Fly Strike Dermatitis in Dogs

Fly Strike is a fairly common summertime problem in canines where biting flies attack either the face or ear tips.  They suck blood and inflict painful bites, which get crusty from oozing blood and can often get infected.  German Shepherd dogs, collies, and dogs with erect ears are commonly affected (while practicing, I recall seeing this condition a lot in Huskies).  Affected dogs are almost always housed outdoors and are usually confined to a pen where they cannot escape the painful fly bites.

Fly dermatitis is usually caused by adult male and female stable flies (Stomoxys calcitrans). 

Stomoxys calcitrans (commonly called the stable fly, barn fly, biting house fly, dog fly, or power mower fly) inflicts painful bites and sucks bloods from the ear tips of its victims–a condition known as fly bite dermatitis or “fly strike.”
Photo from Wikipedia.

Fly strike on the ears has a very typical appearance.  The ear tips appear black and crusty with scabs and bleed easily upon handling.  The bites can get infected easily.

Treatment

The ear tips should be cleaned gently with warm water and an antibacterial soap.  I try to remove as much of the dried crustiness as is possible.  I will often wrap the ear tips in a damp paper towel which has been moistened with lukewarm water to help soften and loosen the crusts.  The ears can be very tender and painful and usually bleed easily with this condition so don’t feel like you need to remove all the crustiness.  Be gentle and let the animal tell you when it’s time to stop (and they usually will)!!  If it’s a severe case of fly strike I recommend veterinary intervention.  Apply an insect or fly repellent to the ears.  Flea sprays are also effective, but I prefer something in an ointment form which helps coat the area and forms a barrier to the flies.  Infected ear tips require antibiotics.  Check with your veterinarian  on what products they recommend.  I recommend housing the dog indoors during the day through the healing period if possible.  Topical creams such as Panalog® work well (it has anti-inflammatory/anti-itching, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties).  I prefer the Panolog® cream over Panolog® ointment (there is a difference–the cream forms a better barrier to the flies and isn’t as greasy).  Treatment is usually very effective IF flies are controlled.

It is imperative to determine where the source of the flies are coming from and remove that.  As long as the flies are still biting, know that you are going to have a problem with healing.  Removing dog feces as well as other manure piles (anything that is drawing the flies) is helpful.  Also straw piles or grass clippings that become wet can attract flies and should be removed or sprayed with fly repellents every three weeks to help control the fly population.  Make sure the repellent you use is safe to use around animals.

Gail ♥

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About Gail

I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, veterinarian, and wanna be writer. I love nature and animals of all kinds, music, cooking, and spending time with my family.
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14 Responses to Fly Strike Dermatitis in Dogs

  1. kansamuse says:

    I was having this problem this year. The flies were so bad. The ointment helped a lot. I also put up fly traps.

  2. We have a new smooth-haired Collie pup who has fly strike. We have 3 other dogs in our home who are not troubled with this and I had never heard of it in dogs before so had no idea what it was. I noticed what looked like tiny tears or scabs on the tips of his ears and I assumed his ears were just getting little tears in them from being floppy hence I didn’t treat them. Big mistake. The scabs have increased and gotten bigger. Now that I’ve researched this I do believe it is fly strike, even though none of the other dogs are bothered by it.
    All I can find is how to PREVENT fly strike. I can’t find anything on how to treat his ears that are already affected.
    My question to you is how do I remove the fly strike scabs and (eggs?) that are already there before I treat them with anti-bacterial gel? Is it neccessary to remove all the black/grey stuff from his ears before applying healing ointment? Washing with soap and water does not remove all of it as it seems to be stuck on. I tried pulling pieces off but hair comes with it and it seems painful to dot that plus I can’t seem to get it all off. I tried rubbing a cotton ball soaked in hydrogen peroxide to remove the black stuff but it really doesn’t seem to be effective at all. Now the poor pup is tired of me messing with his ears.
    How do I remove the fly strike before treating with a healing salve?

