Maggots are the stuff of nightmares. Growing up in the country, running into the occasional dead animal was just a part of life. Once, I found a dead frog that was infested with maggots. The experience was so horrifying I’ve never forgotten it.
I shudder to think about maggots, much less a beloved pet eating them. However, morbid curiosity struck, and I just had to know. What happens if a cat eats maggots?
What happens if a cat eats maggots?
It’s a gross scenario, but it certainly happens. There are several ways your favorite feline can encounter maggots, and even ingest them. The good news is that eating maggots doesn’t usually cause harm. However, that doesn’t mean maggots are harmless.
What are Maggots
Maggots are fly larvae. They often seem to appear out of nowhere, but this isn’t the case. Maggots begin their lives as eggs. Flies lay the eggs, usually on rotting food or dead animals.
The eggs hatch into maggots, which are small wormlike creatures. Maggots feed off the decaying material, and eventually turn into flies themselves.
Maggots are disturbing, but they are also necessary. They are part of nature’s clean up crew. Without them, there would be more decay and disease on the planet. Maggots dispose of other disgusting things, keeping the world a little cleaner.
Of course, this is cold comfort when you encounter them, or worry that your cat has eaten them.
When maggots enter the body, this is known as myiasis. It’s also commonly called fly strike, for obvious reasons. The most common type of myiasis is when maggots enter an open wound. It burrows into the skin, feeding on the tissue.
However, maggots can also live inside the digestive tract. This is a much more dangerous type of myiasis. They can live in the intestines, mouth, and liver. Unfortunately, they feed on the body’s tissue, causing a wide range of health problems.
Symptoms of myiasis include stomach upset, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Unexplained weight loss, pain, and difficulty breathing are also symptoms.
In many cases, the maggots die in the digestive tract before they have a chance to infest the cat. However, when they do survive, they can cause permanent damage or even death.
False strike occurs when a cat has maggots in their feces, but they do not have a maggot infestation. This can occur for two reasons.
First, the cat may have ingested maggots, which died in their digestive tract. Cats are unable to digest the maggots, so they come out relatively in tact in their poop. This can be scary as a pet parent, because it’s easy to assume that they have infested your cat’s body.
The other possibility is that the poop was contaminated by maggots after the fact. If you take a stool sample and leave it in the open air, flies have an opportunity to lay maggot eggs.
The eggs hatch into maggots, which are now in your cat’s poop, but not in their system. This can also occur if the sample you have wasn’t collected immediately.
Some cats have an allergic reaction to maggots. This can cause difficulty breathing, swelling, and anaphylactic shock.
Bacteria or Fungal Infections
Another risk maggots pose is the bacteria and fungi they can carry. Flies lay their eggs in the most disgusting things they can find. These things often have bacteria that can make your cat very sick.
E coli and salmonella are two bacteria maggots can harbor. They can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Fever, exhaustion, and dehydration are also common with these infections.
It’s not only maggots which pose a risk to your cat. Fly larvae are harder to spot, but they can be just as dangerous. They can hatch into maggots inside the digestive tract. They also carry the same bacteria that maggots can, posing a risk of an infection.
Can maggots kill a cat?
It’s rare, but yes, maggots can kill a cat. There are a number of ways maggot encounters can be fatal for your kitty.
Myiasmis can be fatal to cats. If they have intestinal myiasis, the maggots can eat vital organs, causing serious damage. They also give off toxic chemicals through their saliva, which can cause damage to your cat as well.
Myiasmis in the skin is more common than intestinal myiasmis. At first glance, it seems less serious. The maggots are infesting a wound, and not your cat’s internal organs. However, some species of maggot will continue to burrow deeper into your cat’s body, which can also be fatal.
There’s also the risk of a bacterial infection from contaminated maggots. They can carry up to 130 different pathogens, some of which can make your cat very ill. This can cause a secondary skin infection.
Toxic shock is also possible, because of the chemicals released in the maggots’ saliva. Essentially, the saliva breaks down tissue so the maggots can consume it.
Microbial infections caused by bacteria present in the maggots can also be fatal to your kitty. E. Coli, salmonella, and many other diseases can be transmitted through maggots.
Most cats will recover from these illnesses, but death does occur. In addition to the infection itself, severe dehydration can be fatal.
Cats Who are At Risk
Maggots pose some risk to all cats, but some are at a higher risk than others. Kittens and elderly cats are particularly susceptible to maggots and the diseases they carry. Kittens don’t have strong immune systems, and their body is still developing.
