According to Susan Nelson, clinical associate professor of the university's Veterinary Health Center
, as the weather warms people should begin to think about protecting their pets from parasites. Nelson notes that mosquitoes carry heartworm, a blood parasite that can be deadly when spread to cats and dogs. Heartworm
) is a parasitic roundworm that is spread from host to host through the bites of mosquitoes. The heartworm is a type of small thread-like worm. The definitive host is the dog, but it can also infect cats, wolves, coyotes, foxes and other animals, such as ferrets, sea lions and even, under very rare circumstances, humans.
Almost 100 percent of dogs exposed to heartworm will develop the disease. While that number is not as high for cats, Nelson explains, it is often more fatal for felines.
"Cats are sometimes a little less obvious with their heartworm disease," Nelson said in a research note
. "It can be just a little weight loss or lethargy, but we can also see asthma-type signs in cats. They can have trouble breathing, develop a cough, chronic gagging and vomiting."
Nelson explains that it only takes one or two worms to cause significant harm to a cat and unlike dogs; there is no treatment for heartworm once cats are infected. That's why it is important to use prevention tools. Nelson also stresses that prevention year-round is key to protecting your pet because just like the weather, mosquito season is unpredictable.