How to Remove a Warble from a Cat

A few months ago, a friend gave us a kitten. Not that we needed one, but the sweet little thing couldn’t be friendlier, and had already proven to be a good mouser. She was a stray, and needed a home. So we took her.

About five weeks after we brought her home, we noticed her belly looked awfully swollen. We thought maybe she had worms, so we wormed her. But there was no difference in her appearance.

A week later, my friend who is a midwife came over. As she came to the back door she noticed my kitten. “Oh, your cat’s pregnant!” she exclaimed. Surprised and very doubtful I replied, “Oh no, she can’t be pregnant. She’s just a kitten. There’s no way!”

But my friend knelt down and felt the cat’s stomach. “Yep. She’s pregnant all right. If I had my doppler we could hear the heartbeats.” She was positive my kitten was going to have kittens. Could it be possible?

Two days later, sure enough, we discovered the cat having kittens in a cardboard box. Four were born, three survived.

Great. Like we needed more kittens… Although, they were super cute. And the kids were thrilled to have them.

Well, several weeks passed and all was well. Until we noticed that something was wrong with the little gray kitten. There was a hole in his chest. A good sized puncture, that looked to be oozing with white puss.

We couldn’t figure out how that could have happened. Had he fallen on something? I was sure it wasn’t there when he was born.

Other than the wound, he acted perfectly fine and played happily with his siblings. But I knew I couldn’t just leave it to fester.

I decided to pour peroxide on it. And although it bubbled a whole lot, it didn’t make any improvement. Almost a week went by, and it just seemed to get worse.

That’s when it hit me – this kitten had a warble.

A warble is a slang term for botfly larvae. These tiny larvae live in burrows and enter into a cat’s body through its mouth, nose, or anus. They definitely aren’t pretty to look at, and while they can be dangerous in some cases, they are fortunately quite easy to get rid of.

Here’s how to remove a warble from a cat – as well as more information on what this condition actually is.

What is a Warble?

A warble is a term for a botfly larvae infestation. Also known as Cuterebra, these tiny, worm-like creatures reside in burrows and enter into a cat’s body until it gets close to the skin. Then, it creates a small hole so it can breathe and then grows to maturity inside the cat.

Adult bot flies typically lay their eggs in or near rodents and rabbit burrows, where, after hatching, the larvae enter the bodies of the hosts. Often this is through the mouth or nose or via a skin wound. Several days later, the larvae move to tissues beneath the skin where they then continue to develop.

As you might expect, warbles are itchy, uncomfortable, and just downright unpleasant.

What Do Warbles Look Like?

To identify a warble, you will want to look around and feel for swellings underneath your cat’s skin. They often are not visible immediately after they enter a cat, but you should be able to feel and see them as they form a burrow beneath your cat’s skin.

Often, warbles are confused for tumors. However, there’s a good chance that it’s a warble if your cat has no other symptoms and you live in North America. There are many kinds of Cuterebra in North America, and while they live mostly in southern Canada and the United States, botflies can be found in Mexico and other tropical areas, too.

If you suspect a warble, take a close look at it for a breathing hole. This is the telltale sign of a warble. Remember, warbles need breathing holes, so you’ll see a small hole in the center of the cat’s bump. The hole gets bigger the longer the warble is inside your cat.

Here’s a photo of a warble here.

Warbles can be found on any area of your cat’s body but are most common near the neck and head.

Another sign that your cat had a warble is an empty cyst. This is common if your cat had a warble and then the larvae pushed itself out. Although it might seem like your problem is over once the warble is out, that’s not the case. You may still need to provide some treatment. A cyst can become infected, particularly if your cat has been licking or scratching at it.

A warble cyst looks like a small open wound, so it can be tough to differentiate a warble cyst from other kinds of injuries.

You might notice other symptoms of warble in your cat, too. Warbles are more likely during periods of warm, wet weather, with most cases seen in the late summer. You aren’t likely to have problems with warbles during the winter.

