Since 2000 the veterinary staff at Veterinary Village has made heartworm prevention for cats an important part of our approach to preventive care. A heartworm infection can lead to numerous health problems up to and including early death. Therefore, heartworm prevention cannot be ignored. Our team is here to educate you and protect your cat from this terrible disease.
The importance of heartworm prevention for cats cannot be overstated. Once a cat has contracted heartworms, it cannot be cured. Therefore, preventive measures are absolutely necessary in order to keep your beloved feline friend healthy and safe.
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Dirofilaria immitis is a blood-borne parasitic nematode (roundworm), commonly referred to as cat heartworm. Heartworms in cats are spread through mosquitos carrying cat heartworm larvae. The severity of heartworms in cats is directly dependent upon the number of worms present a cat's body, the duration of the incubation, and the response of the infected cat.
Upwards of 30 species of mosquitoes can act as heartworm transmitters. Mosquitoes ingest immature heartworm larvae, called microfilariae, by feeding on either an infected cat or dog. The microfilariae develop further for 10 to 30 days in the mosquito's gut and then enter parts of the mosquito's mouth.
When an infected mosquito bites a cat, it injects larvae into the cat. The larvae then mature over a period of several months, eventually ending up in the right side of the heart and the pulmonary arteries. Once this occurs, they mature into adult heartworms in cats, and can reproduce about six months from the time of invasion. At approximately eight months after the invasion, heartworm in cats begin to produce a new crop of microfilariae that will live in the cat's blood for about one month. By the time this occurs, most cats are showing significant heartworm symptoms, and their lives are in danger.
Although heartworms in felines are less prevalent than in canines, feline heartworms are still a dangerous disease that has been on the rise in America. The risk of heartworm is about equal for both indoor and outdoor cats. If you do not use preventive medication, the risk of contracting cat heartworm disease exponentially increases. This is why preventive cat heartworm medication is so important.
Symptoms Of Cat Heartworm Disease
One of the most challenging aspects of diagnosing heartworms in cats is that there are no definitive clinical signs that directly indicate the existence of cat heartworm disease. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that cat heartworm disease isn't present. Some health signs that might indicate the presence of cat heartworm disease include:
Vomiting and coughing are two of the most common symptoms but there may be other symptoms, including:
- Difficult or labored breathing
- Anorexia/Weight Loss
- Fluid in the lungs
- Sudden Death
On occasion, an apparently healthy cat may be found dead, or may develop sudden overwhelming respiratory failure. In these cases, cat heartworm disease may be diagnosed on a post-mortem examination.
We can easily prevent cat heartworm long before serious medical issues or life threatening emergencies develop by simply implementing preventive measures.
Diagnosing Heartworm For Cats
Unfortunately, there is no one benchmark standard used across the veterinary industry for diagnosing heartworm for cats. Rather, our veterinarians employ a battery of lab tests in order to determine a cat heartworm diagnosis. These tests include:
- A heartworm antibody test determines whether or not a cat's immune system has been exposed to heartworms. This is a very sensitive test, and is usually employed first.
- A urinalysis, or the testing of a cat's urine.
- An antigen test determines the presence of adult female heartworms. This is more specific than an antibody test, but not as accurate in all cases.
- Radiographs, or X-Rays to view the size and shape of a cat's heart. This is helpful because many cats with heartworm develop enlarged pulmonary arteries, or have obstructions in the arteries leading to the lungs.
- Ultrasounds allows us directly view the internal structures of the heart and surrounding vessels, in order to assess the condition and function of the heart.
Heartworm Medicine For Cats
Unfortunately, there is currently no viable heartworm medicine for cats that can fight off an active infestation. Therefore, if your cat is diagnosed with heartworm, we cannot cure it. However, while we cannot defeat existing heartworm disease with medication, this isn't necessarily an indication that they will die soon. While sudden death is possible, it isn't common. If your cat is diagnosed with heartworm they may still live a long life under the supervised medical care and treatment of your veterinarian. This may include anti-inflammatory treatments and medications to aid in breathing, similar to those used to treat asthma.
Heartworm Prevention For Cats
Heartworm prevention is given in the form of a monthly chewable. The chewable are readily accepted by most cats as a treat. It is very important that the chewable be given once a month on the same day of the month to make sure that your cat is adequately protected. Side effects of the chewable medication are rare. However, as with any medication, please call if you notice any changes in your cat's health or behavior.
Veterinarians strongly recommend that all cats receive monthly heartworm preventive medications in areas where mosquitoes are active all year round. Here in WI and because of our mosquito population, we highly recommend all cat owners adhere to this annual preventive medicine protocol.
Have A Veterinarian Check Your Cat For Heartworm At Your Next Appointment
Heartworm is an easily preventable disease. If your cat is not currently using a veterinarian recommended heartworm prevention medication, please schedule an appointment right away. There is no reason for your cat to be exposed to heartworm disease when prevention is so simple.