    • Gail says:

      Removing all the dry crusty scabs from fly strike ears CAN be very painful and can cause bleeding from exposing the fresh sores underneath. I usually just take a paper towel soaked with warm water and wrap around the ear to soften the crusts before washing with warm water and an antibacterial soap. If it’s really painful, I don’t try to remove it all. You’ll find that removing the causative factor, THE FLIES, will help more than anything. Once the flies are removed and you start treating with the ointment, healing will begin. If not, I would recommend taking your puppy to your veterinarian for an evaluation/consultation.

      • Tiff says:

        What kind of ointment do you? I cant seem to find one on Google, is it Vet prescription?

      • Gail says:

        Yes, both the insecticidal ointment and the cream I used for healing were both veterinary prescriptions. You may want to check with your vet to see how they recommend treating.

  3. Thank you for your reply! I just wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to be doing. I will try just softening the places up, washing, and then treating. It’s really not horrible – just along the edges of his ears but I feel so bad that I didn’t know what it was and let it get worse before doing anything about it! Since the weather has gotten colder I don’t think the flies are a problem anymore and the pup is spending much less time outside.
    Now I’ll know to be watching out for this problem! Thank you, again, for your quick response and helpful information.

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  6. Sarah says:

    We’ve never had a problem with this before, but this year for the first time both my dogs have got it fly strike on their ears. The German Shepherd has it the worst on his left ear, but his right ear is also affected. The Akita was particularly badly bitten today. I’ve spent the last couple of days shopping around for a pet safe insect repellent and finally tracked some down that is used for dogs and horses. I’ve also applied it to their legs, because the Akita has been being bothered by the flies biting his legs.

    I’ve had the German Shepherd, the older dog, for five previous summers here and just never had an issue like I said. I was really surprised when I found that their ears were getting sore and scabby and I felt really bad. No one ever warned me to keep an eye out for fly strike.

    • Gail says:

      Thanks for your comment. I am sorry both your dogs are bothered by the flies this year. Some years are particularly bad for flies while others aren’t.

      I had German shepherds all my life and none of them were ever bothered but they were mostly indoor dogs. It’s more common in outdoor penned dogs which makes sense since they are the ones exposed to the flies more.

  7. Alex says:

    My very loved Labrador is 14 and kept outside, she has always been an outside Dog and with the exception of occasional “hot spots” has not had any problems related to her fur or skin. Unfortunately she has cancer in her mouth and is becoming slower with her age, walks are now shortened to 20 minutes around the block so as to not over-stress her. We feed her with a mixed diet of Hills Science Diet, Fish Oil Tablets and Sardines.

    This summer, I noticed the beginning of fly-strike. I have just spent the past 20 minutes watching her lie down outside the backdoor (she thinks the doormat is her day bed 🙂 ) and seeing what she goes through each day – it broke my heart. 3 flies on each ear biting her until she bled, I guess this is the first time she has been affected by it because she is simply too old and tired to continually shake them off.

    My Mum has moved her into the garage and I have just sprayed her ears with Aloe Vera Sunburn Spray, she loved the relief it gave her (her eyes closed and she moved her head closer to the bottle as if to say “ooooooh yes, more please).

    As winter approaches, I hope the flies begin to disappear, in the mean time she is going to stay in the garage whilst the healing process begins. My mother works full-time in a very busy job and I am at University most of the day, I was so sorry to see what she has to put up with all day.

    We are not in a position financially to pay for expensive cancer treatments and the family have mutually decided to keep her as comfortable as possible until she, well, goes to doggy heaven.

    Thank you for your article and the suggested remedies. I will post a reply later on letting you know how it went.

    • Gail says:

      I am so sorry the flies are bothering your beloved Labrador. What you have already noticed is true. The flies DO seem to want to take over the older and more debilitated animals. When I practiced, I used to see a lot of maggot infested dogs come in and it was just about always the geriatric, sick, or debilitated dogs who were affected (or animals with a wound that the flies were attracted to).

      I sympathize with you in many ways. I just lost my very beloved geriatric cat 7 months ago. He was 19 1/2 years old and he also had developed oral cancer. It’s so hard watching our animals age and fade away from us. You have obviously taken excellent care of your dog as 14 is getting on up there for a Labrador. I hope your dog’s remaining days are spent as comfortable as possible. Love her hard for her remaining time.

      Thanks for your comment.

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