How to Manage a Maggot Infestation in a Very Much Alive Dog

Q post surgery of benign tumor removal

Over the last couple weeks I have had my share of learning experiences. The kind that are learned by doing. By scrambling to figure it out in the heat of the moment. By putting aside anxieties, stresses, tolerances and stepping up to do what needs to be done… I’ll take it back a bit and tell you the whole story. Please be warned that some of the content may make some of you uncomfortable and a couple of the pictures may make your next meal unappealing. But! I did not know the things I needed to know and was thrown into a situation that demanded them. You may too one day, so prepare to feel icky and read on.

A few weeks back we had noticed a cyst on Q’s side had begun to rapidly grow. He had had this cyst for probably close to ten years. When it first made it’s appearance I rushed Q off to the vet and learned that it was a benign tumor that shouldn’t give him any trouble. I was told that one day it may grow and even possibly burst but that it would not be a fatal issue to my beloved pup. This was great news as I, like most I’m sure, went in with the fear of being told my dog was dying. We carried on as usual. So when I saw this larger lump on the side of my dog I wasn’t too stressed. The vet said this may happen and that Q would be fine. We carried on.

Then on a Wednesday night Curtis was torn from his sleep to a distressed barking coming from the yard (Q has decided that life as an outdoor dog is by far more awesome then inside and has chosen to rarely come in the house unless forced. And even then makes a big stink about being confined to the indoors. What I’m clarifying is that he is not forced to be outside. He loves it.) Curtis made a mad dash outside to find our old beast sitting in the front yard with a coyote standing right next to him. He scared the coyote off and grabbed Q. There was blood everywhere. Curtis was certain the coyote had torn Q open.

He moved him onto the deck to have a better look. Rushed around to grab towels and warm water. Gingerly wiping away the blood, waiting to reveal the gored side of Q. “I’m going to have to put down my dog” he thought. This is right about when I rode down the driveway, getting home from work. My first thought was “why is Curtis brushing Q at 1:30 in the morning?” which quickly changed to “Q’s cyst probably burst”. I hoped off my bike and through my helmet ask what’s going on? “There was a coyote” was all Curt said. My stomach sank and my heart leaped into my throat.

There was a coyote? What do you mean there was a coyote? Was he attacked? What happened? all screamed through my mind. But frantically yelling questions was not going to make this situation any better. I cast my helmet aside and knelt down at my boys  head. He was clearly distressed. There was bloodied towels strewn around him. I started to think the worst. “I can’t tell if he’s been bit or if it’s just his cyst” Curt tells me. He poured warm water over Q’s side and with our head lamps on we scoured his side for any sign of bites, scratches, cuts. Nothing. Nothing! We couldn’t find anything related to a coyote attack. It appeared the burst cyst was the worst of it. But the close encounter with the coyote was an issue worthy of attention. It could come back.

We got Q cleaned up and covered the oozing cyst. Tidied up the mess and agreed to attempt to keep the beast inside for the night. That coyote knew where he was and that he’d be easy pickins. I couldn’t stomach the thought of my boy suffering an attack. That was not how he was going to meet his maker if I had anything to do with it. So in we all went. I got ready for bed, hoping Q would settle and go to sleep for the night. Yeah right! There is no compromising with the beast. He paced and paced and seemed genuinely stressed out. I decided it would be better for his healing to be outside, so out he went. We opened the window right above his sleep spot to easily hear if our assistance was needed and went to bed.

The next day we packed the old guy over to the vet. Curtis and I had already discussed our possible options and decided that we would take a chance with surgery and have the tumor removed. It was out of the question to leave it as is and putting him down over a benign tumor seemed preposterous. After blood work and an examination our vet, Doctor Dolphin, agreed that surgery was the best option. He was confident that he could completely remove it and so long as things go well there is a good chance Q will manage it well. Curtis and I aren’t naive. Q is almost 15 years old. He has liver disease that is off the charts and who knows what else going on inside. Dolphin made it very clear that he may not make it through the surgery, and even if he did, he may not make it through the recovery. We understood and scheduled surgery.

This was Thursday. The surgery was scheduled for the following Tuesday. Our vet had told us that with this summer heat we would have issues with flies getting to it and probably maggots. We said ok and that was that. I was in no way prepared for what that actually meant. We stopped by the local Shoppers Drug Mart and bought some gauze and wraps to keep the cyst clean and covered. Now it was just a waiting game until Tuesday.

