This is Flystrike in Rabbits (graphic content)

This article is about how one of our rabbits got the worst case of flystrike our vet had ever seen.

Last night, about half an hour after I posted my last article, I got called outside by my husband. One of our rabbits, Sebastian, was lying on his side in his run, his eyes looked sort of dead but he was still breathing/moving. I wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with him, I examined him as much as I could, I actually thought he’d broken his spine. There was literally nothing showing on the outside of his body at this point. I don’t have any pictures of how we found him because I wrapped him in a towel, phoned the vet, and, upon realizing we had no car and that no taxi in the universe was going to take a sick rabbit to a vet, I ran the 2 miles to the vet, carrying the bunny in my arms wrapped in the towel, trying my best to hold him gently, with my husband alongside, carrying the rabbit carry case (because the angle the rabbit was found at, he wouldn’t actually go in our extra large carry case which is actually for my Jack Russell terrier, even though Sebastian is a Netherland Dwarf, the smallest pet bunny breed).

When I got to the vet, they were fantastic.  They literally threw out a woman mid-consult so they could take in our rabbit (I apologized profusely to her) and they got him straight to the medical area in the back.

Exhausted from the run, I went to the Spar next to the vet’s to get a coca cola, because I needed some liquid sugary crap in my system. When I got back to the waiting area, they called us straight through.

Sebastian had the worst case of fly strike the vet had ever seen in her decade or more of clinical practice. He had to be put to sleep immediately, and we held him and my husband stroked his nose (I wanted to as well, but he only had a tiny nose and my husband has large hands) while the vet did it there and then.

Fly strike is where a fly lays eggs under the surface of the bunny’s skin and they hatch into maggots that eat the rabbit alive. I don’t know if it’s a particular species of fly that does it, because I’ve always been a little confused on the fact that maggots are only suposed to eat dead flesh, but Sebastian was the first fly strike bunny we’ve had, and I saw the evidence. When the vet opened his back legs, I could see that the flies had eaten half his internal organs.

I had been checking the rabbits about twice a week (as well as obviously going out to spend time with them daily, and so was my husband), but I now know that’s not often enough. It took less than 6 hours for this to happen, for our bunny to go from his usual self to near death.  The vet said it can take under 24 hours from the eggs being laid to the rabbit being eaten alive by maggots. And that’s basically what happened.

The photos that follow show you what fly strike looks like at its worst. They are very graphic. I purposely put the featured image of a less awful picture so I didn’t upset people. I didn’t take many pictures because we needed to bury him quickly, but I wanted to share this so that people know how bad fly strike can get.

This was my pet bunny, and it could be yours:

This is flystrike in adult male rabbit age 11 years.
This is flystrike. Adult male Netherland Dwarf rabbit 11 years 5 months old.


Flystrike fly strike in rabbits clinical cases
This was under his fur on the outside, but his thick fur was in the way, so we couldn’t see what had happened. Bottom left was his tail.
Flystrike fly strike in rabbits netherland dwarf adult male 11 year old rabbit
This was the other side, as you can see, there are still lumps under the surface indicating that not all the maggots have hatched/emerged yet.

We showed him briefly to Fifer and Poppy, who were his (non-bonded) friends, but we couldn’t leave him with them because the vet couldn’t get the maggots out, and we had to bury him in the ground as quickly as possible, in the towel we took him to the vets in (because it had to be chucked anyway).

Sebastian lived to be 11 years and 5 months of age.  I always hoped he’d go in his sleep.

Sebastian and Neville rabbits
Goodbye Sebastian (left), you are with Neville (right) again now.

Banacek bunny died at 8am 2nd Jan 2016

Very sad times; we are struggling to even comprehend how this happened.  Cleo is doing her best to make sure he gets a good send-off, we will have his funeral tomorrow in the garden unless it’s too flooded.  This is pretty much all I have to say about it:

[rabbits] Helping a bereaved bunny

Those of you who have been reading regularly will know that Neville, one of our six rabbits, sadly died of old age at the end of last week.
He was survived by his brother Sebastian.

