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Seroprevalence of heartworm infection, risk factors for seropositivity, and frequency of prescribing heartworm preventives for cats in the United States and Canada

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  • 1 Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32610.
  • | 2 Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32610.
  • | 3 Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32610.
  • | 4 Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32610.
  • | 5 IDEXX Laboratories Inc, 1 Idexx Dr, Westbrook, ME 04092.
  • | 6 IDEXX Laboratories Inc, 1 Idexx Dr, Westbrook, ME 04092.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE To determine the seroprevalence of heartworm infection, risk factors for seropositivity, and frequency of prescribing heartworm preventives for cats.

DESIGN Prospective cross-sectional study.

ANIMALS 34,975 cats from 1,353 veterinary clinics (n = 26,707) and 125 animal shelters (8,268) in the United States and Canada.

PROCEDURES Blood samples were collected from all cats and tested with a point-of-care ELISA for Dirofilaria immitis antigen, FeLV antigen, and FIV antibody. Results were compared among geographic regions and various cat groupings.

RESULTS Seropositivity for heartworm antigen in cats was identified in 35 states but not in Canada; overall seroprevalence in the United States was 0.4%. Seroprevalence of heartworm infection was highest in the southern United States. A 3-fold increase in the proportion of seropositive cats was identified for those with (vs without) outdoor access, and a 2.5-fold increase was identified for cats that were unhealthy (vs healthy) when tested. Seroprevalence was 0.3% in healthy cats, 0.7% in cats with oral disease, 0.9% in cats with abscesses or bite wounds, and 1.0% in cats with respiratory disease. Coinfection with a retrovirus increased the risk of heartworm infection. Heartworm preventives were prescribed for only 12.6% of cats at testing, and prescribing was more common in regions with a higher seroprevalence.

CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE At an estimated prevalence of 0.4%, hundreds of thousands of cats in the United States are likely infected with heartworms. Given the difficulty in diagnosing infection at all clinically relevant parasite stages and lack of curative treatment options, efforts should be increased to ensure all cats receive heartworm preventives.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE To determine the seroprevalence of heartworm infection, risk factors for seropositivity, and frequency of prescribing heartworm preventives for cats.

DESIGN Prospective cross-sectional study.

ANIMALS 34,975 cats from 1,353 veterinary clinics (n = 26,707) and 125 animal shelters (8,268) in the United States and Canada.

PROCEDURES Blood samples were collected from all cats and tested with a point-of-care ELISA for Dirofilaria immitis antigen, FeLV antigen, and FIV antibody. Results were compared among geographic regions and various cat groupings.

RESULTS Seropositivity for heartworm antigen in cats was identified in 35 states but not in Canada; overall seroprevalence in the United States was 0.4%. Seroprevalence of heartworm infection was highest in the southern United States. A 3-fold increase in the proportion of seropositive cats was identified for those with (vs without) outdoor access, and a 2.5-fold increase was identified for cats that were unhealthy (vs healthy) when tested. Seroprevalence was 0.3% in healthy cats, 0.7% in cats with oral disease, 0.9% in cats with abscesses or bite wounds, and 1.0% in cats with respiratory disease. Coinfection with a retrovirus increased the risk of heartworm infection. Heartworm preventives were prescribed for only 12.6% of cats at testing, and prescribing was more common in regions with a higher seroprevalence.

CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE At an estimated prevalence of 0.4%, hundreds of thousands of cats in the United States are likely infected with heartworms. Given the difficulty in diagnosing infection at all clinically relevant parasite stages and lack of curative treatment options, efforts should be increased to ensure all cats receive heartworm preventives.

Contributor Notes

Dr. Burling's present address is College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211.

Address correspondence to Dr. Levy (levyjk@ufl.edu).