Now you have to cut us a little slack and realize that we deal with things like parasites all the time. We check for intestinal parasites with fecal samples every day. We are usually looking for roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms and other pretty monotonous things in these samples. (By the way, when your veterinarian asks for a fecal sample to be brought in, it is not necessary to bring in a grocery sack full of the last several weeks’ bowel movements. If you need two hands to carry it in, then you probably have brought too much. A heaping teaspoon, in a “sealed” ziplock will do just fine, thank you.) A cuterebra, however, now that is a parasite of a different color.
When “Lumpy” arrives it is time to confirm our suspicions. Does he have a new lump about the size of a grape? Is it located on the neck or body? Now the kicker. Is there a tiny little hole in the center of the lump? Yep. Ok, that means we are in business. Lumpy is whisked away to the prep room to get better lighting and our cuterebra hunting gear ready. No camo required. “Lumpy” is placed under the surgery light, lump facing up toward us so we can see the hole. Everyone crowds around and we quietly stare like leopards ready to pounce. With gasps of “there it is,” the head of that “little maggot” pokes up through the hole grabs a breath of air and disappears back into the warmth and comfort of his home under the skin of this poor yorkie.
Then comes the real fun. With mosquito forceps open and posed a millimeter from the hole we wait for the next breath. Within a few seconds you can see the fluid in the hole moving and his little maggot head pushes through. With a flick of the forcep I try to grab his head but miss. Now, he’s on to us and will disappear for a longer period of time before resurfacing for a necessary breath. With mounting anticipation we wait, for almost a minute this time, but he has no choice and sure enough there’s his head and with a blink on eye I’ve got him.
But the fight isn’t over just yet. The hole is just a millimeter in diameter, and his body is much larger than that. You have to pull with very little traction, his soft, slimy body through the hole by his head and without crushing him which would cause a reaction in the tissues. The one centimeter long “worm” wriggles like a fish as you finally get him out, amongst all the oohs and ahhs of the satisfied crowd. A little flushing of the wound, some antibiotics and “Lumpy” won’t be lumpy in a few days.
A cuterebra is nothing more than a maggot, a fly larva that started out as an egg layed by a specific specie of fly (botfly) on the soil, often around rodent holes, burrows or rocks. A single female botfly can lay thousands of eggs. When a nosey rodent, rabbit, dog or cat happens by, the egg attaches to the innocent host. The egg hatches into a larva (maggot) and enters the body through the nose or mouth during grooming, or sometimes through open wounds on the body. The larva then migrates through the tissues under the skin to a location where it sets up a breathing hole and grows in size for the next month until it is so big that it ruptures through the skin, falls to the ground and pupates into an adult botfly the next season.
Interestingly, the little dog breeds are the ones who usually get cuterebra. Foo Foo dogs (I can use this term because I have two of them) seem to get into the places where the eggs are laid. Scooter, one of our yorkies, had a cuterebra a few years ago. Domestic rabbits are also very prone to them.
Some of these cuterebra can get huge, bigger and fatter than a large green grape. We consider those trophy maggots and proudly keep them on display at our office. You are welcome to ask and see them anytime. Don’t try and squeeze these guys out either or a reaction could result if the maggot ruptures. Leave the maggot hunting to professionals. According to people who have had these maggots in them (yes that’s right) they aren’t painful, but they can feel them moving when they get bigger. None of our patients have ever seemed painful when we pull them out. I guess you could just anesthetize a patient with a cuterebra, lance the area and easily pull out the maggot, but where’s the challenge and fun in that (and costly). Let us have a little excitement with our favorite parasite. It’s the season.