It may come as a surprise to you - it certainly did to me - that 2019 is the year of the fly. I was listening to a radio programme in which scientists discuss their work and passions, and this particular scientist was fascinated by flies and fleas - topics very close to veterinary hearts as well but perhaps for slightly different reasons.
There are thousands more species of fly than mammal on our planet, of which only a tiny number taint our view of flies in general. We tend to think of them as the nuisance that lands on our food and transmits disease, but they are fantastic pollinators - more so than bees - remove waste from our planet and maintain our environment.
Blowflies are one type that give vets a lot of concern. They feast on dead and decaying tissue and therefore clear away detritus from our world. However, if that diseased tissue is on an animal they become attracted to the smell, lay their eggs and in as little as 12 hours these eggs will hatch into maggots. The maggots eat the damaged tissue before incubating and hatching out as adult flies. When an animal has a maggot infestation, this is known as fly strike and becomes a veterinary emergency.
The most common type of pet affected is rabbits. Often rabbits have mucky back ends due to poor diet, obesity so they cannot reach round to groom themselves or feed properly, or lack of space means they mess and sit in the same area. Often, they are fed once daily but not necessarily handled every day so may suffer from fly strike for several days before they become ill and are brought to the vets for treatment.
Fly strike can be prevented. Ensuring that your rabbit has a large run to allow a toileting area is a necessity not a luxury and checking their back ends every day to ensure they are clean and disease free is easy. Keeping your rabbit lean by not overfeeding is also important. Using hay as the main diet and only feeding a maximum of an egg cupful of commercial mix per day prevents the obesity problems we see in rabbits today.
Rabbits can also be treated with “Rear-guard”, a blowfly preventative which protects rabbit for 10 weeks against maggot infestation. Your veterinary nurse can apply this to your pet at the beginning of the warm spring and summer weather when the flies are starting to wake up.
Dogs and cats can also suffer from fly strike. If they are old and arthritic and tend to lie down all day, they can be vulnerable to attack especially if they are also incontinent and unable to clean themselves properly.
So, as much as flies are a welcome necessity for our planet, monitor your pets carefully for any that are not so pleasant at all.