Your cat might have hair loss and continuously, almost obsessively scratch or lick at an area. It can also suffer from secondary problems like infection or feline ischemic encephalopathy, a dangerous neurologic disease that results from the larvae migrating to the brain.

How Do Cats Get Warbles?

Typically, cats get warbles when they are hunting rabbits or rodents. They’ll unknowingly pick up the larvae near the entryway to a rodent’s burrow. Often, these infestations occur near the head or neck of a cat.

The good news is that warbles are generally not life-threatening. If there are only a few warbles on your cat, you shouldn’t have to worry about any long term effects or problems. However, if your cat has multiple warbles or if a warble develops near a sensitive tissue, organ, or nerve, there can be more serious effects.

The sooner you can remove the warble from your cat, the better – and the less likely your cat will suffer from permanent tissues or tissue damage.

How to Remove a Warble

The best tip I can give you if you notice a warble on your cat is to get that feline to a veterinarian – and fast. It can be tricky to remove a warble yourself, particularly if you have no background in doing so. Your vet will be able to get rid of the warble and clean the wound so that your cat doesn’t develop a more serious infection.

Also, there’s the chance that it’s not a warble but something else bothering your cat, so if you don’t have a positive diagnosis, you may want to leave that to the professionals. Sometimes vets will also anesthetize the cat before drawing out the warble with tweezers, which is obviously something you can’t do yourself.

Here’s a video of a vet removing a warble to give you an idea of what might happen.

However, there are other ways you can get a warble out.

One way is to use a venom extractor syringe. Often found in first aid kits, these tools can be used to suck the larvae out from underneath the skin. You can also give your cat an antiparasitic medication, like avermectin, which will cause the larvae to emerge.

You might have some success in flooding the warble with iodine. Iodine will help sanitize the area, preventing the risk of infection, and it will also cause the larvae to emerge from the hole and make it easier to remove.

There are several methods of pulling out warbles that are often used with some success but are not necessarily recommended.

For example, some people apply sap from matatorsalo trees, found in Costa Rica, which kill larvae but don’t remove them. You can also seal up the hole with petroleum jelly or nail polish, which will suffocate and kill the larvae. You can apply tape to the breathing hole, too, for the same effect.

Another technique is to squeeze the warble like a pimple to force the larvae out.

These tips aren’t recommended for several reasons. Killing the larvae or forcing it out in such a traumatic way can lead to anaphylactic shock or make removal of the body more difficult. This is problematic in itself, but can also increase the risk of infection.

Can Humans Get Warbles from Cats?

Humans can be infected with Cuterebra larvae – but don’t panic quite yet. While humans can get warbles, it’s not common. It’s also not possible for humans to get warbles from their pets, including cats, because warbles tend to be species-specific.

Can Other Animals Get Warbles?

Yes. There are other animals that get warbles, too, but there are different species of Cuterebra flies that have evolved to live in different anatomical locations in different hosts. Some are specific to cottontail rabbits while some are specific to deer mice.

Even larger animals can get warbles, though they aren’t usually referred to as such. Animals like sheep often get nasal botflies, which can be even more dangerous than the warbles your cat might get.

Are Warbles Contagious?

If you have multiple cats and notice that several of them have warbles, it’s not because the warbles themselves are contagious. The larvae won’t jump from one cat to another.

When there’s a case of multiple cats with warbles, it usually has to do with the fact that all of your cats are hanging out in the same area and are therefore more susceptible to picking up warbles as they stick to a cat’s fur and crawl beneath its skin.

Preventing Warbles in Cats

The best way to remove a warble is to never have to deal with one in the first place! There are a few simple solutions to preventing warbles in cats.

If you can, don’t let your cat go outside. Indoor cats don’t get warbles simply because they aren’t ever exposed to them. Keeping your cats inside will also eliminate the risk of them being hit by cars or snatched up by predators.

