Fly Strike Hazards for Small Pets

By Phyllis O’Beollain

Myiasis, or flystrike, is a condition typically seen in rabbits, guinea pigs and other small furry pets in the summer, but it can affect any animal at any time of the year.

“Blowflies” (shiny flies with blue or green iridescent bodies) are attracted to open wounds, heavily soiled fur or the droppings of small pets, either in the hutch or around the pet’s bottom. The fly lays its eggs in an open wound or badly soiled area. The larvae then hatch, eat the soiled area and then start to eat away at living tissue, causing shock, pain and often, death. For a long time I thought flystrike was something that only afflicted neglected/outdoor pets, but all it takes is a wet behind or a little cut or scrape in an otherwise scrupulously clean cage, and one fly.

To prevent flystrike:

  • Keep your pet clean and dry always, and check him over every day.
  • Clean out your pet’s habitat regularly (daily, in my opinion), removing droppings and ensuring good ventilation to the hutch (so that flies are not attracted to and then trapped in the hutch).
  • Reduce flies in the environment: just one fly can cause serious harm to your rabbit or other small pet. Fly traps and fly paper are safe ways to reduce the number of flies. Make sure screens are intact; close doors quickly.
  • Ask your veterinarian about clipping or shaving the wet or soiled hair. The most commonly affected animals tend to get soiled and matted coats around their tails. When animals become old, overweight, frail or ill, they cannot clean themselves properly. A bikini (binkini?) shave can go a long way towards preventing fly strike by keeping the area clean and dry.

My rabbit Cookie is not old, frail, ill or fat, but she does have that amazing fuzzy double coat, and she’s…sort of like the Oscar Madison of rabbits. She’ll put her feet in her food dish, drag her ears in her food, drip carrot juice all over her dewlap, etc. She once sat in Oreo’s dish of Key Lime Pie yogurt*. One yogurt-butt, one fly: I’m going to take Cookie in for a trim.

If your rabbit has been having problems with an intermittent wet or messy bottom, make a vet appointment now. While you and your vet are treating the cause of the problem, keep your pet as clean as possible. Frequent bathing is not a good idea as the moisture itself will attract flies. If you must bathe your pet’s rear, dry the area a thoroughly as possible.

Make sure your small pet’s diet contains plenty of hay and very limited sugars and carbohydrates. If your pet’s diet varies, keep a food diary to see if the messy episodes coincide with any specific foods. If so, discontinue those foods (yes, even if they are your pet’s favorites) and discuss this with your veterinarian.

What do you do if you find your pet has fly strike? Don’t panic. That is, by the way, the first thing I would do – panic – and that is NOT helpful to either you or your pet. Take the pet to the veterinarian immediately. After hours, get her to an emergency vet clinic. If the wounds are serious and the pet is in shock, fluids will likely be given and the animal kept under observation. Sometimes, sadly, euthanasia is the kindest option so do not let it happen to your pet.


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