If your cat has been sneezing or coughing lately, don’t assume you and your furry friend are simply suffering through winter together, in reality your cat might have lungworm – a nasty parasite easily caught by cats when in their own backyard.
Symptoms of lungworm may be similar to cat flu and the worm may present itself through wheezing and coughing or respiratory distress, but many infected cats show no symptoms at all, which is why lungworm often goes undiagnosed. Left too long lungworm can damage a cat’s airways or more serious complications can occur, such as fluid build-up in the lungs, pneumonia, heart problems and unfortunately it can be fatal.
Cats which appear healthy by are infected can also act as a reservoir to infect other cats. Young cats, strays, active hunters, debilitated and immunocompromised cats are most at risk from infection.
Cats may become infected directly through eating snails and slugs, or catching prey such as birds, mice or lizards who themselves have eaten infected snails and slugs.
Bayer New Zealand veterinarian, Dr Kirstie Inglis is urging cat owners and other veterinarians to consider preventative treatment against feline lungworm as part of their regular parasite control strategies.
“Lungworm larvae are ingested by cats during hunting generally but there is evidence to show that cats even just coming into contact with snail or slug slime may become infected too.”
Cats swallow larvae which migrate through the gut wall, travel through the cat’s liver and into the lungs, where they mature to adult worms, 5mm-12mm in length. Here they can cause serious respiratory system damage and inflammation. Cats then cough up new lungworm larvae from the lungs produced by the adult parasites and swallow them again, to pass through the cat in their faeces – ready to infect new slugs or snails and so the cycle goes on.
“While we don’t have data on the national prevalence of feline lungworm in New Zealand, a survey of shelter cats in Melbourne found 16% were infected with the parasite, and the situation could be similar in New Zealand*.” Continues Dr Inglis.
Fortunately lungworm is incredibly easy to treat using monthly applications of Advocate spot-on for cats (from Bayer,) the only product licensed in New Zealand for feline lungworm treatment and control, while also treating for fleas, ear mites and other gastrointestinal worms.
Advice on treating lungworm:
- Cats will be cats, and exercise in the garden is often a good way to keep their body healthy and mind stimulated, so we’re not recommending locking them inside all the time. However, don’t wait for your cat to be infected. Prevention and staying on top of treatment is the best way to protect your cat from lungworm.
- Advocate for cats is available for purchase from your vet or pet stores.
- Advocate for cats is highly effective and while a single dose will treat lungworm, Dr. Inglis suggests using Advocate year round as a monthly application to control any subsequent lungworm infections. Setting a reminder on your calendar or smart phone to remember when you cat is due their monthly Advocate is a great idea, which ensures they are covered for this parasite as well as fleas, roundworm and earmites.
- Luckily dog owners don’t have to worry about lungworm in New Zealand, as dogs cannot contract feline lungworm and we don’t have the canine form here, as some countries do. Regular worming is still vitally important to protect dogs from a host of other parasites though and Advocate is available for dogs to treat fleas, mites and gastrointestinal worms too.