Botflies in Cats – Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Botflies in Cats

Botflies in Cats: Botflies, also known as human botflies or Dermatobia hominis, are large, hairy flies that lay their eggs on mosquitoes, ticks, and flys. These small carriers then deposit the eggs onto the skin of cats when they land on them. The body heat causes the eggs to hatch into larvae, also known as maggots or bots. They burrow into the cat’s skin, creating painful, irritating warbles or swellings.

Botflies in Cats

How Do Cats Get Infected?

The most common way cats get infected with botfly larvae is through mosquito, tick, or fly bites. When these small carriers feed on a cat, the botfly eggs or larvae attach themselves to the carrier’s mouthparts. Then when the carrier finds another cat to feed on, the eggs or larvae drop onto the cat’s skin and burrow in. Cats can also get infected by lying in grass or plants where botflies have laid their eggs.

Once the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the cat’s skin and live there for 6 to 12 weeks as they develop into adult flies. The warbles created by the larvae contain air holes so the larvae can breathe. You may see the larvae peeking out of these holes from time to time. The larvae feed on the cat’s tissues, blood, and pus, causing painful swelling, irritation, and discomfort for your cat.

While botfly infestation is unpleasant, the good news is it’s typically not life-threatening and can be treated. The best way to prevent botflies is by using flea, tick, and mosquito prevention on your cat to avoid bites from these carriers in the first place. Check your cat regularly for any unusual lumps, especially on the head, neck, and limbs. See your vet right away for diagnosis and treatment if you suspect botfly infestation.

Recognizing the Symptoms of a Botfly Infestation

Has your cat been acting strangely lately? Licking, scratching, or biting at their skin more than usual? They may have picked up some unwanted guests in the form of botfly larvae. These critters can cause a whole lot of discomfort for your feline friend.###

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Your cat may have a botfly infestation if you notice swelling, usually around the head, neck, or limbs. These swellings are caused by the larvae growing under the skin. You may see your cat excessively licking, chewing, or scratching at the area as the larvae move around, which can lead to open sores or wounds. The area around the swelling will likely be painful if you touch it.

Other signs to watch for include loss of hair around the swelling, drainage of pus from the area, and your cat becoming increasingly agitated or restless. The larvae can take 4 to 12 weeks to mature before emerging from the skin, so symptoms may appear gradually and become more severe over time.

It’s critical to get your cat examined by a vet as soon as possible if you observe these symptoms. Botfly infestations are diagnosed through a physical exam of the skin and may require tests to rule out other potential causes of skin lesions or swellings. The earlier an infestation is diagnosed and treated, the less discomfort your cat will have to endure and the lower the risks of complications become.

Your vet can recommend the best course of treatment to eliminate the infestation, relieve your cat’s suffering, and promote healing. With prompt treatment, most cats recover well and avoid long-term issues, though the area may remain irritated for some time after the larvae have been removed. The good news is, with regular flea prevention and checking your cat’s coat regularly, botfly infestations can often be avoided altogether.

Diagnosing Botflies in Cats

The first step is to take your cat to the vet for a proper diagnosis. The vet will examine your cat for the symptoms of botfly infestation like open wounds, swellings under the skin, scratching and irritation. They may use a method called “expression” where they apply pressure to force the larvae out of the skin so they can visually confirm infestation.

Your vet may also perform blood tests or skin scrapings to rule out other conditions. Once botfly infestation is confirmed, the next step is determining the best method of removal based on the location and severity of the infestation.

Examining the wounds

The vet will thoroughly examine any open wounds or swellings on your cat’s skin. Botfly larvae breathe through two small openings in the skin, so the vet will look for any unusual holes or pores. They may use a magnifying glass to get a better view and see if the larvae can be spotted inside. Any areas where the skin seems irritated or your cat is scratching frequently are also possible signs of infestation.

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Blood tests and skin scrapings

To conclusively determine that botflies are present, the vet may need to analyze blood samples or take skin scrapings from the affected area. A complete blood count can check for signs of infection or inflammation in the blood. Skin scrapings, where cells and fluids are collected from sores or swellings, can be examined under a microscope for the presence of botfly larvae or eggs.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the vet can then recommend the best method for removing the botfly larvae from your cat and any medication needed to prevent infection and promote healing. Close monitoring after treatment is also important to ensure the infestation has been eliminated.

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Botfly Removal and Treatment Options

As creepy as botfly infestations sound, the good news is there are several ways to get rid of these parasites and treat your cat. Here are the options:

Manual Removal

If the botfly larva is visible and accessible, your vet may be able to physically remove it. They will apply a topical anesthetic to numb the area, then use forceps to grasp the larva and slowly pull it out. The hole left behind should heal on its own in a week or two. This method avoids the use of chemicals but can be difficult if the larva is deep within the tissue.

Surgical Excision

For larvae that are hard to reach or grasp, surgical excision may be necessary. Your vet will cut a small incision to access and remove the larva, then close the incision with a few stitches. This also avoids chemical use but requires minor surgery to treat.

Injection

In some cases, your vet may inject a medication into the hole or nearby tissue to kill the larva, then remove it after it dies. An injection of ivermectin, a common anti-parasitic, is often used. The dead larva will need to be removed about a week later to avoid infection as it decomposes. This avoids surgery but still requires two vet visits and the use of medication.

Preventive Measures

You’ll also want to take steps to prevent future botfly infestations in your cat. Keep your cat indoors as much as possible, especially during botfly season. Check your cat regularly for any signs of irritation or holes in the skin. You can also apply a monthly topical flea/tick preventive that contains permethrin, which repels botflies. With treatment and prevention, botfly larvae don’t stand a chance!

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FAQs

How did my cat get botflies?

Botflies are parasitic flies that lay their eggs on mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas. When these insects feed on your cat, the eggs hatch into larvae that burrow into your cat’s skin. The botfly larvae mature under the skin for 6-12 weeks before emerging as adult flies. To prevent botflies, use flea/tick prevention on your cat and check them regularly for any attached parasites.

What are the symptoms of botflies in cats?

The most common symptom is swollen, irritated skin where the larvae have burrowed in. You may see a hole in the center where the larva breathes. Your cat may scratch, lick, or bite at the area. The area around the wound may be inflamed, and in severe cases can become infected.Botfly larvae can cause painful wounds, so if your cat is showing signs of pain or the wound looks infected, see your vet right away.

How are botflies diagnosed?

Your vet will examine the wound and may be able to see the botfly larva breathing hole or actually see the larva moving under the skin. In some cases, they may need to do a skin scraping or biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. Blood tests or imaging may be recommended if there are signs of infection or to determine the extent of larval migration.

How are botflies treated?

The most common treatment is surgical removal of the larvae. Your vet will open and clean the wound, then extract the botfly larvae in one piece to avoid rupture. They will then flush the wound to remove any remaining fragments and treat it to prevent infection as it heals. In severe or complicated cases, your cat may need hospitalization, drainage tubes, antibiotics, or other medication. The area should heal within 7-14 days with proper care and medication as directed by your vet.

Can botflies come back?

Once the larvae have been removed and the wound has healed, botflies are usually eliminated. However, your cat can become re-infested if they do not remain on flea/tick prevention. Check your cat regularly for any attached parasites to help prevent future botfly infestations.