Creepy Crawlies Save Muffy’s Skin

Dr. John Kaya
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Wednesday - August 19, 2009
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The phrase “thinking outside of the box” must have been first coined by a veterinarian. By definition, our job involves oodles and oodles of problem-solving.

First, our patients are not able to verbally communicate what’s going on with them. Second, we see a wide variety of animals, each with their own peculiar set of problems. And third, we often find ourselves fashioning therapeutic devices to help our ailing patient. After all, medical supply companies don’t sell splints for mice or bandages for fish.

It does keep the job interesting, to say the least.


When Muffy came into our hospital, we had to think waaaaaay outside of the box. If you just had a hearty meal, read no further. The following may cause violent regurgitation, if you know what I mean.

As usual, the names and furry faces have been changed to protect the innocent.

Muffy was a 3-year-old poodle that jumped off a dining room table and, upon landing, broke her front leg. She had seen another veterinarian for the fracture and a cast was placed on her leg six weeks before to coming into our hospital. The owner came to us because she had recently moved and we were closer and more convenient.

Prior to removing the cast, I asked if the other veterinarian had seen Muffy since the cast was placed. The owner did recall the other veterinarian requesting a recheck, but moving into a new house was hectic and very time-consuming. They did not have time to go back as recommended.

This could be a problem. I informed the owner that we usually like to check the cast two weeks after placement to assess the fracture and make sure there were no pressure sores caused by the casing. As I started to remove the cast, I could smell trouble - literally. Muffy’s front leg reeked of a foul odor that reminded me of rotting cheese and natto beans (for those of you not of the Japanese persuasion, natto beans = rotting beans).

Upon extracting the leg from its encasement, Muffy’s owner turned green. Make it fluorescent green. You see, the skin beneath the cast had putrefied and only rotting fragments remained. The whole leg was a decomposing pressure sore. On a positive note, the fracture had healed, but the skin on the leg was a mess.

What to do? No medication would help this catastrophe, and surgery was of little use since there was very little skin to salvage. Hmm, it was time to think outside of the box. Could the answer be maggots?

During the Civil War, many soldiers were found and treated days after being injured. Those with maggots in their wounds seem to do better, and oftentimes these soldiers were spared amputation. Could maggots work?

We found a company that provided medical-grade sterile maggots. I didn’t even know that maggots could be sterile. Yuck!

After importing the little morsels, we proceeded to place 10-12 tiny maggots on Muffy’s leg and wrapped it with gauze moistened with sterile saline. The bandage was changed every four to five days.

Only about half the maggots survived during this time, and they were removed only to be replaced with a new batch of tiny critters. You see, the maggots only gorged on rotting flesh and left the healthy tissue alone. With each bandage change, the leg improved as healthy tissue slowly grew back.Yay, maggots! But still, yuck!

Chalk one up for thinking outside of the box and, of course, American history class. The little buggers did their job and the leg was saved.

So what’s the take-home message?

If you’re ever wounded and notice flies swarming your injury, let them enjoy the meal and lay their eggs.

The tiny minions that soon emerge will only do you well, especially if you live on The Wild Side.

Pet Tip:

Following the instructions provided by your veterinarian is very important. Re-check appointments are crucial to the assessment and progress of your pet’s illness.

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