Cats are at risk for heartworm infection (Dirofilaria immitis) wherever the disease is endemic in dogs. Diagnosis is more difficult in cats, and little information is available regarding effective palliative and curative treatments for infected cats. In contrast to the challenges of diagnosis and treatment, chemoprophylaxis is highly effective, and current guidelines call for preventive medications to be administered to all cats in endemic areas. The purpose of this study was to survey feline heartworm management protocols used by 400 animal shelters and foster programs in the endemic states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. Only 23% of shelters performed feline heartworm testing. The most common reasons for not testing were expense (36%), lack of treatment options for infected cats (18%), and because the agency considers heartworm infections in cats to be less important than in dogs (12%). Most agencies (69%) did not provide preventive medication to cats. Reasons included because testing was not performed (36%), expense (35%), and the perception that local heartworm risk was low (10%). When preventive was provided, feline-labeled broad-spectrum products were used more commonly (81%) than livestock products (14%). The survey also indicated that many policy decisions were based on inaccurate knowledge of feline heartworm prevalence and pathogenesis. Issues of cost, feasibility, and education prevent most Southeastern sheltering agencies from adequately protecting cats against heartworm disease. Practical guidelines tailored to the needs of these agencies should be developed. Subsidized testing and preventive products may facilitate implementation of feline heartworm management protocols in sheltering agencies.
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