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Lungworms in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Lungworms are an example of a parasite ("worm") that can infect the respiratory tract of cats. There are several different parasites that have been identified including: Aelurostrongylus abstrusus, Paragonimus kellicotti and Capillaria aerophilia.

Outdoor cats in certain geographic areas of North America (and elsewhere) are predisposed to respiratory parasites. Infection typically occurs from exposure to the hosts that carry the parasite. For example, the cat lungworm (Aelurostrongylus) is found throughout the southeastern USA. Cats acquire the infection when they eat the snails or slugs that act as the intermediate host and (more likely) the birds or small mammals that eat the infected snails. Thus, a "hunting" or outdoor cat is most likely to be infected.

The lung fluke (Paragonimus) is found near lakes that harbor the intermediate host (crayfish and snails) or the raccoons that eat them.

Clinically important infections occur most often in younger cats (those less than 2 years old) that are heavily infested. The symptoms for lungworm infections depend on the specific parasite, the severity of the infection and the host response. Some pets with mild infections are normal, while other pets will exhibit a cough, lethargy, exercise intolerance and weight loss.

What to Watch For

  • Coughing is the most common sign of lungworm infection.

    Diagnosis

    Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize lungworms, and exclude other diseases. Tests may include:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination including lung auscultation (stethoscope examination).

  • Thoracic (chest) radiographs (X-rays).

  • Fecal examination must be done to check for ova or larvae. A special technique called the Baermann technique may be required.

  • Examination of respiratory secretions should be done to check for ova or larvae. These secretions may be obtained by a procedure called transtracheal or endotracheal wash.

  • A heartworm test should be performed to exclude this disease.

    Treatment

  • If lungworms are diagnosed, an anti-parasite drug must be given. Often these are the common "dewormers" used for roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms, but at different doses for each.

  • If there is severe reaction to the parasite, an anti-inflammatory dose of corticosteroids may be needed for a brief period (3 to 10 days).

    Home Care and Prevention

    In addition to careful observation, you may be asked to medicate your cat for this condition. This can be a challenge in some cases and you should ask for help at your veterinarian's office if you need directions regarding proper medication techniques. A variety of medications may be prescribed depending on the exact parasite identified. Some are liquids, other pills.

    The only effective preventative is to control the roaming and hunting of cats allowed outdoors.

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