Protect Your Cat from This Lesser-Known Parasite

Szénási Szimonetta

2024. June 19 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

There are many parasites that pose a threat to cats, and some that are less talked about. One of these is the parasitic skin disease.


Like heartworm, another nematode parasite known as Dirofilaria is responsible for parasitic skin worm disease in cats. Among its various species, Dirofilaria repens can infect both humans and animals, causing skin disease, according to the Hungarian National Public Health Center.

Mosquitoes are a threat to cats

It is related to heartworm disease

They also add that the number of human infections in Hungray is very low; the National Institute of Public Health’s Department of Parasitology diagnoses an average of 6 cases per year. The reason for this is that the human body is an imperfect (technically, paratenic) host for the parasite. Meaning it cannot travel long distances within it. This is similar to the case with heartworm disease.

Mosquitoes pose a threat to cats by transmitting these parasites. Similar to heartworm, the infection is spread by mosquito bites. In humans, due to the unsuitable environment, the worms often remain near the bite site, typically forming small nodules containing immature worms that die off quickly. These nodules can appear anywhere on the body, but are most common on the upper body (head, eyes, neck, upper limbs, chest) and can be surgically removed. Since the larva does not enter the bloodstream in humans, the disease cannot spread from person to person. The National Epidemiology Center emphasizes that human cases are rare and there’s no need for panic.

A variety of symptoms may occur

The parasitic skin disease may cause nervous system complaints in cats

In pets, particularly dogs, Dirofilaria worms can cause significant issues. Although less common in cats, these parasites can still affect them. In cats, the worms may not thrive as they do in dogs, leading to wandering worms that can reach critical areas such as the central nervous system or the eyeball, causing a range of symptoms. For example, parasites in the brain can lead to neurological issues, like altered consciousness or loss of function in different brain regions.

Diagnosing skin worm infection in dogs usually starts with a blood test. However, since the microfilariae (microscopic larvae) of skin and heart worms are very similar, a positive blood test often requires a PCR test to confirm the specific type of infection.

For cats, diagnosis is more challenging because they rarely produce microfilariae. Infection is often only detected through the direct identification of adult worms. Sometimes incidentally during surgery or through imaging techniques like MRI if there is brain involvement.

The disease is difficult to diagnose and there is no treatment for it in cats, so prevention is incredibly important

Prevention is the key

Prevention remains the most effective strategy against all parasitic infections, including parasitic skin worm disease. There are multiple preventive measures available, and products that protect against heartworms also typically safeguard against skin worms. Your veterinarian can provide detailed information about these options.

Preventing infection is especially crucial for cats, as they are more sensitive to treatments used for heartworm in dogs. Therefore, regular screening, at least twice a year, and the use of preventive medications as prescribed are essential to protect your cat from these harmful parasites.

heartworm heartworm disease nervous system parasite parasitic skin disease prevention skin worm

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