4 min read
How to Prevent Your Dog From Getting Warbles
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 09/15/2017, edited: 10/01/2021
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Everyone wants to go on an exotic vacation--until they encounter an onslaught of insects and bugs. But, did you know how many of those irritating flying creatures your dog encounters at home? Take warbles for example. Also known as Cuterebra, they are the American rabbit and rodent botfly and they wreak havoc. There are 26 species known in the U.S and Canada, so avoiding them is challenging. It’s a relatively mild condition, although botflies can lead to infected cysts and abscesses, which can cause significant discomfort and pain.
The good news is; they are easy to spot. With a simple inspection of the skin, you should be able to spot swelling, cysts, and infections, usually around the head and neck area. It is actually the risk of secondary infection that poses a greater threat than the primary infestation. Preventing warbles in your dog could save not only vet bills, but also your dog from considerable discomfort.
Dogs are accidental hosts of Cuterebra larvae. They are usually only infected when they go burrowing around rabbit holes. There, they encounter the larvae and that’s why dogs usually get warbles around the head and neck area. But how does the botfly infect your dog? The eggs hatch into larvae, which then infect your dog through the nose, mouth, or a skin wound. After a few days, the botfly larvae burrow to tissues beneath the skin and continue their development. Flies then use your dog as a home for many weeks or months, leaving a nasty crater in your dog’s skin when they move on.
The good news is; you can take simple steps to prevent an infestation. The first thing you can do is try to avoid rabbit holes all together. If your usual walk happens to go through a field full of rabbits, change the route for somewhere less rabbit-friendly.
Alternatively, keep your dog on a lead when you are walking through rabbit hotspots. That way you can keep your dog away from any approaching burrows. In the short term, these will both be effective to a greater extent in preventing warbles, as without contact with the botflies, your pooch cannot catch any.
Dogs often have a taste for chasing and catching rodents. We can’t hate them for it, it’s just in their nature. Unfortunately, though, the rodents they chase may well be home to botflies. The larvae, or botflies, can then jump ship when your dog attacks the rodent. The larvae then take advantage and infect your dog. This is bad news for you and begs the question: how do you stop your little hunter from doing what they love best?
The most obvious measure is to keep your dog on a lead, but you don’t want to have to always do that. Instead, you can buy a range of products that help distract your dog and discourage them from the hunting behavior. You can get horns and whistles that transmit a loud sound, which humans can’t hear, but will tell your dog to stop what they are doing.
It could also be worth investing in some dog training that will help you hold your dog’s attention, so you can stop them running off to chase something. Training may require one-on-one lessons with a dog handler, but if it ensures your dog is obedient, it’s worth it. Both of these measures will be somewhat effective in the short term, but are not foolproof and indefinitely effective.
Monitoring and Supervision
The larvae from botflies can reside in your dog for many months in some cases, depending on the species. The longer the botfly grows in your dog’s skin, the more likely it is to cause a bigger, more harmful cyst. The good news for you, though, is that regular maintenance and supervision can help you catch the botflies early and reduce the threat they pose.
If you live in a rabbit and rodent dense area, inspecting your dog for signs of infestation should be undertaken regularly. All you have to do is closely look through the skin and hair, looking for growths. The growths will often have a visible breathing hole on the top too. It is particularly important to pay attention to the head and neck area.
Once you have found botflies, seek medical guidance. Depending on the stage of the infestation, your vet will either surgically remove the larvae or prescribe antibiotics to fight and prevent serious infections developing. They will also look to disinfect the problem area.
Regular maintenance and treating botflies early is effective in preventing harmful secondary infections. But it is not effective in preventing the nuisance insect from taking up residence in your dog in the first place.
Effects of Preventing Warbles
There are numerous benefits of prevention. In the short term, you will have a happier, healthier dog. Preventing botflies will also prevent them from possibly infecting other household pets, like cats. In the long term, it will also help keep vet bills to a minimum and keep further complications from developing. It will give you a relatively clean and hygienic dog, plus grant you as an owner, significant peace of mind!
The Verdict on Warbles
Warbles is, at best, a nuisance and, at worst, a risk to the health of your dog. The botfly larvae usually end up in your dog by accident and are most commonly found around rabbit burrows and on rodents. Keeping your dog away from Cuterebra hot spots is the best measure you can take, whether that requires leads, a different walking route, or gadgets to help you keep your dog close to your side. Regular supervision and monitoring your dog will also help to prevent serious infections developing and keep any warble infestation mostly harmless.
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