How To Treat Wolf Worm in Cats

Flea and tick infestations are one of the most common problems in cats. Wolf Worm is one of these parasites that can infect your cat and cause a lot of pain. A Wolf Worm infection is severe, painful, and requires immediate attention. Keep reading to learn more about Wolf worms and how to treat this condition.

What Is Wolf Worm

Wolf Worm has many names, including botfly, warbles, and Cuterebra. It is the common name for the North American rabbit or rodent botfly.

There are at least twenty-six known species of Cuterebra found in the United States and Canada. They are also found in neo-tropical regions and Mexico. The larvae of these parasites, which develop within the tissues of their animal hosts, are called warbles. These parasites usually feed on rabbits and rodents, such as rats. Adult female botflies lay their eggs at the entrance of rabbit burrows and rat nests. When the eggs hatch, the larvae attach to a host through wounds or orifices rather than through skin penetration.

When cats hunt these creatures, they can also come into contact with these parasites.

Wolf Worm Life Cycle

After the female botfly lays its eggs near rabbit burrows, the larvae infest these creatures. They enter the body of the host through wounds and orifices. After a couple of days, the larvae migrate to other parts of the body and continue their development.

There are many species of Cuterebra with anatomical preferences. For example, Cuterebra horripilum migrates to the throat region, while Cuterebra fontinella seeks out the abdominal or tail area. The larvae complete their development within the host cat in 30 days. After this period, they leave their host and develop into a pupa (cocoon-like structure). Adult botflies hatch from the cocoon and rarely live for longer than two weeks.

How Cats Get Wolf Worm

Cats are accidental hosts for Wolf Worm and usually contract the parasite when hunting rabbits or rodents. When they explore these animals’ living spaces, the larvae can attach to them easily through openings such as the nose and ears. Most cases of Wolf Worm in cats occur near the head or neck region. However, the larvae can also migrate to the throat, eyes, or brain and cause severe issues.

Cats can contract Wolf Worm at any age, and the condition is very painful. The condition is not contagious between cats. Cats that spend time outdoors near areas where rabbits or rodents live are susceptible to a Wolf Worm infection.

Symptoms of Wolf Worm

When the infection is in its early stages, it is not evident when inspecting your cat’s skin. Most cases only become noticeable after the larva enlarges and a prominent lump is visible or felt beneath the skin. If you look closely, you will see a small breathing hole that the larva gets air through. When the larva becomes larger, you can also see a gray-brown worm covered in black spines in the lump. These symptoms occur in most cases where the larva migrates to the neck region.

In case the larva migrates to your pet’s nose, you will observe the following symptoms:

Sneezing frequently or almost all the time

Trouble breathing

Coughing

Yellow-green nasal discharge

Swollen nose

If the larva makes its way to your cat’s eye, you will notice these symptoms:

Eyes appear pink or red

Swelling in and around the eye

Yellow-green eye discharge

Squinting

Overall, regardless of where the larva migrates, your cat will show weakness, low appetite, and activity. If you know your cat could’ve come into contact with this parasite, consult a veterinarian immediately.

Diagnosing Wolf Worm in Cats

Often, a physical examination is enough to diagnose Wolf Worm in cats. The swelling and worm are visible, and no special tests are required for diagnosis. If it is difficult to detect any lumps, veterinarians will use special tests to find the parasite. For example, if the parasite is deep in your cat’s nose or throat, a procedure called rhinoscopy is used. A small camera is passed into the eye and nose to detect any parasites in this procedure.

If your veterinarian suspects the worm has made its way to your cat’s brain, they will perform a CT scan or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). These tests scan your cat’s brain and spinal cord while she is under anesthesia.

Treatment For Wolf Worm in Cats

The first step of treatment always involves the removal of the parasite. Unless the worm is inside your cat’s brain, your vet will perform surgery to remove it. After identifying the lump, your vet will use forceps to remove the larva. This is a complicated process that you should never try to do at home. Always seek professional help if you suspect your cat is suffering from Wolf Worm. The larva will retreat from the forceps, so the removal requires extra care and precision. If any part of the larva is left behind or it is broken into pieces, your cat can suffer a severe anaphylactic shock.