Of course, for many people, this isn’t practical. Whether you need to keep your cat outdoors because it’s a barn cat or for other reasons, there are fortunately other steps you can take to prevent warbles.

One step is to treat your cat with a parasiticide, an insecticide that targets botflies. These can be applied to the back of your cat’s neck. Of course, you should check with your vet before applying these as you will want to find one that’s safe for use on cats. Consider brands of parasiticides like ivermectin, imidacloprid, and selamectin.

A final tip is to discourage rodents in or near your home. Cats usually contract warbles through interactions with rodents. Put some mousetraps around your home and call an exterminator, if necessary, to get rid of mice and rats.

Warbles are gross and can be super painful for your cat. However, the good news is that there are rarely serious health consequences involved (as long as your cat does not develop a secondary infection, it is not usually considered a medical emergency).

Take these steps to prevent warbles – and hopefully, this isn’t a problem you’ll ever have to deal with!

updated 12/10/2020 by Rebekah Pierce

50 thoughts on “How to Remove a Warble from a Cat”

  1. Thanks for your post! One of my sweet kittens had a warble it in it’s neck. My husband and son were able to get it out! Gross!!! The process was just as you described it. I hope the kitten heals quickly! And that we never have to do that again, lol. Thanks again!

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    • We just got one of these out of our kitten and she has a good size hole in her neck been trying to see how treat it and if I should be concerned if she could have more inside her

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  2. I am fostering a litter of kittens.I realized one of the kittens had an open wound on its side and thought it was an abscess I started cleaning and pushing “pus” out and out poped a friggen worm! Did any of your other kittens have them? I’m worried the other kittens may have caught them too?

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  3. I accidentally stumbled upon this site looking for help with a kitten problem. I didn’t find the answers I needed, but am SO thankful to find this blog! I will be bookmarking this for future reference!!

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  4. I’ll try to keep it short. I wanted a cat , husband didnt. One day a kitten showed up out front. He wouldn’t let us near him but we fed him and he hung around. About a week later and after seeing that his eye wasn’t well I texted my husband that I was going to trap him.that day I took a milk crate, paint stirrer, yarn, and a can of tuna. Propped the crate up with the stirrer attached to the yarn, put the tuna in and waited and snatched!!!! He wasn’t happy but not mean.I wrapped him in a towel and extracted one worm from his neck. Then I started on the one in his cheek. To no avail. Finally I pulled the worm from where it had boroughed so deep. Through his bottom eyelid.I thought his eye might not survive. Gave him antibiotics and he got better. You can hardly tell there was something wrong with his eye aside from a small cloudy spot. He’s perfect! He’s my cat! Loves me like no other! Even comes when I yell puppy cat! He won’t come to anyone else.
    Recently the spot on his neck is draining. 10 months later.to all of you who say take him to the vet, I ca nt! my husband has to have serious dental work
    Why now? No inflammation, no infection, just fluid.

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  5. I have a 5wk old kitten w a warble. We r going 2 remove it but w all I’ve been reading it says the tissue is damaged from it….did your kitten make a full recovery???

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  6. Someone just dropped this kitten off two days ago. Not even weaned. I just found a warble in it this morning. I removed it and hopefully it makes a full recovery. On top of bottle feeding it. Yes very gross. Gotta have a strong stomach.

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  7. Kendra,

    I wasn’t planning on using any more. Only thing is he is so weak, and wobbly… I don’t know what to do? Other then take him to the vet of course.

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    • We had a kitten very weak with a warble worm. We tried to extract with no success. Poured a good amount of peroxide on it a couple of times and it killed the worm. Her wound is healing nicely. Was the size of a quarter to begin with now five weeks later it’s a little smaller than a dime. Her hair is growing back and she is acting like her old self again. Playful and happy.

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      • Was her wound open? My cat has several small holes around hir arm shoulder area and one nickel size hole you can see pink and yucky yellow it looks so painful and I don’t have the money to take him to the vet. I’m just wondering if peroxide would help my Stanley?

