(WSVN) - A dangerous infestation is killing Key deer in the keys. The predator is called a screw fly, and now it’s not just Key deer that are in danger, so are people’s pets. 7’s Jeff Lennox has more on the worm worry, and we have to warn you, some of the pictures might be hard to watch.
Oberlin is a very sweet black labrador retriever.
Marian Joy Ring: “He kinda flunked out of Canine Companions for Independence. (Laughs).”
But Marian says he’s the best companion she could ask for. Though he keeps her on her toes.
Marian Joy Ring: “It was the middle of summer, and he had had a bug bite that he is allergic to and chewed on it. He opened up three hotspots.”
Three little scrapes she treated with antiseptic. Two healed, one didn’t.
Marian Joy Ring: “Even though the diameter was getting smaller, it looked like it was getting deeper, and then I thought I saw something swimming in there.”
She took a picture and sent it to her vet.
Marian Joy Ring: “She said, ‘Uh, you want to bring him in today.'”
Turns out, Oberlin was one of the early cases of screw worm infestation in the Florida Keys.
Dr. Doug Mader, Marathon Veterinary Hospital: “When Oberlin came in, that was before the actual official diagnosis had been made.”
Dr. Doug Mader treats the Key deer on Big Pine Key. More than 100 of the tiny deer have died after being infected with screw worms. They are the larva of the screw fly, and the damage they do is fast and devastating.
Dr. Dough Mader: “The life cycle of the fly, from the egg to the maggot, is about 21 hours.”
Screw flies lay their eggs in any open wound of warm blooded animals.
Dr. Doug Mader: “Screw worms start on the surface and then screw or burrow their way into healthy tissue. So they’re eating healthy muscle. Bones, nerves vessels — everything.”
Since Key Deer are wild, the disease is rarely caught early enough to save them. But dogs and cats are dying as well.
Dr. Doug Mader: “We’ve had to sacrifice a few animals, yes. They were too far gone. They had too much organ damage to save them.”
Dr. Mader says pet owners need to watch their animals closely.
Dr. Doug Mader: “So if you check your pet twice a day, if there is a problem, you’re gonna catch it. Take it to your veterinarian and get it treated.”
But to do that, the doctor says you have to know what to look for.
These are the pictures of Oberlin’s screw worm infection…
Dr. Doug Mader: “You can see the pictures, how quickly those worms start burrowing in the skin. That’s how they get their name screw worm.”
Those white bumps are actually the screw worms as they eat their way through the dogs muscle.
Marian says your pet will give you signs that something is wrong.
Marian Joy Ring: “They’re going to indicate distress because it causes discomfort. They’re going to either cry or snap around or, ‘What’s going on over there kind of thing.”
Oberlin spent three days in the hospital but he has fully recovered. So has this cat. It’s owner thought it was suffering from an ear infection.
Dr. Doug Mader: “We put some medication in the ear and all these worms, all these screw worms literally started falling out of the ear.”
Screw worms have now spread to other keys including Ramrod, Summerland and the Torch Keys, which is why the U.S. Department of Agriculture set up this checkpoint in Key Largo, where all pets have to be checked for infection before they can be brought to the mainland.
Dr. Doug Mader: “Any animal that has any wound, no matter how tiny is at risk for screw worm.”
So the message is to check your pets and check them often. Also keep them indoors, or cover up open wounds so you don’t have a worm worry.
Copyright 2016 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.