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Hazards and Dangers of Outdoor Housing







The pictures above are the back left foot of a rabbit that had been kept in outdoors her entire life. The holes in her feet were made by the infestation of maggots that were eating her flesh.



The picture above is the left front leg of a maggot infested rabbit that was housed outdoors her entire life. The technicians assigned to pick off each maggot from this rabbit had to take turns because they were gagging due to the severity of her injuries.


This picture shows the maggots that were picked off this rabbit after her third session of having maggots picked off her.



WARNING: This article is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. This article IS for the good of bunnies everywhere since fly strike happens both indoors and outdoors.


Fly Strike can happen anywhere and anytime when weather is warm enough to hatch fly eggs. Even the cleanest household can have a fly slip in when someone comes through the door. If that household also happens to have a rabbit with an open cut, a newly removed tooth, a messy bottom, or food gunked to him, he can be a victim of the ordinary house fly or other fly species. The more restricted a rabbit is in movement, the more likely he is to become a target.

Flies don't need to lay eggs on the messy or injured area; that's merely what attracts them. The eggs look like tiny patches of off-white mush laid on the regular fur where they can stick. When the eggs hatch, the maggots automatically gravitate to the appropriate area where they begin to burrow in and, literally, eat their victim alive. The tiniest cut can provide access beneath the skin where they begin to burrow and eat deeper and deeper. If not found and flushed out before getting too deep, there may be no hope. Between tissue damage and infection, they can cause serious harm to their victim and are potentially life threatening.

Inspect your rabbit thoroughly and regularly. If egg patches are found, a flea comb can help remove them. Vinegar also helps kill the eggs, but do not rely totally on this. Removal is the key.

The maggots themselves are tiny white worms (the larval stage of the fly) and there
can be hundreds of them. You may have seen such wiggling masses on garbage. If you see them on the surface of your pet, be assured they are also under the surface. You can frequently tell where they are by a rippling motion under the skin.

Every single maggot must be removed and killed or it will burrow back inside at the quickest opportunity. Watch carefully for the tiniest sign of movement anywhere on the animal's fur or area of maggot entrance. The rabbit should also be thoroughly checked for additional patches of eggs that may not have yet hatched. Be sure to follow all of this with an immediate trip to your veterinarian. A thorough vet exam, possibly more flushing, and antibiotics will be needed any time maggots have been found on your pet.


If not found in time, the result of fly strike is death. It is far better to carefully examine your pets on a regular basis to avoid such horrendous situations. Inspect the neck and jaw for cuterebra holes or yellow bot eggs and then all over (particularly underneath) your bunny for mushy white fly eggs or larvae. Even low risk bunnies should be immediately examined if they exhibit unusual behavior such as seizure, stupor, or just simple low energy. If you think your rabbit may have fly eggs and you aren't sure you've removed them all, visit your vet as quickly as possible. Regular fly eggs hatch quickly so they must be removed immediately. Cuterebra eggs hatch when moisture touches them or attach themselves as a rabbit brushes by them. If you find maggots on your pet or cuterebra holes, time is of the utmost importance in getting your pet to the veterinarian. Your rabbit's life depends on it.

It is unknown how long Lizzy had been roaming the neighborhood before she was rescued by a family who found her. Upon her arrival into foster care with the Missouri House Rabbit Society, it was noticed that Lizzy had a large lump on the right side of her neck.

She was taken to our veterinarian to find out what the lump was. Upon inspection at the doctors office, the lump began to move and soon a head poked out of Lizzy's fur.

Cuterebra is its name, and a nasty little bugger it is. To read more about the dangers of the Bot Fly, please read below.

Still alive after it had been removed from Lizzy's neck, the Cuterebra lived for a few minutes until it died.


As you can see, the hole that was left by the Cuterebra is quite large. Thanks to the smart actions of the foster parent, Lizzy will make a full recovery.