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  8. Okay, my kitten I found out in the woods had a wound on its neck… I cleaned it out to notice little worms. I looked it up and they look exactly like fungus gnat larve. I picked as many as I could out. He had them in his butt area as well.. Crawling in and out. The next day I looked at the wound to re wrap it and a warble was there. I pulled that sucker out with tweezers, and now there Is a big gapeing hole. With puss and stuff in it. I used peroxide, and disinfectant and got all the little gnats out that I saw. Thing is, everything I look up, it shows nothing about gnats being in cats… So I picked them all out, thinking I got them all. I woke up that morning to see none, as I hoped. But then I noticed his toe has been injured. I got my tweezers just incase, and found 1 gnat. I got it out. I have not seen anymore worms, but I don’t know what to do about the warble hole on its neck? It has a bunch of puss in it… And I’ve drained some out…. Advice? Other then taking him to the vet? We will. But for now I need advice. 🙂 please keep spree in your prayers.

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  9. Oh! I forgot to mention – for goopy kitty eyes, you won’t believe it ’til you do it and see it work: use a Bragg’s apple cider vinegar soaked cotton ball and rub it on the BACK of the kitty’s neck, squeezing the vinegar into the fur. You will see improvement within HOURS in the kitty’s eyes. I also used the same cotton ball rinsed with warm water to just remove the crusties from kitty’s eyes. No kidding. I read about it online and thought, ‘What have I got to lose?’ and it worked beautifully. The ACV can also be a literal life-saver for a cat with a UTI or urinary blockage. You can google ACV and cats and get all kinds of info.

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  10. Good job, kitty mama! Years ago I had a cat that got one of those grubs on the underside of its neck. The vet took care of that for me, thank goodness =o). They did have me put a bulb syringe’s worth of peroxide on it daily (squirt a few drops, bubble, wipe, repeat ’til syringe emptied) so that the wound would heal from the inside out.

    We had a little stray adopt us last summer who was about 10 minutes pregnant when she adopted us . . . we now have seven cats =o). All spayed/neutered now (we paid for mama’s spay, and the metro ‘spay/neuter and release’ program in our area did the kittens for free), and will be a year old on Saturday. We have seven children, so the kitties all get lots of good attention and are very sweet. We’re really enjoying them!

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  11. Thanks for posting the full story, as originally I thought that is a ‘wobbler syndrome’? Well, all is well that ends well…

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  12. We “acquired” a kitten (as we always seem to do: actually, they “acquire” us!) and it had a huge lump on it’s chest. The vet thought it was a warble, but couldnt find it. Instead, it appeared just to be an infection. That’s great that you were able to get it! We ended up paying a couple hundred dollars to treat our kitten of the infection! The cat was perfectly fine after a week, and then about a year after, she “acquired” someone else apparently, because we cannot seem to find her. Such is life.

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  13. I’ve never heard of such a thing…

    We also were blessed with a litter of kittens this spring and are enjoying them tremendously. Our queen birthed seven (yes, seven kittens); one died, and we’ve given away three to friends, but three remain to entertain us with their antics and to keep the local rodent population under control!

    I’m so curious how your kitten behaved during the “procedure.” Kudos to you for taking care of the situation at home. We’ve used the web to find at-home care tips for our animals and have had great success.

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  14. When I was a kid I had a rabbit that had one of those. We took it to the vet and I watched the vet pull it out. It was weird.

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  15. We had that happen to our dog one time. My husband had to go out of town & later that day I noticed the dog’s neck was swolen & a small hole on it. It kind of freaked me out! I had no idea what to do so the kids & I took her to the vet. It cost me an arm & a leg but they took care of it! I was really freaked out once I knew what it was! Yuck!

