How to Treat Warbles in Cats

sick cat

Cats are exceptional companion pets. They fill our lives with love and entertainment, but they also require a careful eye to ensure that they live long and healthy lives. Cats are susceptible to a host of parasites. Infestations left untreated can take a toll on their health, quality of life, and life expectancy. One of the less common pests that can afflict cats is the botfly. Infestations of a larvae infestation create a condition known as warbles. It describes the pockets of wormlike parasites that live just under the skin. The larvae are found under the skin because they require a tiny hole in the skin to breathe until it grows to maturity on the inside of your cat. It’s essential to treat your cat to kill the larvae causing the warbles and remove them completely. If you suspect your cat has warbles, here is everything you need to know about how to treat warbles in cats.

What are the symptoms of warbles?

New Life on a Homestead explains that warbles look like swellings just underneath your cat’s skin. You won’t be able to see them immediately. As they grow, and the larvae form a burrow beneath the skin, they can be felt, and seen with a careful examination of the cat. They look like tumors, but they have a small breathing hole that distinguishes them from tumors. The longer the warble lives under your cat’s skin, the larger the hole in the bump grows. They’re most commonly found near the head or neck of the cat but can appear anywhere on the body. If your cat has empty cysts on his body, he has likely had warbles. The larvae have likely matured and pushed themselves out of his body, leaving behind a cyst that needs treatment to avoid infection. The cysts resemble small open wounds and may look like an injury. Cats are more likely to get warble when the climate is wet and warm. The issues usually appear in late summer. It’s rare to find them in cold climates or during the winter months. Other symptoms of warbles include intense itching characterized by licking, biting, and scratching of the skin.

Are Warbles dangerous for cats?

Any time a parasite enters your cat’s body there is a danger. While most infestations of warbles are easily treated if caught early, the danger increases the longer it’s present. It’s possible for the botfly to complete its lifecycle, exit the cat’s body, and cause little damage, other than an itchy cyst or scar, but it’s not worth taking the chance.

Extreme symptoms of warbles

In more severe cases of warbles, symptoms can ramp up to extremes. Cats may experience a lack of appetite, lethargy, or fever if the tissue becomes infected. On the kin, cats may develop lesions or draining sores. Respiratory symptoms may include nasal discharge, sneezing, cough, gagging, or trouble breathing. Cats may develop facial paralysis, lesions on the eyes, and even blindness in more extreme cases. Severe infestations may also lead to abnormal behaviors in cats. Cats with neurologic responses may tilt their heads, press their heads against solid objects, circle around, or vocalize more than usual. It can affect their gait, cause a lack of normal reflex responses, and cause disorientation, paralysis, and seizures. Warbles can cause serious skin infections in cats. The larvae can also migrate to other parts of the body, including the brain. They can cause potentially life-threatening conditions including ischemic encephalopathy, and skin infections. Cats may also experience hair loss from the obsessive licking and scratching to ease the itchiness. If you suspect warbles, it’s essential to respond to the condition. You may either take your pet to its local healthcare provider or treat warbles at home. Failure to remove the entire infestation can lead to an allergic reaction in some cats, and anaphylaxis.

How do you treat warbles in cats?

Warbles in cats may be treated by a professional animal healthcare provider (recommended) or treated at home. VCA Hospitals explains that the best treatment depends on how far along the warbles are in their development. If the warble is the skin under the skin, it will need to be removed. Vets remove the larvae from under the skin, then debride the tissue that surrounds the warble. They surgically remove it to prevent bacterial infection. Most vets prescribe an antibiotic treatment if an infection is present, and sometimes as a safeguard. Additional surgery may be necessary to close the wound if it is large. In cases where the warble has already exited the skin, the area is cleaned and debrided. Antibiotics are still necessary to guard against possible infection.

How do you remove botflies from a cat and can you do it at home?

Technically, you could remove warbles from your cat at home, but it’s not recommended. The sites of infestation are sensitive. Most vets anesthetize the cat to avoid stress on the animal and getting scratched or bitten while performing the procedure. Pet MD advises that vets take a few different approaches to remove warbles. If the warble is small, they open the lump at the breathing hole surgically to widen access. They remove the larvae with tweezers and drop them into a solution that kills them to prevent further spread.

