Wolf worms (genus Cuterebra) are parasites that can infect animals ranging from farm animals to animals in the wild. Although only one species of wolf worm has been identified in North America and it is more common among animals such as cattle, it is not uncommon to come across a wolf worm infection in domestic pets, even cats.
Also called “screw worm,” a wolf worms are tricky parasites. The female wolf worm lays its eggs in a nest or near a den of animals, such as rodents. The larva can sense heat, so when a mammal is very close, the larva will hatch and then enter the host through its mouth, nose or even a wound on the host’s skin. Fortunately, wolf worms are easy to see with the naked eye so evidence of infection is easy to determine just by sight. Wolf worms are light tan, with a brown spot on the end and they are around the size of ½ of a dime. Once the wolf worm has infected its host, it will form a hole inside the host’s skin. The larva can breathe through this hole. The “breathing hole” is easy to see, so the animal’s owner will know that the his pet or livestock has been infected with wolf worms almost immediately.
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It is possible to remove the wolf worms from your pet on your own at home, but it is not recommended for several reasons. The wolf worms body can erupt during the process, which could lead to a severe or even fatal allergic reaction in the pet. In addition, there may be more wolf worms inside of your pet’s body that cannot be seen. In some cases, wolf worms might migrate to the cat’s brain (which can cause nerve damage) and they can lead to diseased organs, severe intestinal problems, and anemia. Because of this, it’s best to leave the final diagnosis and treatment to a vet.
If wolf worm infection sounds severe, that’s because it is and a solution to preventing them really doesn’t exist. The best thing you can do to protect your pets is to keep them close to home. It’s best to only allow them to play in your own backyard. If you take them to the dog park, its best to keep a close eye on them. In the case of cats, it’s best not to let your felines out into the wild. The possibility of infection is too great for outdoor cats. If it is impossible to keep your pets close to home or indoors, examine them regularly to check for parasites and keep a close eye on their behavior. If they appear to be sick (dizzy, breathing heavy, fatigue) or uncomfortable, please take them to the vet immediately.
In some cases, it might be difficult to take your pet to a vet right away, if at all. In these cases, you can attempt to remove the wolf worms by using a warm compress on any visible cysts. Alternate between applying pressure to the cysts with the compress and gently squeezing the general area. This method might draw the wolf worms out of the cysts. If the wolf worms do come out on their own, treat the wound by cleaning the area and applying triple antibacterial solution at least twice a day to the area. You should also continue to massage the infection site as well.
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As stated earlier, it is important to keep in mind that wolf worms can migrate to other parts of the pets body, so just because you get rid of the wolf worms from a visible infection site, doesn’t necessarily mean that your pet is worm free.