Friday, March 2, 2012

Identifying and Treating Liver Fluke in Cats

The cat liver fluke, known more properly as Opisthorchis felineus, is a dangerous parasite that lives in water and can be transmitted to cats by way of a secondary host. Typically, the parasite is ingested by a lizard, frog, or fish. The lizard, frog, or fish is then eaten by a cat, causing the cat to become infected. If the liver fluke makes its way into the binary tract or liver, the cat may become seriously ill. Liver fluke in cats is most common in tropical areas such as Hawaii, Florida, and most of Central America. Up to 85 percent of cats living in tropical areas are infected with liver fluke.

Symptoms of Liver Fluke Infestation in Cats

Most infected cats are asymptomatic, meaning they typically don’t display any symptoms. However, a cat with a more severe infection will display certain characteristic symptoms. Some of these may include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Severe weight loss
  • Abdominal distension
  • Enlarged liver
  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • General disability
Diagnosing Liver Fluke

Before any testing takes place, most veterinarians will ask you to evaluate your cat for risk factors. You will likely need to provide your vet with a history of your cat’s health, lifestyle factors, and document the onset of symptoms. If your cat lives in a tropical area and is permitted outside, your vet may decide to run additional tests to confirm diagnosis.

The only way to know for sure if your cat is infested with liver fluke is by taking fluid and tissue samples from the liver. These samples are sent for laboratory analysis. Alternatively, your vet may decide to perform a microscopic examination of liver tissue or search for any eggs that may be present in your cat’s feces.

Treating Liver Fluke in Felines

Left untreated, liver fluke can kill your feline companion. Your vet, however, can initiate a treatment program. Cats that are seriously ill will generally need to be hospitalized. They will require intravenous fluids and food, as well as medication, to assist in clearing the body of the parasite. Vitamin D may also be administered to promote recovery. Your veterinarian will likely administer antibiotics as well to prevent any infections. Some cats may need surgery if the bile ducts become blocked.

If your cat is less seriously ill, your vet may allow you to treat your cat as an outpatient. In this case, your vet may give you a drug that kills parasitic worms, such as praziquantel, to administer at home. This is usually given orally. Administer all medications according to your veterinarian’s instructions.

Liver fluke in cats can lead to additional complications such as liver enzymes or fecal sedimentation. To prevent and treat these complications, you vet will likely wish to examine your cat from time to time even after treatment has been completed. You will also want to watch your cat carefully for signs of a recurring infestation such as unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, or any other changes in your cat. For most cats that receive appropriate treatment before severe damage is done to the liver, a full and uncomplicated recovery is expected.

Preventing Liver Fluke Infestation

For cats that live in tropical areas, steps should be taken to limit exposure to liver fluke. Keeping your cat indoors is one way to reduce the risk of infestation. However, for cats that live in a high-risk area, you may want to consider a medication to prevent parasitic infestation. This medication is typically administered every three months, but your veterinarian may suggest another schedule.

It is important to treat liver fluke quickly and efficiently. This is not just for the sake of your cat, but for the safety of your family. Liver fluke can be transmitted to humans, though this can generally be prevented by proper hygiene such as washing your hands frequently. Properly treated, however, liver fluke can be eliminated, assuring the safety of you, your family, and your cat.

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