An incision is made and the larva is carefully removed. After the removal, your vet flushes out the would. Sometimes, the cat will need stitches to close the wound after surgery. You should have an Elizabethan collar at home to prevent your cat from licking the surgical site. Additionally, your vet might also prescribe antibiotics and pain medication.

Medications For Treating Wolf Worm

After surgery, vets usually prescribe antibiotics to treat any secondary bacterial infections caused by the larva living within your cat’s body. If the larva lived inside your cat for an extended period of time, she would need antibiotics for the wound left behind. If the larva has made its way to your cat’s eye, your veterinarian will prescribe medications for eye treatment such as antibiotic drops or steroids. These medications may either be oral or available as eye drops.

If the larva has made its way to your cat’s brain, treatment becomes difficult but not impossible. Your vet will inject your cat with Ivermectin, a medication that will kill the worm inside your cat’s brain. When the worm dies, it can cause a lot of inflammation and even a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Your cat will receive an antihistamine such as Diphenhydramine to prevent allergic reactions. Since the inflammation is severe, your vet will also prescribe oral steroid medications such as Dexamethasone and Prednisone. If you follow your vet’s guidelines and give medications in a timely manner, your cat will recover much faster.

The Cost of Treating Wolf Worm

Most of the time, the surgery to remove the larva is pretty simple since it lives near the neck region. If it is located just beneath the skin, the surgery can range from $250-$700. If the larva is present in a lump beneath the skin but in a region other than the neck, the surgery can be more complicated. The total cost will include the surgery and any medications prescribed for treatment.

If the larva has been inside your cat’s eye, it will require extensive treatment at a higher cost. Along with advanced surgery, your cat will need long-term medications and frequent visits to your veterinarian. The cost of everything should range from $1500 to $3000.

If the larva has made its way to your cat’s brain, the cost of treatment can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Your cat will require intensive care, including hospitalization, MRIs, and many different medications. The longer the larva has lived inside your cat’s brain, the more damage it will do. You should consult your veterinarian about the cost of treatment in this case, but it could range from $3000 to $5500.

Complications Related to Wolf Worm in Cats

Wolf Worm is one of the most traumatizing things that can happen to your pet. If the condition is diagnosed and treated promptly, there are rarely any long-lasting complications. However, it is very important that you never try to treat Wolf Worm at home. Do not try to remove the parasite yourself, and always seek a veterinarian if you suspect your cat has Wolf Worm. Your vet will carefully remove the larva, so it does not suffer any damage. If the larva breaks up into pieces, your cat can suffer anaphylactic shock.

Anaphylactic shock is a severe allergic reaction with symptoms such as increased heart rate, severe respiratory distress, vomiting, drooling, seizures, coma, and even death. If your vet accidentally breaks the larva during surgery, they will have access to medications such as antihistamines, steroids, and anti-inflammatory drugs. However, if you attempt the surgery at home, you will not have access to these medications. Do not put your cat at risk willingly.

Other complications can also arise from Wolf Worm. If the larva has completed its developmental period and left the body of your cat, an open wound is left behind. This open wound could require stitches and antibacterial medications. If the wound is left untreated, bacteria can fester within it and cause infections. If you suspect your cat has Wolf Worm, take her to the vet immediately. Do not wait for the infection to worsen, as it can have serious consequences. Prompt treatment leads to faster recovery at a lower cost to you and your pet.

Many complications could occur if the larva is inside your cat’s brain. Your cat will suffer from anaphylactic shock after the larva dies, but your vet can use antihistamines and steroids to combat the reaction.

How to Prevent Wolf Worm in Cats

After reading about Wolf Worm in extensive detail, you probably never want your cat to come in contact with this parasite. Along with vet bills, medications, and complications, there are many consequences to prolonging treatment if your cat has Wolf Worm.

The best way to prevent Wolf Worm in cats is to keep them indoors. The parasite feeds on rabbits and rodents, so their living spaces contain the Wolf Worm’s eggs. Cats love chasing rabbits and rats, which is why they can easily come in contact with this parasite. Keep your cat indoors and supervise the time she spends outdoors, especially if it is not within the confines of your backyard. After outdoor visits, bathe your cat and ensure she stays clean.

You should routinely check for lumps and other unusual developments. If you suspect your cat has Wolf Worm, consult your veterinarian immediately.

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