Warbles in Cats (Wolf Worm): Causes, Treatments & Preventions

Wolf worm Cuterebra warbles in cats

Warbles are a type of parasite that primarily targets rodents and rabbits. They look like maggots and can cause great discomfort for the host animal they infest. Warbles in cats are also very common.

Felines usually get a warble or wolf worm infestation when they go outside to hunt rodents. Warbles can be acquired by any cat regardless of age. The main way to cure infection caused by a warble is to undergo surgery done by a healthcare professional. 

In mild cases, only a physical examination is required to get rid of wolf worms in cats. However, once a case of warbles gets too serious, it is best to contact your local veterinarian to know the next steps.

What Are Warbles?

Cuterebra, most commonly called wolf worms or warbles, is a type of parasite that feasts on mice and rats. These parasites include a variety of species that are equally infectious.

Warbles are the less mature variety of larvae that burrow themselves in the skin. They enter their host’s face, mouth, nose, ear, or anus and proceed to nest under the skin, which is extremely uncomfortable for the animal.

Warbles stay inside the host’s skin and eventually leave when it is large enough to evolve as adult flies.

Warbles go by many nicknames; the following are some of them:

  • Wolf worms
  • Botfly larva
  • Gadflies
  • Cattle grubs
  • Bomb flies
  • Heel flies
  • Wolf parasite
  • Genus Hypoderma
  • Wolf worm larvae
  • North American bot fly

It takes about a month for warbles to become noticeable by the naked eye, and it usually looks like small bumps under the skin. You may also notice the bump has a tiny hole. That hole is where the warbles breathe through.

If you notice any of these physical sightings of warbles, make sure to get your pets checked as soon as possible.

What Causes Warbles in Cats?

Cats are very susceptible to warbles because they are more likely to roam around nature when wandering or hunting outside the house. Warbles, however, are very hard to notice at first because of their small size. 

A warble is an opportunistic parasite, and unfortunately, a cat is one of its accidental hosts. It usually goes for the neck area or around the head. 

They burrow into the cat’s skin until they become bigger. A cat outdoors is usually a wolf worm’s target. Rarely does a cat indoors get warbles because they aren’t exposed to nature, where parasites usually thrive.

In severe cases, a wolf worm migrates inside the nose, eyes, and throat making its way to the cat’s brain. Warbles infect cats regardless of age, which means baby kittens can get warbles, too. 

Symptoms of Warbles in Cats

Symptoms of warbles in cats

Wolf worm in cats isn’t apparent until a few weeks later, and symptoms can only be noted once the wolf parasite has grown inside their skin. 

However, there are several tell-tale signs that your kitten has been infected by a botfly larva. If the infection caused by Warbles is skin level and in the early stages, then wolf worm symptoms may include:

  • Decrease in appetite
  • Inactivity or low energy levels
  • Movement of a worm-like creature underneath the epidermis
  • Visibility of a breathing hole on the skin
  • Red swelling of the skin
  • Swelling hole on the host’s body
  • Cyst development and infection
  • Secondary infection in the cyst
  • Hair loss
  • Skin irritation

Meanwhile, these are the symptoms that may arise if a warble infects your cat’s eyes:

  • Eye discharge
  • Small worm-like larvae inside your cat’s eye
  • Reddish or pink-colored eyes
  • Frequent squinting
  • Red, swollen tissues around the eyes

On the other hand, these symptoms indicate that a warble infected your cat’s nose:

  • Nasal discharge, usually yellowish green
  • Red, swollen nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Coughing
  • Intense sneezing

In severe cases, neurological symptoms caused by warbles resemble the following:

  • Head tilt
  • Anaphylactic shock
  • Vision loss
  • Uncoordinated movements 
  • Behavioral changes such as frequent meowing 

Keep in mind that botfly infestation symptoms vary depending on which body part the parasites nested their hatched larvae.

To prevent worse Cuterebra complications in your cat, you should seek veterinary care to treat wolf worm plagues.

How to Diagnose Warbles in Cats

Diagnosing a wolf worm in cats starts with a consultation with your trusted veterinarian. Wolf worm in cats is not a usual disease, but it can be severe if not prevented.

Warbles are seen and felt once they have formed their breathing hole under your pet’s skin. These turn into red lumps with small holes in the middle of the raised bumps. When infected, it can sometimes be filled with pus.

Remember that botfly larvae can penetrate the brain and spinal cord of your cat, which can cause deadly reactions such as seizures. Although these extreme cases are fairly rare, it won’t hurt to seek professional help.

If you observe neurological problems with your cat after it has been infected, your vet will likely perform a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) procedure to determine deadly neurological symptoms. 

How to Treat Warbles in Cats

Veterinarian treating wolf worms warbles in cats

Removing the wolf worm’s larvae is the first step in treating warbles. Wolf worms can be large enough to pluck out from the cat’s body using tweezers. The following procedures should only be done by the vet. 