Friday was rather uneventful. We cleaned the oozing cyst and changed the bandages a few times. The flies were relentless. Landing on the bandage, clinging to the hair on either side of the bandage, it was gross but normal as far as I was aware. Saturday morning came around and Curtis had errands to run. I was left on my own to tend to Q. I removed the bandage and noticed what looks like thick pus congealed in his hair beside the cyst. I looked closer and realized it was millions of little, tiny maggots. My instant reaction? Pure panic. I called Curtis, told him I needed him home. He told me he’d be back shortly but I had to start taking care of it.

Armed with the hose and a pair of scissors I started rinsing away maggots and snipping out the clumps of infested hair. I got the wound clean (using only water) and freshly bandaged it. I was over whelmed. I was in over my head. I was over reacting. I knew I had to calm down. I found a nice spot in the grass and got Q to come sit with me. And I cried. I wanted to help him. I wanted to cure him. I wanted to make this whole mess of a situation go away for him. The vet said this may happen so I would have to cope. Tuesday couldn’t have come quick enough then.

Curtis and I had tickets to a matinee play in Vancouver so we left Q to relax in the yard for the afternoon. It was getting close to dark when we tended to his cyst again. It was a similar scene. Small maggots. Some slightly larger then the morning. We used some Dr. Bonners soap and cleaned him up. We coated his cyst and surrounding skin with Vaseline in the hopes that it would deter more flies and create a barrier on the wound. We wrapped him in a fresh bandage and called it a night.

Being that I work afternoons it’s a pretty typical morning that Curt gets up before me. This particular Sunday I was torn out of my sleep by Curtis stating that there are large maggots on and in the cyst and that we have to do something about this and do it now. It was bad. Like finding the dead rabbit in the forest covered in maggots bad. I grabbed my phone and started a frantic Google search. With my head spinning trying to filter all the different methods that could help, using products that I’d never even heard of, I abandoned the “research” and decided to head straight to a vet clinic. Certainly they’d be able to help me.

Being Sunday our vet was closed and wasn’t an option for information. I headed into Langley to the Langley Animal Clinic. A large, as well as small, animal vet clinic. Of course they’re going to be able to help me! I stated my situation to the receptionist and asked for a product that would kill/prevent maggots. I got a blank blinking stare before she told me to wait while she asked the vet. I was then told that the product they had could only be administer by a vet and that I had to bring Q in. That was ridiculous! There was still two days to get through before the surgery. How would a vet applying product Sunday morning help me with a maggot infestation Monday afternoon? I was very disappointed with the lack of aide out of a place that is suppose to care for animals. And how could a large animal vet clinic not have products for maggots? Certainly I am not the first person to need such a thing!

I realized at this point that in my haste to get help for Q I had left my phone at home. I hit up a couple other vet clinics with the same response. “Bring him in”. I stopped by the Shoppers Drug Mart again to get more wraps, gauze etc and was even further disappointed at how inadequate their “first aid” section was. This was a morning where every which way I turned I was being pushed back. I headed back home.

Once there I got my phone and hunkered down to make a game plan. I decided on a treatment plan after reading a few different websites. We would need hydrogen peroxide, cornstarch, a thing called medical turpentine oil (I had never heard of this before)  and betadine, an iodine solution. I started to call vets this time instead of driving around. I decided to lie and say it was for my pig so the request to see the animal would be less likely. I started to ask for medical turpentine oil. Clinic after clinic had no idea what to tell me. No idea where I could find medical turpentine oil and wished me luck. I was dumb founded. This is the horse capital of British Columbia! Farm country! Maggots in an animal should not be so unheard of!

Turpentine oil to treat a maggot infestation

Finally I called Willowbrook Animal Hospital. The woman on the phone couldn’t help me but suggested I try the Pharmasave in Cloverdale. She told me they carried a lot of vet products and would probably be my best bet. I could’ve kissed her. Finally a piece of information that could prove to be helpful! We headed to the Pharmasave.

This place is a gold mine for vet supplies. I went up to the pharmacist and asked for medical turpentine oil. It took her a bit of searching but before long a I had a bottle in my hand. Amazing! (Please note this is not the same as the turpentine you can pick up at your local hardware store. Please do not use that on your pets!) We also bought better wraps, the kind usually seen on horse legs. A wider stickier version of the stuff we had bought at Shoppers. The betadine was there and we were even able to pick up more diatomaceous earth that we were running low on (We use this to combat fleas and mites for the chickens). Finally the day was turning around! I was starting to feel like we were getting things under control.

