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… not to put beans in your ears. But in the case of our fruit-loop of a burmese cat, Fidget, the operative word should have been ‘blowflies’.

About a year before she died, my old dog Bella developed ‘chronic geriatric vestibular syndrome’ - as the name suggests, this is something that often occurs in older dogs, but because it can strike at any age it’s also simply called ‘idiopathic’ vestibular syndrome. It seems to be due to inflammation of the nerves that connect the inner ear with the cerebellum at the base of the brain, thus affecting balance. We knew there was something odd going on as she began to hold her head on one side, but very quickly it got to the point where she was unable to walk and spent her time lying down. And throwing up. As well as the nausea, her fine motor control was shot & she had trouble even drinking.

When – fearing that she’d had a stroke – we rushed Bella to the vet, he said it was more likely the vestibular syndrome & told us to have a look at her eyes. Sure enough, they were flickering all over the place, trying to keep up with the barrage of ‘error messages’ that her brain was receiving from the inner ear. She got over this after a couple of days (though the head tilt remained till the end of her life), so when 13-year-old Fidget recently started the same silly-walk-&-head-tilt thing we assumed it was the same problem.

However, on Friday Fidget was throwing up & walking in circles, so the daughter took her to the vet. ‘Hmmm,’ said the vet, ‘I can understand why you thought it might be vestibular syndrome. But no – when I look into her ear on the affected side I can see….. blowfly eggs & at least one big fat maggot!’ Somehow our cat had got her ears fly-blown! This was both mortifying (in more than one sense) and expensive (because the little toad scratched & bit & required full sedation to have her ears flushed, plus an overnight stay & various meds.)

Fly strike (getting fly-blown) is a common problem for sheep farmers in NZ (& elsewhere). In New Zealand caused by any of four species of fly: the females are particularly attracted by the smell of damp wool - dirty damp wool is even better (from the flies’ point of view). They lay their eggs close to the skin, where it’s nice & moist & the eggs won’t dry out, & once the maggots hatch out they eat first through the skin & then into the underlying tissues, guzzling away until they’re ready to pupate. The wool falls out to reveal exposed flesh & if the animals aren’t treated, they’ll sicken & die as secondary infections take hold.

In Fidget’s case all we can think of is that she’d taken herself off to the gully for a nice nap after breakfast, & a blowfly’s happened past & seen an upthrust ear as a nice oviposition site. It must have been a particularly deep sleep! We’ve often said Fidget has wool between the ears…

(& speaking as the one who’s ended up having to put drops in the cat’s ears, I am extremely grateful that the vet clipped all her claws!)