By Katie Atkins

    When it comes to protecting pets, Dr. Courtney Blumer with the Marathon Veterinary Hospital said pet owners need to be vigilant in looking for screwworms.

    “The first line of defense is observing your animal for any open wounds,” she said. “Are they housed outside? Maybe they should be brought inside.”

    The problem with screwworms is how they tunnel down deep into healthy living tissue, Blumer said, whereas regular maggots feed on dead tissue.

    “The screwworm can create very severe conditions with devastating effects within 24 hours. You can imagine the pain these animals are in just having these maggots on them,” she said. So it’s important to get the animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible if it appears to be infected.

    Dr. Robert Foley from the Upper Keys Veterinary Hospital in Islamorada said he’s been telling pet owners to discard feces on their properties that may attract flies.

    Also, Foley suggested keeping the pet’s hair short and easy to groom. This way, it’s easier to spot any wounds or abnormal lumps on the skin. Ear infections can also attract flies, he said.

    “These screwworms can be potentially contagious to people, birds and just about any warm-blooded animal,” Foley said, although he expects the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and USDA will have the screwworm issue under control in no time.