pain. They may hide away or move around far less than normally.

It’s important to check over your pet daily in the summer. Look closely for any wounds, especially over the rump and bottom. Don’t forget to check their undersides too – if you aren’t sure how to do this safely then please phone to book an appointment with one of our nurses, who would be happy to show you how to check your bunny over.

Which animals get myiasis?

Any animal can get myiasis, including humans. The flies in this country, however, are usually attracted to easier prey. The flies are drawn to the smell of wet fur and the eggs hatch within hours, meaning there’s very little the rabbit can do to protect themselves. Animals with permanently wet fur are more prone, so if your pet has a urine problem or is prone to diarrhoea, they are at a higher risk and we would recommend getting in touch to discuss how this risk can be reduced. Obese and arthritic rabbits are also prone to issues as they cannot effectively clean themselves, making it more likely that a fly will sniff them out. Some breeds are more prone, too – these tend to be the breeds with long fur or large dewlaps which make grooming more difficult. Don’t forget that any other small mammals living outside are also prone, including guinea pigs. Indoor animals are more protected as fewer flies can get to them, but they can still get myiasis (I’m sure you’ve all seen flies sneak indoors!) and they’re more prone to obesity, so it’s a trade-off.

What should I do if I notice my pet has maggots on them?

If you notice maggots or wounds, it’s important that you call us for an emergency appointment immediately. This is an extremely painful and serious condition and severe cases may even require euthanasia. Please call ahead before you arrive- it will enable our team to prepare for your arrival.

It’s best if you don’t attempt to remove the maggots yourself, as it’s more important to get your pet here where we can deal with them properly. If there is a delay, however – such as waiting for a taxi – you can use a pair of tweezers to carefully remove the visible maggots. There are likely to be some lurking deeper in though, so even if you think you’ve got them all it’s important to still bring them in urgently to be checked over – sometimes under sedation – and have pain relief and antibiotics.

How can I prevent myiasis?

It’s much easier to prevent flystrike than it is to deal with it after it happens. Checking your rabbit over daily for typical signs or issues that could lead to myisis is something you can start doing right now. Looking at whether your rabbits teeth look overgrown or misaligned and monitoring their mobility are important factors in catching a potential fly-strike situation early on. With long-haired breeds, we can also clip the fur from around the bottom to help them to keep it clean and dry. Looking forward, it’s best practice to ensure your rabbit is at their ideal weight year-round but especially before it the weather becomes too warm.

Being on a good diet is key to preventing diarrhoea, which quickly gets caught in fur and attracts flies. We recommend that rabbits eat their body weight in hay daily, with only a tablespoon of pellets to top up on any missing nutrients. They shouldn’t have access to too many vegetables or treats, and you should take care with fresh spring grass as this can be high in sugar. It’s often sensible to restrict your rabbit’s grazing when they first go out by cutting off part of the garden, giving their gut time to get used to the spring grass.

Regular cleaning out of their run and hutch will reduce the build up of faeces and urine that could encourage flies. Try to do this daily. Don’t forget when you clean out to visually check the number, colour and softness of poo pellets your rabbit is producing – a drop in the number of pellets or a change in their consistency can indicate a rabbit that is off its food, and we recommend that we see these bunnies to check them over as soon as possible.

There are animal-safe fly repellents available which can help. They aren’t perfect and may not always work. They also need regular re-application. If you are concerned about fly-strike, we are happy to talk you through these and work out whether they’ll be of help to you depending on your routine and your rabbit.

If you would like to book a check-up for your pet, our team are here to help. And most importantly: check those rabbits’ bottoms every single day.

 

 

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