Cuterebra is a type of fly that needs small warm-blooded animals such as rodents and rabbits to complete its life cycle. They are known as horseflies, a group of parasitic flies that develop in the flesh of their host.

Cats are also often susceptible to cuterebra parasitism due to their predation on smaller mammals. The eggs of this blowfly are deposited when they interact with prey or seek the body heat of the host cat and are laid on its skin. These eggs can hatch and develop in various parts of the cat’s body, including the respiratory system, eyes and vital organs such as the brain. For this reason, cuterebra infection can be fatal for our cat.

Let’s learn more about the symptoms and possible cures for this disease in the following lines.

Symptoms of cuterebra in cats

The symptoms that a cat with a cuterebra infection will have will depend on the area of its body that is affected. For example, if the larvae infest the skin, the symptoms will be hard lumps that can be seen on the outside of the skin. This may be more difficult in long-haired cat breeds. The cat’s behaviour will also change, becoming irritable and lethargic.

If cuterebra larvae have reached the cat’s respiratory tract, the cat will show signs such as difficulty breathing, runny nose, coughing and sneezing. If the larvae enter the eyes, cats will show symptoms such as uveitis, chemosis, blepharospasm, eye discharge and even blindness.

When the cat’s central nervous system is affected, it will develop a head tilt, convulsions, circling, epilepsy or cognitive impairment that can lead to death. The appearance of neurological signs indicates the severity of the infection due to the development of feline ischaemic encephalopathy. These usually appear a few weeks after the onset of signs of respiratory distress.

How does cuterebra larvae parasitise cats?

A cat can be accidentally parasitised by Cuterebra larvae, as the parasite has a predilection for rodents and lagomorphs. Cats can only be parasitised if they go out into outdoor areas where these parasites live. The main cause of parasitism in cats is exploring and trying to catch a rabbit from its burrow or a rodent in the same situation. The larvae or hatching eggs enter the small feline’s natural openings, such as the nostrils or mouth, and can reach the eyes and brain in the worst and most advanced cases.

Another possibility for the parasite to come into contact with the cat is after hunting a rabbit or rodent recently infested with the larvae. The live larvae enter directly through the mouth or nostrils and develop their life cycle inside the cat.

Treatment of cuterebra in cats

Treatment of this parasitism will depend on the time of infection and whether or not the larvae have entered the cat’s internal organs, such as the brain. If the larvae are still visible in bumps on your cat’s skin, your vet may need to remove them manually (never attempt to do this yourself at home). Anaesthesia or sedation may be required to allow removal without acute pain or stress to the cat.

Removal of Cuterebra larvae should be done with sterile forceps. It is preferable to do this after administering a dewormer to the animal so that it is dead and not moving. This provides less risk of the larvae rupturing, which can cause allergic reactions and serious infections. After removal, the open cyst remains on the skin, which the practitioner must clean with an antiseptic such as chlorhexidine and saline.

As you can see, this is a serious parasitic infection that requires the intervention of a professional. If you find lumps or see larvae on your cat, visit our veterinary hospital as soon as possible.

Can cuterebra infect people?

As with many types of parasites, cuterebra is host-specific. This means that only certain types of this subfamily will be able to infect cats and none of them will be able to infect humans. There are species of cuterebra flies that parasitise humans, but they are not the type that will infest a cat.