Betadine to treat a maggot infestation          Wraps to treat a maggot infestation

Back home we began the maggot attack. The first step is to remove as many maggots as possible. You will have to wipe and pick them away. Use tweezers. Thankfully Curtis is far more tolerant than me and took the position of maggot picker. You will most likely not get all of them as maggots will burrow into the tissue and be unreachable. (Q’s cyst started to look like a lava rock). Once you’ve cleared as many as possible, apply the hydrogen peroxide. This will kill the surface maggots and aid with combating infection. Next, dust the wound with the cornstarch. This will also help to kill the maggots as well as dry everything out. Once that’s done rinse everything away with water and remove all the dead maggots.

Removing maggots from the dogs wound

Treating a maggot infestation

Now take your medical turpentine oil and soak a piece of gauze with it. Really saturate it. Place the soaked gauze over the infested site and wrap it up to keep it covered. Leave it wrapped for an hour. What I believe this is doing is smothering the burrowed maggots and forcing them to retreat out of their holes all the while killing them. After an hour uncover and remove any more maggots that have come to the surface and died. At this point your pet should be maggot free. To help with avoiding infection, promote healing and prevent the return of the maggots take a cotton ball and soak with betadine. Gently dab all over the wound to make a light layer. Don’t over saturate with this as it can burn the skin.

Clearing an infested cyst from maggots          Benign cyst that has outgrown itself

We changed the dressing and re applied the betadine a couple more times between that crazy Sunday and our Tuesday appointment and didn’t see another maggot. It seemed that the flies were very repelled by the turpentine oil.

Getting ready to head for surgery to remove a benign cyst

Within a couple hours (a couple nerve racking hours) of dropping Q off at the vet we were called to be told he was out of surgery and everything went well. Less then an hour after that we were called and asked politely to come get him. Normally they would never release a dog so quickly after surgery but Q’s determination to not remain inside the clinic was fierce. He figured out ways to open enclosures the girls had set him up in and was loudly crying to go home.

The amount of relief I felt knowing he made it through the procedure and was coming home his crazy old self was almost unbearable. To dread the worst and be told the best took my breath away. In hindsight I’m not surprised. This old guy is one tough cookie. It’s going to take more then a pesky cyst to slow him down.

We discussed recovery strategies with the vet assistants and decided to put an old t-shirt on the old guy to prevent dirt and the dreaded flies from getting at his incision. All the while allowing it to breathe. We loosely tied the shirt up with an elastic band and kept a close watch to ensure that the shirt rubbing wouldn’t become an issue. I took a cotton ball soaked in turpentine oil and lightly coated the hair around the incision site to deter the flies. This worked like a charm. Like so good I’m going to use it on myself. I didn’t notice a single fly landing on him. There were flies of course, but none even so much as hovered over the incision site.

Using a t-shirt to protect the incision site after surgery

During this crazy weekend we also got Q back on some effective CBD pills. For those who are wondering right now what a CBD pill is, it’s cannabis oil with the THC removed. It’s is purely for healing and pain management and has no psychoactive properties. This means there is no high. We’ve been treating Q with this for over a year now with great results but the last batch we bought was different. Apparently they were trying some new extraction process that was suppose to be better. It wasn’t in my opinion. Q definitely deteriorated during the time that we had him on it. But the store we buy from finally got the old stuff back so we grabbed a bunch.

Getting special treatment after surgeryWithin a few days we started to notice him looking and behaving better. After the surgery he looked better then when he had gone in! Maybe the cyst was causing him discomfort. Maybe the CBD pills have taken effect. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Either way my boy has been marching around the yard, in his cool dude t-shirt, looking happy and alert. He’s eating up his food well and shows very little signs of slowing down. It makes me happy to see him happy. And I will take all the time he has in him to give us before we say our forever goodbyes.

Q chilling out in his t-shirt after surgery

I want to clarify that I am not a medical professional. I have no training, education or experience in veterinary medicine. The procedures and products I have written about in this post worked very well for me. I can not in any way promise they will work that way for you. Please advise your vet if you have any questions or concerns regarding your pet. The purpose of this post is to provide some information and options should you end up in a similar position as I. I hope you never do.

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