It’s that time of year again …
One of the least favorite times of year for most emergency staff is what we in the veterinary community like to refer to as “maggot season.” While most people only think of maggots growing in spoiled food or on things that are no longer alive, maggots can also be a problem in our live pets.
Maggots are fly larvae (an early stage of fly development), and a maggot infestation is called myiasis. When looking for a suitable place to lay their eggs, flies are usually attracted to things with decaying or rotten smells. In our live pets, attractive sites for flies can include infected bite wounds, areas of fur that are matted with urine or feces, skin folds, infected ears, ruptured skin masses, hot spots and surgical incisions, to name a few. After about 1-3 days, the eggs hatch. At first, the maggots will feed on dead skin or debris. But when that food source runs out, they release an enzyme in their saliva that starts digesting healthy skin. The enzyme can cause small holes in the skin, and then the maggots can actually burrow underneath the skin. They can also tunnel into the rectum or vagina of a pet. With time, the maggots can start releasing toxins that can make your pet sick very quickly, leading to fever, lethargy and shock.
So if you find maggots on your pet, get them to a vet immediately, where they will be able to clip and clean the underlying cause and remove the maggots. Some pets might need to be hospitalized and placed on IV fluids overnight, in addition to being started on antibiotics.
One of the biggest problems we’ve run into lately concerning maggots is false information on the Internet about getting rid of them at home — attempting to do so can make our job harder and further complicate your pet’s health. The problem is that the majority of information out there is geared toward killing maggots in food, not on your live pets. Some of the worst recommendations out there include the following — DO NOT ATTEMPT ANY OF THESE MEASURES:
- Placing gasoline, oil, kerosene or lighter fluid on maggots is not a safe remedy. Besides potentially being a local irritant, if your pet ingests that kind of fluid, they can aspirate some of the material into the lungs.
- Pouring straight bleach on the maggots is another unwise treatment recommended online — doing so can be very irritating to the eyes and act as an irritant to the lungs as well.
- Pouring powdered lime on your pet also is not a good idea, since it can cause vomiting, diarrhea and GI tract ulceration.
- Another very bad idea, placing boiling water on maggots, is something your pet would not appreciate, to say the least. Doing so can cause severe burns.
- There is also information about using over the counter permethrin products to kill maggots. This would be something I would be very wary of doing on a cat. Cats are very sensitive to permethrins (an insecticide in many over-the-counter flea preventatives), and they can lead to intense muscle tremors and seizures.
- Finally, using hairspray on the maggots is another unwise tip — doing so probably won’t kill them, and will only serve to give your pet a stiff hairdo.
The best method for keeping maggots off your pet is preventing them in the first place. During the summer months, if your pet lives outside, make sure they get their fur clipped for the season. Do daily cleaning of any soiled outside bedding. And if your pet has a skin infection, bite wounds or surgical incisions, keep them inside until they are healed. Also, be sure to have all wounds evaluated by a veterinarian!
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