Fly Strike in Dogs: The Painful Condition You May Never Have Heard Of

Fly strike, also called myiasis, is an irritation of your dog’s ear caused by biting flies. A warm weather disease that primarily affects dogs confined to the outdoors in the summer and fall, fly strike is most often caused by the common stable fly, however, blackflies, deer flies, and houseflies can also bite.

These insects bite and feed from the blood on the dog’s ears causing painful, red and bleeding sores along the edges of the ears. In erect-eared dogs, the flies typically bite at the tips of the ears. In floppy-eared dogs, the front edge of the ear is a popular site for fly bites. In some severe cases, the face can also be involved, and the bite wounds attract flies that lay their eggs in the damaged tissue. These eggs will later hatch into maggots.

What does fly strike look like?

Fly strike, with its red, crusty, bleeding lesions on the tips of a dog’s ears can look just like mange, scratching from allergies, vasculitis – swollen, inflamed blood vessels – or erythematosis, an autoimmune disorder where the animal’s immune system attacks normal, healthy tissue.

How is fly strike diagnosed?

Ear wounds can sometimes be difficult to diagnose without various specific tests. In order to differentiate between fly strike and these other diseases, an ear exam, skin scraping, bacterial or fungal culture, or a skin biopsy may be required. Your veterinarian may also want a complete blood count, chemistry profile, and urinalysis to make sure the rest of your pet’s body is healthy.

What kind of veterinary treatment is available?

Treatment involves physical removal of the maggots if any are present, wound flushing and cleansing with an antibiotic liquid medication, removal of any remaining dead tissue from your dog’s ears, and clipping hair from the area to aid in drying of the affected areas. Most vets will recommend giving your dog a systemic antibiotic to speed healing. Because this condition can be particularly painful, many veterinarians will opt to either anesthetize or sedate your dog during the initial treatment process.

How can I help my dog at home?

Whether you live in the city or country, do not underestimate the pain that these flies can inflict and be sure to initiate treatment at the first sign of fly bites on your pet. Gently cleanse the ear with warm water and a mild antiseptic soap, or an all-natural, organic ear cleanser containing peppermint and tea tree oil. Peppermint has a high menthol content and has long been used for its anesthetic and anti-inflammatory properties. Some holistic veterinarians suggest tea tree oil is for its antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic qualities.

Then, apply a topical antibiotic ointment that will help to control any infection that may be present. If the fly bites are severe, or maggots are present, veterinary attention is needed.

If your dog lives mainly outside (which we DO NOT recommend), you’ll need to spray your dog’s outside living quarters to help keep fly numbers to a minimum. Remove any materials that may attract flies, including fecal material, uneaten pet food, and garbage from the area.

Whether your dog stays mainly inside or outside your home, keep your pet clean and well-groomed, using an all-natural insect repellant spray to keep flies and other pests away from exposed ears and other delicate areas of the body.

The most important treatment for this problem is prevention, which consists of keeping your dog inside as much as possible during the heat of the day, except when exercising or eliminating.

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  1. This summer, while travelling, one of our dogs suffered from fly strike on its back after an attack of diarrhea.
    A hole half an inch in diameter was present when discovered and many maggots were in the damp fur and hole.
    The vet did a great job needing an intravenous drip and antibiotics and an overnight stay in the hospital. The hole is gradually filling in as expected and healing over.

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