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  16. I work at a humane society and We get kittens in during the summer months (minnesota) that frequently have Cuterebra larva in them sometimes more than one It can be fatal. The trick is dronwning it out using peroxide. Also if you give it some time for the hole to get bigger (gross I know) that also helps. Kittens are fertile at 10 weeks of age. I would check with your local shelter we do low cost spay and neuters!!

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  17. Mmm yum, Cuterebra larva (rodent bot flies)! They are pretty disgusting! I’m impressed you took it out yourself!!! Someone mentioned that they eat their way into the animal. They don’t actually pierce the skin. The eggs stick to the animal’s coat after the animal walks through an area where an adult has laid it’s eggs. For cats especially, they ingest the eggs while grooming. Or they can enter the host through an open wound. Once they’re inside the animal’s body, they migrate to where they want to go.

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  18. Boric acid water, the kind people used to use on babies eyes, will fix your kittens eyes, too. You can buy it at the drugstore, it isn’t expensive, and just put some on a cotton ball and rub across the kittens eyes.

    I am not sure if you know this, but a cat can get pregnant as young as 4 months of age. They can also get pregnant while nursing kittens. February through May are the prime “kitten months” when so many kittens are born. Check with any cat rescues in your area, they should be able to direct you to a low cost spay/neuter in your area. I would neuter any males also. It keeps down fighting, keeps them from getting sick and possibly dying from abcesses caused by the fighting, and makes them stay home a lot better.

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  19. We had a stray dog that my dad brought home once that had one. We didnt know she had it until it broke open. Pus and blood everywhere yuck. Mom cleaned it out with peroxide and little Nugget made a full recovery. We had never heard of warbles either before this.

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  20. Wow Kendra, truly you are a woman of many talents. I’m not sure I would have ventured to do this.

    Congrats on now being able to add “vet” to the list of hats you wear.

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  21. Now that was disgusting. Yuck! I have heard of it, though. We had a kitten get a warble one time. I am embarrassed to say that I did not have the guts to do what you did. Our daughter was a vet tech. I had her do it. Yes, the kitten fully recovered, but it was so nasty that it took me a while to recover. LOL My daughter thought it probably got it while it was laying nursing on its mama. Glad you were able to help the sweet kitty. You are a brave woman and your daughter is brave as well.

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  22. I’ve done some nasty stuff with cattle, but this really got me. Bah ha. So yucky! I’m going to blame my weak stomach on the pregnancy.

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  23. Yes, that is nasty. We had a kitten with one of those when I was a kid. My dad took it out and the kitten made a full recovery. I didn’t know that’s what it was called, but my dad must have had some experience with “Warbles”.

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  24. the kittens are so cute!!! It’s great to have kittens in a house to mouse!

    I hope you’ll find someplace to spay the mom, or you’ll have kittens all the time! There are associations who do it for a small fee usually (I know some places that do it for 35$ but you need to look around you for particular associations!).

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  25. I’ve heard of these before. The adult (a fly, I believe) lays it’s eggs on animals. The egg hatches and the larva eats its way into the flesh. A nasty critter. I’ve heard of humans getting a similar parasite in the tropics from mosquito bites…the mosquito is infected by a fly and when it bites an animal the egg is injected into the skin.

    Good for you for saving the kitten and doing the dirty work!

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  26. Oh you are soooo brave Kendra!! I could not have done that. I had never heard of such a thing. Sometimes a bit of Crisco rubbed on the kitties goopy eyes helps though I am not sure why. My Grandma told me that is what they did when she was growing up, I tried it and it did work.

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  27. We have always had cats, have 4 now. They are my favorite pet. Never heard of warbles though, thank God. And I mean that. Our 2 outdoor cats catch anything that moves. Our 2 indoor cats run and hide at anything that moves. 🙂

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  28. oo poor kitten, well done you for getting the larva out in one piece too.
    We get warble flys over here in the UK, tend to be a problem mainly on cattle tho I do remember my childhood pony having one on his back..ugh.
    Horrid things.

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