With summer days fast approaching comes the risk (though slight) that your dog or cat could become infested with a parasite known as cuterebra. While it usually infests rodents and members of the rabbit family, dogs and cats with outdoor privileges can also be infected. This parasite is the larval stage of one species of bot fly. It enters the animals' bodies through mucous membranes or open wounds.
The bot fly will lay its eggs within a short distance of rats nests and rabbit warrens (for example). The eggs are drawn to the body heat of nearby animals as they move through the area. The eggs hatch and the resulting larvae seek entry into the animal. The animal may also ingest the larvae by licking their fur. Cats and dogs are "accidental" hosts since they get infected when snuffling curiously around such areas rather from living in these places.
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This particular pastel calico (or dilute tortoiseshell and white) kitten in Nebraska was brought in to the vet last July at the Nebraska Humane Society with a hugely swollen nose, feeling poorly, and having trouble keeping her head up. The vet discovered that one of these tiny worms had crawled into her nose and set up housekeeping and kept growing. The video below show the astounding removal of the parasite. Be forewarned, this video can be disturbing to some individuals.
That whining noise in the background was a nearby puppy, not the kitten. She was reportedly quite the trooper through the entire procedure. Most of us wouldn't have done so well. The size of that thing is quite a shock! I would imagin she was beathing much more easily right away. A vet should always be to one to remove the parasite. In some cases surgery may be required to remove the parasite. Trying a DIY job on this can cause the parasite to break apart and the animal may then have an allergic reaction. The Nebraska Humane Society removed a cuterebra from the nose of a second kitten just a few days later.
Image via We Love Animals
The kitten, named Sherbert, has recovered nicely. The swelling has gone down and her nasal opening has been returning to normal size. I can't help but wonder if the asymmetry in her face is a lasting result of the infestation. The vet most likely flushed and cleaned the wound carefully and may have even prescribed antibiotics to help with any infection that may have shown up.
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Naturally the best way to keep your pets from getting infested is to limit their exposure to areas where rodents and rabbits are nesting. Check your pet for any bumps while you are petting them. The cuterebra may leave a raised lesion with a hole in the center for it to breathe through. In a creepy twist you may even be able to see the head moving inside the hole. It is kind of like something out of the movie Alien, except for the fact that you pet will be fine with proper treatment.
Image via House Rabbit Society
Cuterebra infestation can also lead to the parasite migrating through the body to affect respiration and the nervous system. There are three larval stages to this bot fly. The one removed from the kitten is the third stage. Earlier stages may not be easy to detect.
The main message here is that if anything unusual is happening with your pet then please take it to the vet. If you are unsure about this, check with your nearest crazy pet lady. She will be able to help you make the call.
Sources: We Love Animals, Telegraph, Wikipedia, Pet Health Network, Nebraska Humane Society