Veterinarians use surgical tools if the wolf worm is too small to take out. An incision on the skin is made to give space for carefully extracting the stubborn worm off the skin. 

Taking out a wolf worm in a cat may cause a lot of pain, and not many cats have the patience for it.

Vets give some cats anesthesia and painkillers when a warble is being removed. This is because wolf worms stick firmly on the skin, making it harder to pull it out. 

After the wolf worm in cats is removed, cleaning the wound is the next step. This is very crucial because it prevents secondary infection and avoids bacterial infection within the wound after the procedure.

If the wound is already infected before the procedure, your local veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics, and the medication will continue at home. 

Overall, treating warbles should only be done under veterinary care and with medical supervision. Doing it at home by yourself may put your cat under further complications and infections.

The general cost to treat Cuterebra transmission ranges from $200 to $600 for a minor procedure, usually involving only skin penetration. 

Meanwhile, treatment for cat’s eye and cat’s nose penetration may cost around $1,000 to $3,000.

If your cat is hospitalized due to wolf worms, you may need about $2,000 to $5,000. This accounts for CT scans or MRI sessions on top of the medications for allergic reactions.

Watch this video to see how a warble is removed from a cat:


How to Prevent Warbles in Cats

Because they are born hunters, outdoor cats have a higher chance of catching a wolf worm. Cats are wolf worms’ accidental hosts, and the only way to prevent Cuterebra transmission is to keep them inside the house. 

Cats have a strong natural instinct, and most cats tend to stumble upon rodents or rabbit burrows without realizing it. As pet owners, it’s your responsibility to keep your fur babies away from the wrong place.

Spending time outside not only makes cats an accidental host for Cuterebra larvae but for other parasites like heartworm, intestinal parasites, and ticks as well. 

To ensure that your cat’s life is secure even before being infected by wolf worms, you may sign them up for pet insurance.

Pet insurance does not only give owners peace of mind, but it can cover your cat’s vet costs. Refer to our article for the best pet insurance companies of 2023

Can You Remove a Warble From Your Cat at Home?

Removing a wolf worm from a cat’s body at home is possible but not recommended. First off, warbles are tricky to take out, especially when you don’t have the right tools.

If the warbles are big enough, you can remove the wolf worm yourself. There are a few ways to remove a wolf worm, starting with a hot water bottle to warm up the wounded area caused by warble penetration.

Then, use a pair of tweezers to pull the wolf worm out. You may also use a hair dryer to heat up the area around the warble. Keep in mind that these DIY treatments should be done at your own risk.

For better, safer results, it’s best to seek veterinary care when removing these parasites from the adult cat or kitten’s body.

Frequently Asked Questions

Veterinarian diagnosing wolf worms warbles in cats

Are Warbles Painful for Cats?

Yes, wolf worms in adult cats and kittens can be painful, especially if they have nested in more sensitive parts of their bodies. In worse cases, wolf worms can cause the animal’s brain to develop neurological problems.

Even though they enter via the animal’s fur, they can still cause severe pain when they burrow themselves, grow bigger, and eventually emerge to make breathing holes. 

Can Humans Get Warbles From Cats?

Yes, but humans getting botfly egg infestation is fairly rare. Only people that work in farms, fields, and forests are at risk of contracting warbles. When a human is infected, warbles are found in the legs or arms.

What Happens If Cuterebra Is Not Removed?

If not removed immediately, a Cuterebra will stay in the skin for about 30 days. Once the eggs hatch, they will pupate, leave the warbles they made on the skin, and will then become adult botflies.

What Does a Wolf Worm Turn Into?

A wolf worm is the larva of a botfly, and when it matures, it turns into an adult botfly. The larva itself is already very disturbing to its host, so treating it right away before it matures is recommended.

How Long Does It Take a Warble to Come Out of a Cat?

The wolf worm life cycle starts with eggs produced by female botflies. It only takes 12 to 24 hours before the eggs start to turn into larvae. 

The larvae then feed on the kitty’s body until it is ready to mature and pupate. It takes about a month before the larva matures and falls out of the cat’s skin.

Final Thoughts

The Cuterebra larvae definitely cause so much trouble for the host, and preventing them is always better than spending a lot on treatment. That being said, make sure that your kitten is always safe inside your home.

Not only are your kittens safe from wolf worms at home, but they are free from other deadly parasites too. In fact, the risk for most feline diseases decreases if they stay cozy inside.

If your kitten has been infected, you might be tempted to do warble removal by yourself. But remember that medical procedures done without expertise can do more harm than good. So be sure to contact your cat’s vet first!

Have you ever encountered warbles in cats? If you have, share with us in the comment section your experience in handling and dealing with warbles in cats!

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