Researchers are closing in on a more accurate method of determining if cats are infected with heartworm, according to a study recently published in the journal Parasites & Vectors. The study also suggests that feline heartworm — a potentially lethal parasite transmitted by mosquito bites — may be more prevalent than previously believed.
Conducted by Oklahoma State University and funded by Bayer HealthCare’s animal health division, the study found that heating feline blood samples dramatically increased heartworm detection.
“Heartworm is a very is a very serious disease in cats that can result in significant pulmonary damage and can be fatal,” said Oklahoma State veterinarian Susan E. Little, the study’s lead investigator. “We believe this study’s findings will enhance detection of heartworm infection in cats, improving both patient care and veterinarians’ understanding of the true extent of feline heartworm.”
Using four different commercially available tests, the researchers evaluated blood serum taken from six cats already confirmed to have low numbers of heartworms. First using unheated samples, the tests detected heartworm in only one of the six cats. But when heated samples were used, the tests detected heartworm in five of the cats. According to the researchers, the heating appeared to prevent antibodies from masking the heartworms.
Dr. Little hopes that these findings could ultimately lead to a revision in the protocol for feline testing.