Friday, July 30, 2010

Let's see if I can gross you out

[If you have a sensitive stomach,
you might want to skip today's post.]

A client brought in a new-found kitten today with a sore on its neck. I was excited before I even saw the patient, because a sore on the neck of a kitten in summer usually means one
of my favorite summer time conditions: Cuterebra!

But, I am getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning and that moist, icky sore on the neck of an 8 week old kitten.

Is it an abscess? A bite wound? No, it's not.

Look closely at the hole. See the little white thing sticking out, with a dark ring in the center?Here, I'll point it out to you.
A close-up (Forgive the fuzzy focus - I was using the little point and shoot belonging to the office, not my Canon Rebel.)
What could it be?

It is a spiracle, the breathing apparatus of a warble, the larval form of the Cuterebra fly, which is a member of the botfly family. Similar botflies include the ox warble that causes "grubby back" in cattle, the stomach bot in horses, and the nasal bot of sheep.

Cuterebra primarily infest rabbits, although cats, and occasionally dogs, may be victims. The female fly lays its eggs on plants along paths frequented by rabbits. When the rabbit passes by, the eggs hatch instantly and the larvae crawl onto the host's fur. They enter the body through natural openings, (nose, mouth, anus, etc.) and migrate under the skin. They usually end up in the neck area, although I have found them on other body parts.

The larva cuts a breathing port through the host's skin and attaches its spiracles. These respiratory openings, it should be noted, are at the butt end of the grub, not the head end like you might expect. Not pertinent to treatment, just a fun factoid I like to share.

The developing organism sets up a strong inflammatory reaction in the rabbit or cat, leading to moist, painful wounds like we see here. A warble wound may resemble a standard cat bite abscess but for one thing: if you observe the opening carefully, you can see the movement of the larva at the breathing port.

That's where I come in. Rather than allowing the warble to finish its life cycle, enlarge its breathing port and drop to the ground to complete its metamorphosis to an adult fly, I swoop in to remove the little bugger. Just a small nick to enlarge the hole, and I can grasp the butt of the warble and slowly, carefully extract it.

(Please excuse the Band-Aid. A slip with a dental elevator earlier in the day gouged my thumb.)

TA-DAH! Victory!

Here's an even better shot, complete with a centimeter ruler for scale.

Astute readers will note that the warble itself sustained an injury during the extraction process. This is the first warble I have ruptured during removal, and luckily, it happened after that part of the larva was out of the kitten's body. If a warble is ruptured under the skin, it could set up an anaphylactoid reaction that might prove fatal. For that reason, warbles should not be casually squeezed out of the hole, but removed delicately.

After the minor surgery, we cleaned up the kitty's neck and gave her an antibiotic injection. The wound is not sutured, but allowed to close on its own. Once healed, in 7 to 10 days, she'll be as good as new.

Update, Aug. 2:

Three days after warble removal, look how much better the wound looks.
Even the kitty is happy about the outcome.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Get off the bus

or "Herding cattle, North Dakota style"

One day, during my "big bus" tour of North Dakota's "Potholes and Prairies," we stopped for lunch at a semi-abandoned homestead. The house was unoccupied, but the barn, paddocks, and outbuildings were still in use. We stopped there nearly every day, both as a birding spot to see nesting Cliff Swallows and Say's Phoebes, and also because the Quonset hut at the back of the property provided nice cover for an outdoor potty, complete with a singing Warbling Vireo.

That day, we were supplied with a sack lunch instead of dining at a local cafe. When the bus stopped and people began to get out, a cranky woman said, "Are we going to eat OUTSIDE?" as if it were a nuclear waste dump. I replied, "I'm sure you can eat on the bus if you like, but I'm going to go out." "There's no place to sit," she grumbled, to which I replied, "I'm going to sit on the ground." "That doesn't look very comfortable," she snapped. Thinking that no place on earth could be more comfortable than the lap of God, I pushed passed her, vowing never to get old and grumpy.

I had spied a dry, grassy bank with a view of the open fields across the dirt road that to my eyes appeared better than any banquette at a 5 star restaurant
. By then, I would have eaten outdoors if it had been pouring rain, just to make my point, but it was in fact, quite pleasant.

It was while I was eating and casually birding
and communing with nature and just enjoying the sensation of being off the bus that I spied a white sedan in the ditch behind us. At first, I thought the driver might have had an accident, but then I noticed he was moving, slowly and deliberately, up and down the grassy embankment.Fascinated, I stood up and walked back toward the action, to see what was going on.

Out of the bushes popped a half a dozen Angus cattle, followed by the white car. The driver was rounding up loose cattle and herding them like a 21st century cowboy.

He apparently recruited the driver of the blue pick-up truck, an employee of the DNR who was tailing us that day, taking publicity photos, to assist, and the two vehicles pushed the cattle down the road and in through a gate in the fence back to their pasture.
When it was all over, the rancher got back in his car and drove off, with a minimum of fuss, as if this were an every day occurrence. By then, I had called several others over to watch the process, had taken about 50 or 60 photos, and had begun planning this blog post. And all because I got off the bus.