Contracting maggots or an infection from the bacteria they carry can easily be fatal in young kittens.
Elderly cats bodies don’t function as well as they did when they were younger. They may have weakened immune systems and organ dysfunction that makes it harder for them to survive an illness.
Cats who are already sick, injured, or immunocompromised are also at a higher risk of death from maggots.
Other Risks of Maggots
We can find more clues as to the effects of maggots on cats by looking at what they can do to the human body. Maggots can enter the body through the eyes, ears, or nose of a human. This can lead to blindness, deafness, or loss of smell, depending on which orifice they entered.
Why does my cat eat maggots?
There are a few reasons cats eat maggots. It’s unlikely they are eating them intentionally. Instead, maggots are typically ingested accidentally.
Food With Maggots
Cats are known to be finicky eaters. They generally won’t eat spoiled food. However, just like us, they can make mistakes and eat something they shouldn’t. Flies often lay their eggs in spoiled food, because it makes a great food source for maggots.
Maggots can also appear in cat food that has been left sitting out for a few hours. The cat may not consider it spoiled, or even notice that it contains maggots.
Cats can also ingest maggots while grooming. Cats are typically very clean creatures, so flies have no interest in laying eggs on them. However, if your cat has food or feces on their fur, this can attract flies.
If the flies lay eggs in their fur, maggots will hatch. When the cat grooms themselves, they may eat maggots while removing them from their fur.
How to prevent my cat from eating maggots?
It’s important to keep your cat away from maggots. They may be an unfortunate fact of life, but there are ways to reduce the chances your cat will come into contact with them.
Maggots will not infest dry cat food, but they love feasting on wet food. If you choose to feed your cat wet food, it’s best to do so indoors. Particularly in the summer months.
Fly eggs require warm temperatures to hatch into maggots, so there’s a greater risk of contracting them in the summer months or in tropical climates.
In addition to feeding wet food indoors, you shouldn’t leave it in your cat’s bowl for more than four hours. After four hours, the food begins to spoil, which makes it more attractive to flies.
Never feed your cat spoiled meat, or meat that has been left out of the fridge for more than a few hours. These are also prime habitats for fly eggs and maggots. It’s also best to feed your cat fully cooked meat, because maggots can also infest raw meat.
Maggots can also live in fruit. Flies usually prefer meat, but some will also lay their eggs in fruit. Spoiled fruit is particularly tempting. In addition to storing meat properly, fruit should be kept in the fridge to avoid potential infestation.
Keep Your Cat Clean
Most cats take great pride in grooming themselves, and keep themselves very clean. However, sometimes there are extenuating circumstances. Elderly cats can become incontinent, and lack the energy to remove pee and poop from their coat.
Sick cats may get soiled with diarrhea or vomit and be unable to clean themselves. Rarely, a cat can get depressed and stop grooming properly.
If your cat isn’t tending to their grooming needs for any reason, you’ll need to take over. Keep their fur clean and free of anything that will attract flies.
Flies will also lay their eggs in open wounds. This includes cuts, puncture wounds, and even the umbilical cord of kittens. If your cat has any type of wound, clean it daily. It’s best to keep it covered with a bandage, especially if your cat enjoys being outside.
This will prevent maggots from infesting the wound.
Keep Your Home and Yard Sanitary
You may be surprised at the amount of things in your home and yard that can attract flies and maggots. An open trash can is one of the most common culprits.
You throw disgusting things or spoiled food into your trash can. Flies can smell this from a long distance, and come to lay their eggs in it.
Keeping both inside and outside trash cans closed will prevent flies from depositing their eggs in them. I made the mistake of leaving my trash can lid open once.
When I went to close it, I was greeted by a colony of maggots. It was so traumatizing, I haven’t left the lid open since.
Cat and dog poop also attract flies. If your pets poop outside, cleaning it up will help reduce the risk of flies and maggots around your home.
Of course, rotten food can also draw flies. If you live in the city, you probably have a garbage disposal system. If you don’t, you’ll need to handle food scraps with care.
If you choose to throw them outside to biodegrade or feed the local wildlife, do so a good distance from your home.
If you want to dispose of them in the trash, it’s best to put them in a small bag first. Tie the bag, then place it in the trashcan. This reduces the smell and access. Don’t leave food scraps in your home. They should quickly be taken to an outside trash can.