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Progress reported in detecting heartworm in cats

Heartworms removed from a cat.
Heartworms removed from a cat.
Courtesy of Oklahoma State University

Researchers believe they have found a more accurate way to determine if cats are infected with heartworm, according to findings unveiled Jan. 13.

The study, published in the journal Parasites & Vectors, also suggests that feline heartworm may be more prevalent than previously thought. Heartworm, a potentially lethal parasite, is transmitted to cats by mosquito bites.

The study, conducted by Oklahoma State University and funded by Bayer HealthCare’s animal health division, found that heating feline blood samples dramatically increased heartworm detection.

"Heartworm 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."

With four different commercially available tests, the researchers evaluated blood serum taken from six cats already confirmed to have low numbers of heartworms. Using unheated samples, the tests detected heartworm in no more than one of the six cats. But with heated samples, the tests detected heartworm in as many as five of the cats. The heating appeared to prevent antibodies from masking the heartworms.

Little said the “study's findings could ultimately lead to a revision in the protocol for feline testing."

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