Sebastian has always been a reclusive bunny, Neville always spoke up for both of them and so part of Sebastian’s challenge in the future is going to be to learn to speak up for himself, to draw attention to his own needs without someone else there to do it for him.  Obviously, my OH and I will keep a good eye on him, but we rely on our rabbits to tell us when they’re unhappy with something we’re doing so we can change it and provide a better environment for them.  Sebastian’s just… never really done that.

Earlier this week, I couldn’t see Sebastian playing outside and felt that familiar worry, so went out to check on him.  He was just sat in his hutch staring listlessly into space.  I picked up his chewy play carrot and he attacked it with vigour, shoving at it with his nose and tearing at it.  I think it still smelled of Neville, and I got the impression Sebastian was taking out his anger, that Neville had left him behind.  I’m trying really hard not to project onto Sebastian though, because my mother died at the beginning of last month (literally two days after I started this blog, good job I’d prepared quite a few posts in advance and just needed to do photos and put it all together, but I didn’t think it was a good time to say), and I’m seeing behaviours in Sebastian that I know I’ve been exhibiting.

Anger.  Anger at everything.  That she went away.  That I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her.  Anger that the house got broken into over Christmas and that a lot of her favourite things got taken.  That I thought we had more time.  Anger at the stupidity and senselessness of it all.  She was 53.  Sebastian is very angry when he smells Neville on the toy carrot.

 This feeling that there is a huge rift in your life that will never be repaired, that some energy conduit has been cut away and you can no longer feel a connection to someone.  Sadness that she didn’t get to do half the things she wanted to.  Sebastian sometimes has water around his eyes.  I know people say rabbits can’t cry but mine all seem to when there’s something sad happening.  The first night we put Banacek outside last summer, when we came to get him he was sitting in the garden, staring through the kitchen window, waiting for us and crying.  The first night we brought Katie home, and she realised she wasn’t going to be separated from Fifer ever, she had water under her eyes too (until he bit her, then she bit him back, then his eyes were watering but that was probably pain because she’s a lot bigger than him.  He’s never ever started on Katie again).

Excessive energy.  Sometimes when I see Sebastian he’s just running around his rabbit run (which is sizeable) letting off steam.  I got an early Christmas present of my OH which was a pair of roller skates, so I could just run and run and run.  Sometimes I still lie in bed and just want to go for a long walk and just keep walking until I’ve reached the end of the world.

Aggression.  This is like anger but towards other people for no apparent reason.  Sebastian does it with me, he bites my fingers, and he’s never been a biter before (except play bites).  It’s like he’s saying “you control our lives, you’re all powerful, bring Neville back.”  I keep getting aggressive towards my OH, but we have a specific way to settle our differences so it doesn’t get very far.

Sadness.  Sometimes this is just sitting for hours staring into space.  We both do that.

Looking for answers.
 I see Sebastian sometimes trying to dig a hole to get to where we buried Neville (which was outside the rabbit enclosure).  He knows it’s happened but doesn’t understand why.  Why Neville and not him.  Why not some other elderly bunny who had an even longer life?  He stares at Cleo (who is the same age) and wonders why she’s fine, and he, Sebastian, is fine, and Neville is not.  I look at elderly people in Tesco and wonder, what did they do differently that my mother did wrong?  Of course, there’s no answer because cancer is just down to bad luck, and old age is just something that catches us out, there’s no reason why some people die of old age in their seventies and others don’t go until they hit 100, thirty entire years later, and the same for bunnies.

Distraction.  We both seem to spend an awful lot of time doing the most random things.  Sebastian even enjoyed a car ride on Monday when I had bathed him and didn’t want him to go into shock on his own because baths can be traumatic for bunnies.  He just sat in a box on the front seat and snuggled up to my hand, which was stroking him whenever it was safe to do so.  I seem to spend a lot of time doing housework, gardening, and sorting out minutiae for the rabbits.

Reaching out to people.  I’ve become a lot more talkative on social media, as well as more communicative with other family members.  Sebastian sits at the side of his run and tries to get close to the other two outdoor rabbits, who are both quite young and don’t really understand what Sebastian is going through.  When I brought him in on Monday, I sat him on the sofa and he just did his best impression of a bunny slipper, sat between me and my OH, and let me just continually stroke him.  Every  time I got up to make a cup of tea, I had to take him with me because otherwise he would get very anxious and start stomping his foot, which we know is a sign of fear.

