As the weather gets warmer outside and you seek the outdoors, you should consider your cat and how the upcoming season may affect your kitty’s health.
What is Heartworm Disease and how is it transmitted to your cat? Heartworm is caused by a blood parasite called Dirofilaria immitis; which is transmitted to cats from mosquito bites. The parasite makes its way into the mosquito when the mosquito ingests a blood meal from a dog infected with Dirofilaria immitis . The mosquito continues to have blood meals throughout its life, infecting dogs and cats it interacts with.
How does Heartworm affect cats once they are infected with the parasite? The parasite lives in the heart and the arteries leading to the lungs. During early infestation the larvae causes inflammation in the arteries and lungs. Once worms reach adulthood they suppress the cats immune system which is why we sometimes don’t notice any signs, but there is irreversible damage being done. The parasite’s life-cycle in the cat is around two years; after the two years, the parasite dies and this can cause pulmonary embolism or severe inflammation from the decomposing worm. Cats tend to have much smaller worm burdens than dogs due to their size, however, one worm can cause sudden death in a cat.
What are the symptoms of Heartworm in cats? Coughing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, vomiting, poor appetite and weight loss are all common signs of heartworm. Other signs of heartworm are severe respiratory distress, collapse and sudden death.
How do you diagnosis Heartworm Disease in cats? There are two kinds of tests commonly performed, antigen and antibody testing. Antigen testing tests for presence of a specific biological product released by the worm. This test is not accurate diagnose in cats due to the small worm burden cats have and only female worms secrete the product being tested for; so if the cat only has male heartworms the test will come out negative even though the cat has the disease. Antibody testing can detect both male and female worms but some cats produce antibodies transiently; and others will have circulating antibodies after the infection has resolved. In cats there is no exact test that can give you an accurate diagnosis of heartworm disease.
What is the treatment for Heartworm in cats? There are no treatments for heartworm disease in cats. It is recommended that heartworm positive cats be placed on a preventive to keep them from getting re-infected with the parasite.
Prevention is key in preventing cats from getting this potentially life stealing disease; and if your cat contracts heartworm disease the damage caused by the parasite is irreversible. It only takes one mosquito to enter your house and one blood meal that could end your cats life. The cost of prevention is priceless compared to the loss of your cats life. It is recommended to have your cat on a preventive year around due to constant weather changes, and there are some species of mosquito that can live indoors year around in crawl spaces and in basements. Don’t let your kitty be at risk for developing this irreversible damaging disease.