The first time it occurred to me that veterinarians have a higher gross-out threshold than most people was during vet school. Ensconced in a booth at a local Mexican restaurant, my classmate and I were flipping flashcards and quizzing each other about diarrhea over a couple of burritos.
We were feeling rather chuffed with ourselves until I realized that a hush had fallen over the table next to us. The other diners had all put their forks down and were gazing balefully in our direction.
As it turns out, this would not be the last time I inadvertently repelled someone.
Occasionally, veterinarians come across parasites on dogs and cats that, quite frankly, push owners over the “eeeewwww” line. With apologies to anyone with a weak stomach, here are a handful of cases that expose some less common freeloaders that most pet parents would rather not encounter.
Case 1: The Cat With the Red Bump
A woman brought her cat in because she was concerned about a raised red lesion on his neck that looked like a tiny puncture wound. Once she confirmed that her cat did, in fact, spend a lot of time outdoors, I revealed my suspicion: a Cuterebra larva was nestled under the skin and had created a little breathing hole.
I received a shocked, blank stare.
Cuterebra, or botflies, often lay eggs around rodent or rabbit burrows, and the eggs hatch into larvae when exposed to warm temperatures. Cats, and to a lesser degree dogs, usually become infested when they explore these burrows with their snouts or heads. The larvae can enter through the pet’s mouth, nostrils or an open wound, or the pet can ingest the larvae when grooming.
Once in the body, the larvae can migrate to many locations, but most form a little swelling, called a warble, under the skin. In the United States, pets usually turn up at veterinary clinics with these lesions in July, August and September. The infestations generally don’t pose a health risk to owners.
Although migration to other locations can cause problems, the skin lesions are relatively harmless to most pets. Still, pet parents shouldn’t try to remove the larvae themselves, because rupturing the larvae can lead to anaphylactic (severe allergic) reactions or infections in the pet.
So I took the cat into the treatment room, carefully enlarged the breathing hole and removed the offending larva with a forceps. My mistake, of course, was in bringing the chubby little specimen back into the exam room to show the owner. She assured me that I had ruined her appetite for the entire day.
Case 2: The Puppy With Dry Skin
This woman brought her squirmy new puppy in for vaccinations a few days after she had picked him up at a local farm. In passing, she mentioned that she’d given him a few baths because he seemed a little itchy, and his skin appeared to be somewhat dry and flaky.
When I took a skin scraping (using a dull scalpel to scrape the skin and collect a sample of skin cells) and placed the sample on a slide under the microscope, it was easy to see the culprits: lice. The puppy had probably picked them up from being raised in less-than-sanitary conditions.
Did I learn my lesson from the Cuterebra incident? No. I brought the woman in back and had her peer at the insects wriggling their legs under the microscope. Despite my assurances that we could treat the problem and that the woman was at no risk of catching lice from her puppy, she shuddered and gave me that now-familiar wordless glare.
Case 3: The Stinky Cat
“You’re going to love this one,” the veterinary technician said as he dropped the file on my desk. “The cat had been missing for a couple of weeks, and now she’s back, and something about her kind of, well, smells.”
This time, we found maggots under the cat’s long hair. Chances are, the cat had been bitten in a catfight, and the bite had not only become infected, but it had attracted flies. The flies, in turn, had laid eggs near the wound, and when the eggs hatched — voilà — maggots (which are actually fly larvae).
This time, I knew enough not to ask the owner to take a gander. Still, you can imagine the distraught look I received when I shared the news.
The tech and I gloved up and removed the larvae with tweezers, and the cat couldn’t have been sweeter about the whole thing. We eventually resolved the problem, but not without plenty of “Eeeks!” emanating from the two of us in the treatment room.
After all, even veterinarians and technicians have their limits.
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