Not eating.  This is another thing we’ve both been doing.  We have both been barely eating, and when we have done, it’s been fresh vegetables.  I’m slowly weaning myself onto pasta, rice and chips again, and trying to get Sebastian to eat some hay, because we both need our starchy carbohydrates.  I’ve recently discovered fruit in a big way, so I’m actually getting three things that look like meals every day.  Sebastian is not that into fruit.  We do share an interest in parsley, however.

The Replacement Question
I’ve been debating whether to get Sebastian a new friend as soon as possible or whether to wait longer.  The House Rabbit society suggests asap, with it being easier to bond a bereaved rabbit because they’re emotionally vulnerable.  I think rabbits are all different, and that three to five days is not enough to deal with their feelings before shoving them towards someone new.  I feel it’s a bit insensitive to go “oh, sorry the person you shared a womb with and have never been apart from your entire life is now gone.  Let’s get you a nice guinea pig…”  Also until his anger and aggression have abated it might not be the best time to try and bond him, although the flipside is that new bonding might help get rid of the negative feelings.  My OH doesn’t have as much experience with pets so is leaving it to me.  And my decision making is worse than ever at the moment.  I think the upshot will quite probably be that we’ll take Sebastian to Pets At Home on Saturday and show him the adoptible rabbits (if they have any), and if he strikes up a nice relationship with one of them, we will bring them home.  Part of me is worried that he’ll bond to a Giant Rabbit, and that we will be silly and let him, which would be woefully inappropriate for both of them – it’d be like pairing a dog and a horse.

I think, even though we’ve both lost a lot of people we were close to (Sebastian’s dad died 2 years ago, his previous owners moved to Australia eighteen months ago, and obviously being a 3D person who makes a lot of connections I’ve lost at least a dozen people in my life and been to even more funerals for all those people who I didn’t really know but were peripheral to my life in a way that I still needed to pay my respects), nothing has prepared either of us for this depth of loss or sadness.  I know I will be okay because I have my wonderful other half (terminology – we’re actually both complete circles that overlap) who looks after me and sorts things out and holds rabbits when I’m trying to pour tea.  The trouble with rabbits is they only make a connection to one individual at a time (usually), and in their serial monogamy, they lose the support network that other animals have, because other rabbits who see them frequently don’t seem to understand the significance of the loss.

For now, lots of attention, lots of understanding, giving him the space to act out (but making sure this doesn’t become a time for bad behaviour to be learned.  I feel that letting him for-real bite me would be completely unacceptable but play biting me, or attacking his toy carrot is another matter), giving him lots of extra tasty food so he is encouraged to keep eating,  My main concern is making sure he feels there is a reason to keep living, because I know rabbits are very emotional creatures and can sometimes die of loneliness or a broken heart.

Plenty of attention, warmth, love and affection, whilst making sure Sebastian isn’t smothered so he can also do his own thing.  And tea.  But not for him.  I think he’s our only rabbit who doesn’t try to drink our tea.  Maybe he should start…

There are no pictures today.  I felt it would be exploitative of the situation.

[rabbits] Goodbye little Neville

Warning: This post talks about the loss of a rabbit.

Today we opened the bunny house up to find that Neville had passed on in the night. We are still very upset about this. To try to make it better, I made this video to show what Neville used to get up to with his brother and life partner Sebastian:

Both rabbits were born in March 2005, so we are unsure what to do about Sebastian, whether to find him a new life-partner or not, because he probably doesn’t have many years left to live, and, if we are getting him a new partner, whether a rabbit or whether a different species of pet would be better. It’s a difficult question for a bunny of such a big age – celebrating his tenth birthday in March – and one we are going to think about very deeply before we make a decision.

Neville, our little Netherland Dwarf bunny.
Neville, our little Netherland Dwarf bunny.

Whatever we decide, we will continue to do our best to make Sebastian feel better. We are going to have a little burial for Neville tomorrow in the flowerbed, and get a little stone bunny statuette thingy from Homebase or some other garden centre, to put on his grave, so we can always know he is there. We are very lucky that we own our own home and can do such things without any landlord getting snotty about it. I am going to plant some lavender on top so we can see the circle of life taking place as time goes on.

Neville playing in his new bunny castle cardboard toys last November.
Neville playing in his new bunny castle cardboard toys last November.