If you are currently housing your rabbit outdoors, we cannot stress enough the importance of bringing your rabbit indoors. This is just one example of the dangers outdoor rabbits can encounter. If you are interested in finding out just how easy it is to bring your outdoor rabbit indoors, please email our volunteers for suggestions and assistance at hrsmissouri@aol.com

by Robin Rysavy, DMA
Chapter Manager
Missouri House Rabbit Society

Cuterebra flies, also known as bot flies, are quite prevalent in this part of the country beginning in early spring and continuing through fall. Although there are multiple species of these flies, which typically lay their eggs in wet grass or loose dirt around the burrows of cottontail (wild) rabbits, they can certainly affect domestic rabbits who are either housed outside or are allowed to exercise outside, even for short periods of time.

A rabbit will inadvertently brush up against the eggs located in the grass or dirt, which then hatch in their fur as they become warmed by body heat from the rabbit. The larvae can then enter the body through the nose or mouth during routine grooming, or through open wounds that the rabbit may have. In some species, the adult flies will fly into the nose of the rabbits to lay their eggs. [More than one rabbit kept in a cage outside (even for a short period of time in which the rabbit is only out to "enjoy some fresh air") has been affected by these nasty flies.]

The larvae then migrate through the body to locations just under the skin (subcutaneous locations) where they will make themselves a breathing hole through a pore in the skin. These locations are often along the back of the neck, along the abdomen, under the armpit, near the genital area (groin) of the rabbit, along the back, and also around the rump. There have been some cases where the larvae even migrated through the head, brain, nasal passages, ears, or eye! After approximately 30 days, the larvae then fall to the ground.

Swelling usually occurs around where the larvae lives, just under the skin. Usually you will see a small circular air hole where the swelling is, and sometimes the larvae will be seen as they come to the hole to breathe. Often these "lumps" will go unnoticed beneath the fur of the rabbit. Some rabbits will aggressively groom the area or react in pain if the area is touched. Some rabbits can lose mobility due to either pain or due to the path the larvae has taken when migrating through the body of the rabbit. In addition, some rabbits can develop lameness or a lack of muscle coordination, and a weakness in the legs in conjunction with cuterebra infestation.

Often several larvae are found at one time, each with it's own air hole. Depending on the species of cuterebra involved, however, many (over 15) larvae have been found on some rabbits with a severe infestation. Migration of these larvae may be staggered, depending on when the rabbit was first exposed to the eggs.

Treatment for cuterebra infestation includes surgical removal of the larva and debriding the surrounding area where the larvae lived. If the entire burrow of the larvae cannot be removed, it should be thoroughly cleaned by your rabbit veterinarian with sterile saline and left open to heal (granulate). Systemic antibiotics should be given to prevent infection around the area, and a topical antibiotic may be used as well.

Most rabbits respond quite well to treatment, especially if the infestation is discovered early. However, some rabbits who are severely infested may require extended and intense supportive care.

It is extremely important NOT to squeeze the swelling or try to remove the larvae from the burrow through the air hole. If the larvae explodes while still under the skin of the rabbit, the rabbit may have an anaphylactic reaction which can cause shock and death. In addition, severe toxic shock can occur due to secondary infection, and abscesses can form in the burrows where the larvae lived if the dead (necrotic) tissue is not properly removed by your veterinarian.

The House Rabbit Society does not, under any circumstance, recommend housing a rabbit outside. However, many people like to let their rabbits enjoy time in the yard while they are nearby to interact and protect their rabbit. If your rabbit is outside even for a very short period of time, it is important to check them thoroughly for scabs and lumps every day. Also look for fleas, ticks, and fur mites, and remember never to use Frontline on your rabbit as it is toxic to rabbits. As always, your skilled rabbit veterinarian should examine any rabbit that develops swellings, lameness, or has any decrease in appetite or fewer or misshaped stools. Your veterinarian can also prescribe the appropriate treatment if your rabbit has fur mites or fleas.