A reader recently asked us a question about wolf worms and dogs through our All About Worms Facebook page. More specifically, she asked if we ever “heard of the wolf worm in a dogs skin,” and she also asked whether a veterinarian would recognize wolf worms if he or she saw them. By “wolf worms,” we presume the reader means blow fly larvae, which are a type of maggot. (There are many names for blow flies – carrion flies, cluster flies, bluebottles, and greenbottles, to list a few – but one of them isn’t “wolf fly,” so it is somewhat strange that people call blow fly larvae “wolf worms.” If there aren’t wolf flies, then why are there wolf worms? Or, if there are such things as wolf worms, why don’t they turn into “wolf flies?”) In addressing dogs and wolf worms, we’ll also be addressing dogs and blow fly larvae, as wolf worms are blow fly larvae, just to be perfectly clear with all these alternate names flying around.
“Blow fly” is actually a relatively broad label that refers to multiple species of fly that below to the Calliphoridae family, which is part of the order Diptera, to which all flies belong. The order Diptera is really diverse, as it contains about a quarter of a million species. There are actually over 1,000 species of flies that go by the name “blow fly” alone. While different species afflict different types of animals – for instance, Lucilia cuprina focus on Australian sheep, causing massive annual loses in that particular industry – there is no reason to dwell on the minutiae of taxonomy. For our purposes, a blow fly is a blow fly and they are always maggots in larval form, and it is the maggots we are concerned with at the moment.
Our answers to our reader’s questions are very simple and straightforward. Yes, dogs can get wolf worms, and yes, a veterinarian will definitely be able to identify them. (For whatever reason, it seems like cats suffer more from wolf worm infestations than dogs, or at least we are aware of more cases involving cats, but wolf worms can cause problems for dogs.) When a dog has wolf worms, he or she is suffering from a condition known as myiasis, which is the technical name of a parasitic infestation involving maggots. As the Australian sheep cited above make clear, myiasis is a major problem in the livestock industry, but the condition also afflicts pets and occasionally humans.
The reader mentioned that she grew up on a farm and that her dad used to get rid of wolf worm infestations by pouring “old burnt motor oil” on an animal’s site of infestation, which caused the maggots to crawl out. We aren’t veterinarians, so we can’t offer any medical advice to our reader, but the burnt-oil approach to the problem doesn’t strike us as a particularly safe way to deal with an infestation. For one, myiasis comes in varying degrees, and some infestations are worse than others, so a folk remedy might not work against all infestations, if indeed it ever fully works at all. Secondly, maggots often infest an animal with some sort of wound or skin infection, and burnt oil might aggravate the underlying condition that gave rise to the infestation to begin with. Thus, it is definitely advisable to go to veterinarian if your pet is suffering from a wolf worm infestation.
So, to recap, wolf worms are blow fly larvae that cause myiasis, just as other maggots do. This condition can definitely affect dogs, and any vet worth their salt should easily be able to identify a maggot infestation.