One thing that the houserabbit society says very clearly about bereaved rabbits is to let the bereaved rabbit spend time with the body of the deceased one. We don’t know how long Neville had been gone by the time we found him (he had been fine the night before when we fed him) but when I pulled him out of the corner of the hutch, rigor mortis had set in and the chest cavity had already depressed (sorry! Archaeology graduate! We deal with dead things).
I gave him a thorough examination, I listened for a heartbeat and tried to check if he was breathing at all (he was very stiff but I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t paralysis), and I think he died of old age because he was showing no signs of illness or injury, he was nearly ten and the average age for a rabbit to live to is between five and seven, and outdoor rabbits don’t live as long as indoor rabbits, and winter is a time when organisms are more likely to die than other times of the year.
I left him out on the ground for Sebastian to see, just to definitely make sure that Sebastian had had a chance to comprehend what had happened. Then I put him in the other run because Fifer and Katie were very stressed and I don’t think they had quite known why they were so stressed. Katie had a little snuffle. Fifer went nuts and started trying to scratch and bite Neville’s body, which really horrified me, so I pulled Fifer off him and put Fifer a few feet away.

Sebastian (left) and Neville (right) hanging out together.
Sebastian (left) and Neville (right) hanging out together.

I have researched this since, and found out this is actually a normal reaction that some rabbits have when they are confronted with the loss of a friend. Fifer and Neville had a complicated past, but generally in recent months had been snuffling each other through the bars of their runs, and Neville (as you can see digging in my video) was always trying to burrow into Fifer’s run to be near him.  Apparently some rabbits do get very angry and become rage-filled balls of hate for a little while after a death.  Like people, all rabbits deal with death differently (and differently to people, too – some rabbits get very energetic and start running and bouncing around when they find their friend to be dead, not because they are happy, but because they are just reacting to the loss differently).

Neville in September 2014, being kept indoors after a difficult time at the vets following a very nasty fight with Fifer.  Sebastian is just visible at the bottom of the picture.
Neville in September 2014, being kept indoors after a difficult time at the vets following a very nasty fight with Fifer. Sebastian is just visible at the bottom of the picture.

We had to keep them separated though because when they were face-to-face without a rabbit run between them, they always fought with each other. Fifer is still very upset that his arch-nemesis is no more. Katie, his life-partner, is now comforting him. She did also do a very peculiar thing while I was distracted with Fifer – she somehow got into Sebastian and Neville’s hutch and ran through it, around the run and was well on her way to Sebastian when my other half sensibly grabbed her and popped her back onto her side of the run. I think she had the best intentions and probably wanted to comfort Sebastian, but she’s three times bigger than him and significantly stronger, and we couldn’t take the chance that she wasn’t going to accidentally hurt him. A vet visit with a bereaved bunny is the worst thing you can ever hope for, because in the bereaved state they need stability and continuity of people and place.

Sebastian and Neville snuggled together in the summer.
Sebastian and Neville snuggled together in the summer.

I have bagged Neville up and put his little body in one of the outhouses overnight just to keep him safe until we return him to the earth tomorrow.
We had gone to pets at home on Sunday and I’d bought a new toy for Sebastian and Neville, a little grass or wicker playhouse, just like the one that the indoor bunnies had demolished (that I talked about in a different post).  I bought it against my better judgement even though I didn’t have much money, I just got this strong feeling that they needed a new toy right there and then, and when I put it inside their hutch, they were both so happy that Neville just disappeared into the new toy and had so much fun, and Sebastian was chinning it and nibbling it straight away as well.  I am really glad that Neville’s last week was a happy one with lots of fun and that I bought him that toy and that he was able to play with his brother Sebastian in his final days on Earth – I don’t really have any particular beliefs about afterlives and things, something which I struggle to comprehend, but I hope he is happy, wherever he is, and that there are lots of carrots and parsley for him to nibble, and that the earth is soft enough for him to dig in.

The new toy before I put it in their hutch.  I was hoping to get some pictures of them playing with it this weekend but sadly that will not happen now.
The new toy before I put it in their hutch. I was hoping to get some pictures of them playing with it this weekend but sadly that will not happen now.

We will miss you a lot, little Neville.