Everyone loves a warm climate-- until they run into an abundance of insects and bugs that seem to exist only to irritate. But actually, some of those flying things also present a risk to your health. Take warbles for example. Also known as Cuterebra, they’re a rodent and rabbit botfly found in the U.S. Trust me when I say: you don't want warbles! Although a relatively mild condition, they can create infected cysts and abscesses, which at best are uncomfortable and at worst extremely sore, painful and require medical intervention. Caution must be taken when handling a case of warbles because of the risk of infection. But can your dog also get warbles?
Can Dogs Get Warbles?
People may think because warbles are usually found in rabbit burrows that dogs can’t get warbles, but in fact, it is because dogs sniff and burrow around rabbit holes that they usually get them! So, your dog absolutely can get warbles and it’s a condition you want to stay on top of.
Does My Dog Have Warbles?
If you are concerned your dog might have warbles, then keep an eye for the following symptoms: Does your dog have a lump or bump on the skin? Are they scratching or licking that area? Can you see a small hole in the middle of the lump? Can you see a skin abscess? All of these can be symptoms your dog is suffering from a botfly infestation.
What causes warbles though? When dogs sniff around rabbit holes, they encounter the Cuterebra larva. The larva burrows into tissues beneath your dog’s skin and starts to grow. After several weeks the fly exits your hosting dog, leaving a sore crater in the skin that can quickly become infected.
How will your vet diagnose warbles? Firstly, your vet will want to undertake a physical examination. In particular, they will be looking for lumps with small holes in them, as these are breathing holes and a good indicator that the larvae are present. They will play particular attention to your dog’s head and neck area, as this is often the parts of your dog’s body that come into direct contact with the warbles. They may also have to shave the hair around the problem area to get a closer look.
For more information on all things warbles, check out our guide to Botflies in Dogs .
How Do I Treat My Dog’s Warbles?
Your vet will be concerned with removing the warbles safely so no harmful substances from the Cuterebra are released into your dog’s bloodstream. Your dog will probably need to be intravenously anesthetized to keep him relaxed and pain-free. The vet will surgically remove the botfly from the skin tissue, being cautious not to rupture the larvae. Depending on the severity of the infestation and the presence of infection, further oral medication may be given.
If your dog is kept free from infection, full recovery will be much quicker. It could be just days or weeks before your dog is back to its rodent hunting self. But therein lies the problem! The best thing you can do is prevent them from sniffing around in botfly hotspots, which means trying to limit their exposure to rabbit holes and rodents!
If an infection does take hold, your dog may become more unwell and be in considerable discomfort, so keep the area clean and free from dirty pond water and the like. Otherwise, you may be adding several weeks on to the recovery process.
For first-hand accounts from other owners, plus answered frequently asked questions from our trained in-house vets, see Botflies in Dogs.
How Is Warbles Similar in Dogs, Humans, and Other Animals?
Due to the growth process of warbles, the symptoms of an infestation amongst dogs, humans and other animals is actually surprisingly similar. Some of those similarities are as follows:
The botfly larvae in dogs, humans and other animals usually all have the telltale small breathing hole in the top of the lump.
When the fly leaves, you will often see a nasty, sore looking crater in the skin of dogs, humans and other animals.
When dogs and humans suffer from warbles they will often be persistently trying to scratch the problem area.
How Is Warbles Different in Dogs, Humans, and Other Animals?
Despite there admittedly being a lot of similarities in the infestations of warbles in dogs, humans and other animals, there are also several differences worth highlighting:
Warbles in dogs is often harder to spot than in humans as they have such thick coats, so closer inspection or shaving is often required to identify warbles in dogs.
Warbles in humans are very rare today. Usually only people that work on farmland are at risk of contracting them, whereas all dogs are at risk of catching warbles.
Warbles in dogs are often found around the head and neck area. In humans they are more likely to be found in the legs or arms.
Rondo was a 1-year-old Labrador when his owner noticed a strange lump on the dog’s neck. They could see a breathing hole and after too much Googling the owner decided to remove it themselves. Although the larvae did mostly come out, it did rupture somewhat, causing a nasty infection. This infection actually caused Rondo significant discomfort and he required a month’s worth of medication before he was fully recovered. This case demonstrates the dangers of secondary infection and the necessity for warbles to be removed safely by vets.