Research shows that heartworm infection is common among cats in Cayman.

A new study led by Caymanian veterinarian Dr. Brandy Darby indicates that heartworm disease is very common and a legitimate threat to cats living in the Cayman Islands.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery Open Reports in March, showed that 11% of the sample group of feral cats had adult heartworms.

Another 27% of the cats showed evidence of exposure to immature forms of the parasite. The study also found that indoor cats are at risk due to bites from mosquitoes that can enter the home.

Darby, when contacted on Monday, said that the sample group of 36 feral cats was collected between 2013 and 2014. The animals tested were feral cats trapped and euthanised by the Department of Agriculture as part of a population control programme that had been ongoing at the time.

Heartworm disease has been a common clinical diagnosis in dogs in the Cayman Islands, and cats were studied because pet owners may not have been aware that their cats are at risk too.

Animals are infected with heartworm disease when larval forms of the parasite are transferred from a mosquito, but the larval stage does not progress to mature form in cats as often as it does in dogs. Despite that finding, the immature forms of heartworm can still cause serious disease in cats.

Symptoms of infection include coughing, intermittent vomiting and sudden death.

The findings of the study note that heartworm infection is completely preventable through medications that cat owners can obtain from their veterinarian.

Darby’s study was conducted with support from the Department of Agriculture. Dr. Charles Dickinson, Dr. Lori Gaskins and Dr. Paul Hanna, faculty members associated with St. Matthew’s University School of Veterinary Medicine, made significant contributions.