What most people who own don’t know is that wolf worm is the larva from a botfly. Fortunately, wolf worm in cats is a condition that rarely occurs.
However, most homeowners find it repulsive, especially when dealing with wolf worms in their cats. The sight of a huge worm wriggling its way through a hole in your cat can be very disgusting.
Thankfully, your veterinarian should be able to treat this infection and completely eradicate as much larva as possible.
Female botflies are carriers of the wolf worm and are also known as Cuterebra. They lay their eggs close to the nest of potential hosts, which may include rodents.
Although felines are not generally hosts to infection of Cuterebra, still outdoor cats are easily exposed to this parasite. The larvae can get into cats through wounds or orifices, but this can be prevented by maintaining a strict indoor policy for your pet cat.
What are warbles?
The scientific family name or genus of the North American rabbit or botfly rodent is known as Cuterebra.
It is estimated that twenty-six species of Cuterebra exist in the US and Canada. They also dominate some parts of Mexico and the neotropical areas.
Cuterebra larvae commonly grow inside some animal hosts’ tissues and are typically referred to as warbles during this stage of their life cycle.
How are cats affected?
Cats, especially the ones that roam free, are unfortunate hosts of the wolf worm. They become exposed when hunting mice or rabbits, and in most cases, wolf worms occur around the neck or head of cats.
Botfly or Cuterebra lifecycle
Adult botflies can deposit their eggs close to or inside the burrows of rodents. After the eggs are hatched, they can affect these rodents by entering their body through the mouth, nose, or wounds.
These larvae would then migrate after some days into these rodents’ skin tissues, where development continues.
There are several species of wolf worms that have evolved to move into specific anatomical sites in different hosts.
For instance, Cuterebra horripilum goes to the throat area in cottontail rabbits, while Cuterebra fontinella targets the deer mouse’s stomach or tail area.
Typically, these larvae would encyst under the skin of their hosts where they complete their lifecycle. The development of larvae commonly lasts within 19 to 38 days in hosts like small rodents and 55 to 60 days in hosts like jackrabbits.
After exiting their hosts, the larvae would continue their development in debris, loose soil, or plant litter. The period of pupation can last as long as 7 to 11 months or as less as 28 days. This depends on the botfly species or environmental factors involved.
You should get veterinary attention if your cat develops a huge, cyst-like lump on its neck or head. While lumps may appear in other areas, this rarely happens.
Owners, with close inspection, would notice a tiny hole in the area where the lump is present. This is where the larva gets its air from.
Some movement may also be noticed in the lump, which may cause the cat some inconvenience. It is also not unusual for owners to notice pus coming out from the affected area.
This is the outcome of secondary infection, and if left unattended, could have the wolf worm crawling out of the hole within 30 days.
Your vet would have to remove the worm with the use of forceps after examining the lump. Removing wolf worm isn’t an easy task, and care must be taken while fishing it out.
Instead of doing it yourself, it helps to get professional help in removing the larva. This is because any part of the wolf worm left behind can cause severe body reactions in your pet.
Your vet will flush out the affected site and clean out any unhealthy tissue after the larva is removed.
Also, some antibiotics may be prescribed to quicken the healing process. Notwithstanding, wounds gotten from wolf worm infection usually take a while before they heal.
Treatment depends on when the infection is found. In a case where the condition is diagnosed before the wolf worm leaves the skin, the affected tissue may have to be removed surgically.
To combat any secondary bacterial infection, antibiotics are commonly prescribed. Depending on how severe the condition is, surgery may be required to close any injured areas.
Although many cats quickly recover from an infestation of the wolf worm, it can be fatal for some of the larvae to migrate to the brain.
Neurological complications developed by cats may include:
- Loss of vision
- Behavioural changes
- Head tilt
Some worms may exit through the nose, which may cause breathing issues in the cat. Your vet must conduct magnetic resonance imaging on the cat’s brain since the neurological symptoms are similar to other disorders.
Your vet may suggest euthanization if the brain damage is extensive. Your veterinarian may prescribe drugs to kill the wolf worm if caught on time.
Some cats may recover completely, while others will continue to face neurological issues.
Cat owners should stop their cat from hunting and eating rodents as the easiest means of controlling wolf worm infection.
If you live in an environment with many rodents or other small mammals that may make protecting your pet difficult, then you can periodically check your cat for any signs of wolf worm.
The sooner a warble is removed, the less likely it is for your cat to experience permanent or severe harm.
How to know if your cat has the wolf worm
Early stages of wolf worm infection are rarely apparent from skin inspection. Many cases of wolf worms aren’t noticeable till the larva get big enough till it is obvious it is in your pet.
Owners may notice a tiny hole that allows the worm breath, and the bigger the worm gets, the wider the hole.
In some cases, most cat owners don’t notice anything until after the worm has left its host and the affected area turns into an abscess in the skin of the cat.
Most times, secondary infections may develop into empty cysts that may be fatal to the host than the initial Cuterebra infection.
The prognosis is very positive for full resolution if only a few warbles are involved, and few, if any, lasting side effects occur.
If a cat is infected with different warbles, or if a warble migrates into or grows near a nerve or other sensitive tissue or organ, the prognosis is worse.
As stated earlier, constant inspection is important for the health of your cat. If a lump is noticed, contact your vet immediately before the infection worsens.