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Trichinellosis (Trichinosis) in Cats

By Otto M. Radostits, CM, DVM, MSc, DACVIM (Deceased), Professor Emeritus, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan ; Max J. Appel, DMV, PhD, Professor Emeritus ; David A. Ashford, DVM, MPH, DSc, Assistant Area Director, International Services, APHIS, USDA ; Stephen C. Barr, BVSc, MVS, PhD, DACVIM, Professor of Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University ; J. P. Dubey, MVSc, PhD, Microbiologist, Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, USDA ; Paul Ettestad, DVM, MS, State Public Health Veterinarian, Epidemiology and Response Division, New Mexico Department of Health ; Craig E. Greene, DVM, MS, Professor, Department of Small Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia ; Delores E. Hill, PhD, Parasitologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture ; Johnny D. Hoskins, DVM, PhD, Small Animal Consultant ; Eugene D. Janzen, DVM, MVS, Professor, Production Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary ; Jodie Low Choy, BVSc, BVMS, IVAS Cert, Menzies School of Health Research; University Avenue Veterinary Hospital, Northern Territory, Australia ; Dennis W. Macy, MS, DACVIM, Professor of Medicine and Oncology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences,Colorado State University ; Dudley L. McCaw, DVM, DACVIM (Small Animal, Oncology), Professor, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University ; Barton W. Rohrbach, VMD, MPH, DACVPM, Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Medicine, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, University of Tennessee ; J. Glenn Songer, PhD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Science and Microbiology, University of Arizona ; Richard A. Squires, BVSc (Hons), PhD, DVR, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA, GCertEd, MRCVS, Head of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, James Cook University ; Bert E. Stromberg, PhD, Professor, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota ; Joseph Taboada, DVM, DACVIM, Professor and Associate Dean, Office of Student and Academic Affairs, School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana State University ; Charles O. Thoen, DVM, PhD, Professor, Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University ; John F. Timoney, MVB, PhD, Dsc, MRCVS, Keeneland Chair of Infectious Diseases, Gluck Equine Research Center, Department of Veterinary Science, University of Kentucky ; Ian Tizard, BVMS, PhD, DACVM, University Distinguished Professor of Immunology; Director, Richard M. Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University

Also see professional content regarding trichinellosis.

Trichinellosis is a parasitic disease that can be transmitted to people. It is caused by a type of worm known as a nematode. The name of the disease comes from the scientific name for the worm, Trichinella spiralis. Humans become infected when they eat undercooked infected meat, usually pork or bear, although other animals can also be infected with this nematode. Natural infections occur in wild meat-eating animals; most mammals are susceptible.

Infection occurs when an animal eats meat with cysts containing the Trichinella larvae. The life cycle continues inside the animal, with larvae eventually migrating throughout the body, where they form cysts in muscles. Larvae may remain viable in the cysts for years, and their development continues only if they are ingested by another suitable host. If larvae pass through the intestine and are eliminated in the feces before maturation, they may be infective to other animals.

Diseases such as trichinellosis or tularemia can occur in cats that eat prey or raw, uncooked meat.

Generally, there are no signs of the disease, and most infections in domestic and wild animals go undiagnosed. In humans, heavy infections may produce serious illness and occasionally death. Although diagnosis before death in animals other than humans is rare, trichinellosis may be suspected if there is a history of eating either rodents or raw, infected meat.

Treatment is generally impractical in animals. Making sure that ingestion of viable Trichinella cysts in muscle does not occur is the best way to prevent disease in both animals and humans. Raw or improperly cooked meat should not be fed to cats. Cooking meat to an internal temperature of at least 145°F (63°C) will kill the cysts. Freezing cannot be relied on to kill cysts in meat other than pork.

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