Every summer, the media offers hints about taking care of your pet during the summer heat. Very important emphasis is made about heat stroke as well as warnings about lawn chemicals and fleas and ticks. But there is one summer time health hazard I have never heard them talk about. Maybe it is because the thought of it is so gross that people can’t imagine it happens, but working in vet hospitals here in the northeast where summers are very hot and humid, it seems to be the summer hazard we see the most and one that usually doesn’t have a good ending.
Myiasis is the technical name for it; fly strike the common name. Basically, it is the infestation of maggots on an animal. Sometimes the pet is one that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but often it is a well cared for, well loved pet whose owner wasn’t aware this could happen. No one wants to think that it can happen to their pet, but it can very easily.
Flies are attracted to feces or breaks in the skin. Once they find an ideal spot, they lay their eggs on the animal. Depending on the conditions, these eggs can hatch in about 8 to 12 hours. The larvae or maggots start looking for an area to feed. They feed on dead cells and exudate so any area that is cut or abraded would be ideal for them. Once they find an area they feed on the dead tissue, eventually moving on to healthy tissue. If not removed in a short time, the pet becomes ill and the damage the maggots cause becomes unrepairable. Unfortunately, at this point euthanasia is the kindest option.
Not a pleasant picture is it? Unfortunately, I have had to deal with this problem with 3 pets. Charm, my most recent addition, was a stray brought into the emergency vet clinic I was working at. When she was brought in, she had diarrhea and was generally run down. She did not have maggots but had fly eggs all through her coat and even under her one upper eyelid. Luckily, we were able to remove the eggs before any developed.
Bitsa, my orange tabby, was found as a 2 week old kitten 2 years ago in June. She was screaming on someone’s front lawn and when I picked her up, I saw her one front paw was swollen to 3 times its size and the tissue was becoming necrotic. She had very small maggots on the foot. A trip to the vet for antibiotics and washing her feet several times and finally, she was maggot free.
They were both stray kittens when the problem happened, but Geo, my senior dog,is an inside dog and also was affected. His problem happened last summer and is probably typical of what happens with most pet owners. I live a few blocks from a river and last June we had to evacuate because of potential flooding. Luckily, my sister lives nearby and out of the flood plain so we packed up the whole crew and spent the night at her house. As you can imagine, with all my furry family members, it was a chaotic time. That night Geo started acted funny, walking strangely, acting uncomfortable. He has arthritis and we thought he was sore so made him stay on one floor in the house and rest. But when we got to go home the next day, he was still acting that way. When I let the dogs out into the back yard, I decided to check Geo over as he was acting a little more uncomfortable and trying to sit a lot. I was surprised to see maggots. He had a small lump that got rubbed raw and a fly took advantage. Luckily, I was able to wash them off and we had no problems, but it could have turned into a major problem very quickly.
Gross isn’t it? And you can bet I felt like the worse owner in the world, but the truth is, it can happen so quickly and before we even know there is a reason for flies to be attracted. A little bit of diarrhea, a little cut can be enough to start the process.
So what can you do to keep this from happening? Watch your pet for any sores or raw areas. Check for any stool, diarrhea or urine soaked fur. Keep those areas clean. Matted fur can be a problem because it holds moisture close to the skin and can cause a skin infection, so groom your pets regularly. Keep the area around your house clean- trashes covered, poop picked up- to reduce the number of flies. Keep your pet inside. Pets that spend most of their time outside are exposed more to flies. Outside pets are also exposed to bot flies. The maggot form of a bot fly is called a warble and they are ugly! They are huge and can grow to about 1 1/2 inches in length. They truly look like something from a horror film. Rabbits are the usual patients we see with warbles, but dogs and cats can get them also. We removed 3 of them from a kitten a few weeks ago at the emergency vet clinic I worked at. If you do find maggots on your pet, contact your vet. Treatment will depend on the severity.
It’s an ugly subject, but one I feel people need to be made more aware of. For more information, visit the Merck Veterinary Manual.