Heartworm disease is a serious, potentially fatal, yet easily preventable condition that can affect your furry family members. Dogs, cats, ferrets, wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions, and (rarely) humans can be affected by heartworms.
What are heartworms?
Heartworms are blood-borne parasites that are shaped like worms. Adult heartworms can grow up to 14 inches in size. They live and thrive mainly in the heart, lungs, and arteries surrounding them. Their offspring, however, can be found in any part of the circulatory system. These are called, “microfilariae,” and are transported by mosquitoes to household pets. Mosquitoes are an integral part of the spread of heartworm.
It takes about 6 months for the microfilariae to fully develop and begin to produce offspring of their own inside your cat’s body.
How does heartworm disease spread?
Contrary to many beliefs, heartworm is not able to be passed from dog to cat, cat to cat, etc. A mosquito host is required for passage of the parasite. This means that heartworm cases directly correlate with mosquito presence, and can be expected to rise in areas with stagnant water or other mosquito havens.
What are the symptoms?
It may take several years before your cat shows symptoms of heartworm disease. Consequently, cats ages 2-8 are the most commonly diagnosed. Heartworm diagnosis of puppies and kittens are rare since the microfilariae take 6 or more months to fully develop.
Unfortunately, in most cases, the disease is well advanced by the time cats begin to show symptoms. This makes treatment a long and difficult process for you and your cat.
The most common symptoms include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss. An affected cat may also have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid accumulation in the abdomen.
Unfortunately, cat owners often mistake heartworm disease symptoms for asthma or breathing problems and so not seek proper treatment.
Adult heartworms may be clogging the heart and major blood vessels, making exercise difficult for your cat. If the condition is severe, the heartworms may be blocking the blood supply to major organs.
Microfilariae, on the other hand, stick mainly in the smaller blood vessels of the circulatory system. They are often the cause of lung and liver injury.
How is heartworm diagnosed?
Usually, simple blood tests can confirm or deny the presence of heartworms. If confirmed, another series of tests must be performed to determine if your cat can safely undergo treatment.
How is heartworm treated?
The same treatment for heartworm in dogs does not work for cats. This means that prevention is even more important for your cat. Treatment for cats with heartworm disease is usually more on the management side, where they may be prescribed medication to manage their symptoms.
Cats are an atypical host for heartworms since the worms have a hard time surviving to their adult stage. There are usually about three worms found in cats with the disease and may resolve on their own.
Frequent follow-up visits may be recommended for cats with advanced cases. The veterinarian will assess the severity of the disease before recommending a course of treatment.
It is imperative to maintain a preventative care routine for your cat.
How can I prevent my cat from getting heartworm disease?
Heartworm preventatives are a safe, easy, and cost-effective way to protect your cat from this deadly disease. No pet should have to suffer from heartworm disease!
Community Veterinary Clinic will be more than happy to schedule an appointment for preventative care or a simple heartworm screening. Give us a call today at (209) 634-5851.