Despite being the third most popular UK pet, sadly a lot of the common health problems that bunnies face aren’t well understood. While most people know about myxi (myxomatosis) and RHD (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease), there are a number of other problems out there – and with the hot weather, two of these are particularly critical right now.
This is a particularly grim killer of rabbits. Unfortunately, a bunny’s thin and delicate skin doesn’t give them much protection against one of the smallest animals – the blowfly (Lucilia sericata).
1) What is flystrike?
As the name suggests, flies lay their eggs in the rabbit’s fur – typically around their back end – and these hatch into maggots. The maggots then burrow into the skin and eat the poor bunny from the inside out.
2) Why does it happen?
Most commonly, flystrike is a result of a mucky rear end, that attracts the flies in the first place. This is usually the result of a failure of “personal hygiene”. One possibility would be diarrhoea – excess wet faeces coat the skin and fur, usually due to dietary problems. Once common trigger is feeding of iceberg lettuce, or an insufficiently fibrous diet. More often, though, inability to groom is the problem – due to arthritis, or dental disease, or obesity.
3) How is it treated?
If diagnosed early, the rabbit can be treated for shock with fluids and pain relief, then anaesthetised and the wounds clipped and cleaned. Once we know how bad it is – and it’s often worse than it looks, underneath the coat – the maggots can be flushed out. Unfortunately, many rabbits are too far gone to be saved by the time they’re diagnosed, and sadly have to be put to sleep.
4) Can it be prevented?
Yes, because the flies will only lay their eggs if there’s organic matter for them to eat on the surface – i.e. if the skin is mucky. Regular grooming and, if necessary, washing to remove faeces and urine contamination is valuable, but it’s usually best to try and work out why they’re so mucky and treat that – either with better diet, pain relief for stiff joints, dental care for bad teeth, or weight loss! There are also medications available on prescription from our vets that will prevent any fly eggs from hatching into maggots, preventing the problem from occurring in the first place.
Rabbits, of course, are herbivores – their intestines are exquisitely adapted for digesting grass. Unfortunately, this means they are prone to malfunctioning, and if a bunny’s intestines stop working, death is a common result.
1) What is gut stasis?
Again, it’s what it says on the tin! Gut stasis, also known as ileus, is a condition where the natural movement of the gut (peristalsis) stops for some reason.
2) How do I know if my rabbit is affected?
Typical symptoms include reduced appetite, abnormal faeces (either very dry or very loose, and often reduced volumes), bloating or doughiness of the abdomen, and generalised abdominal pain. Unfortunately, rabbits are good at hiding pain, but typical signs include sitting in a hunched posture, tooth grinding, and fast, shallow breathing. They may also seem uncomfortable when their tummy is touched or when they have to move.
3) Why does it happen?
Anything that upsets the gut can result in reduced motility (movement); once it slows down, that upsets digestion even more, resulting in more slowing – and soon the poor bunny’s in full blown gut stasis. Typical causes include poor diet (insufficient fibre and too much starchy food like pellets), dental disease (the next most common cause), surgery, stress (e.g. changes in social groups) and other underlying illnesses.
4) How can it be treated?
Fortunately, if caught early, Gut stasis can be treated effectively. It requires intensive care nursing, so we would normal admit these rabbits to the clinic. Then, we can give them syringe feeds every couple of hours, fluid therapy, and medications to reduce pain and improve gut function; of course, the underlying condition will also need to be addressed. On discharge, good feeding and increased exercise can help minimise the chance of recurrence.