Warbles with large openings and small larvae are easier to treat. They may not require sedation or surgery if the cat is cooperative. This is the ideal scenario that would make it easier to remove the warbles from home. Another method for removing warbles is to place a salve into the hole to prevent the larvae from breathing. The developing botflies usually begin to emerge from the hole in search of air. They’re easier to grasp and pull out with tweezers. If you attempt to remove them from home, you must know that it’s vital to avoid damaging the larvae and to remove them completely. Leaving behind particles of the larvae often results in dangerous and potentially life-threatening infections. All larvae must be removed intact. The area must be cleaned after removing the larvae. The cat must also be treated with antibiotics. Follow-up visits to the vet may be required to ensure the cat is healing and moving toward full recovery. Wikihow advises that you may need to wash the treated area for a few days after the larvae are removed from under your cat’s skin. Great Pet Care cautions that some severe infestations in the brain require the vet to give your pet an injection of medication that will kill the worm. The only treatment for warbles is removal. When it’s impossible to get to the worm, the only choice is to kill it. Your cat is likely to experience an adverse reaction to the dead remains of the worm that remains in the inaccessible spot. The vet prescribes a combination of medications as needed. The medications may include diphenhydramine to lessen the allergic reaction, and other drugs for inflammation that results from the dead worm. They may also prescribe other medications to counteract the high potential for a bacterial infection to ensure that your cat has a speedy recovery.

Where are botflies the most common?

Wag confirms that Botflies are prolific in most parts of North America. They are everywhere and can also be found in warm, wet climates all year round. The flies emerge in cooler climates during the summer months when the weather is warm enough for them to survive. They’re a common species of non-biting flies, also known as Cutebra. They require an animal host to complete their life cycle. They hatch and fly through the air during warm months. Botflies lay their eggs on rocks, grass, and other areas where rodents such as rabbits, rats, and mice live. When an animal walks by a surface covered with eggs, the eggs or young larvae attach to the fur, then make their way to the first orifice or another opening it finds. Larvae either burrow or make their way to spots under the skin. They create their infamous breathing hole and wait there until maturation. Botflies are a species of non-biting flies found throughout most of North America. The species is especially active in the warmer months of late spring and summer. They can live for longer periods in warmer climates. The botfly, or Cuterebra, life cycle involves a parasitic larval stage that requires a host animal, usually a rabbit or rodent. The adult fly lays its eggs on surfaces, like grasses and rocks, in and around the living areas of rabbits and rodents. The eggs or young larvae transition to the host animal by transferring onto its fur when it walks past. They then make their way into the host through an opening or orifice.

How do vets diagnose warbles?

Vets ask you about your cat’s health history. They start with a physical examination. The vet locates the swellings and examines them for signs of larval infection. Infestations in the eyes or internal, causing severe symptoms, may inspire vets to order blood and urine tests to evaluate your cat for evidence of the toxins produced by botfly larvae. They may test cerebrospinal fluid if neurological symptoms present. In some cases, vets resort to CT or MRI scans to determine where the larvae are present within the central nervous system. Some infestations are easy to identify through observation, but not all of them are external. Some botflies may be lurking within the internal parts of your cat’s body.

How are warbles in cats prevented?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s best to protect your cat from exposure to botflies and their larvae to prevent an infestation of the creatures. Warbles cause an uncomfortable condition for your cats with troublesome itching. It’s sometimes as minor as an annoyance but can be lethal for some cats. It’s an infestation that you can prevent by keeping your cat from going outside. Cats are exposed to botflies when they spend time outdoors. Keep your windows closed when botflies are out and about to prevent them from coming into the home. Cats may also get warbles from hunting rodents. Botflies are notorious for laying their eggs in rats and mice. When cats hunt or play with them and kill them, they get exposed to the larvae. The creatures can travel from one animal to another. When you realize how easily cats can acquire warbles, it reinforces the need to keep your pets from going outside and interacting with other animals. Keep the surfaces of your home clean and sanitized. If flies enter the home, it’s best to remove them as soon as possible and treat surfaces with a disinfectant household cleaner to ensure the removal of all threats.

Final thoughts

Most cases of warbles are easy to diagnose and treat when caught early. Some pet owners are successful in removing warbles and helping to get their cats back on the road to recovery and good health. You schedule an appointment with a veterinarian to examine your cat, make the diagnosis, and treat warbles in cats. Treatment can range from simple removal of the larvae and cleaning of the area to the need for extensive tests and scans. Your cat may require surgical procedures. Each case of warbles is different. On rare occasions, the larvae have migrated to internal parts of the body. You can’t always see them. If your cat has any of the extreme symptoms discussed earlier, it’s time to schedule a visit to your vet. If the only symptoms you notice are the bumps with breathing holes, you’ve likely caught the problem in time, and removal and treatment will be straightforward.

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