In south Florida, lizards are a common sight, especially in the warmer months, and it’s not uncommon for lizards to occasionally get inside the house. When my cats spot a lizard, quick as lightning, they are on that lizard. Even though one of my cats just tries to play with it, the other one knows I will take it away from him and tries to swallow the lizard in one quick gulp before I can steal his “prize.” I mentioned this to my veterinarian during a routine visit and was surprised to learn that lizards can pose a danger to pets.
Cats that eat lizards are at risk of contracting cat liver fluke, also known as Opisthorchis felineus. Cat liver flukes are most common Florida, Hawaii and the Caribbean. This parasitic worm lives in water, where it has two intermediate hosts. The first intermediate host is the freshwater snail which ingests the liver fluke eggs; the infected snail is then eaten by a lizard, frog or fish. When a cat eats the infected lizard, frog or fish, the cat liver fluke goes into the cat’s liver and biliary tract, causing illness. Symptoms of a cat liver fluke infection include jaundice, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, and enlarged liver causing a distended abdomen; however, many cats with liver flukes are asymptomatic.
If you suspect your cat may have liver flukes, your veterinarian will perform tests such as a liver biopsy, blood work, and analysis of a stool sample to determine the presence of liver fluke eggs, as well as tests to evaluate your cat’s liver function.
The risk of liver flukes is one more reason to keep your cat indoors. Cats can be stealthy predators, and even indoor cats may be exposed to a lizard that has made its way indoors. To eliminate the risk of your cat contracting liver flukes, it’s important not to let your cat catch and eat lizards, frogs, toads or fish. If you live in an area with a risk for cat liver flukes, ask your vet for regular blood tests to screen for this possibility.