Cats today face numerous chronic diseases. Most of them can be managed effectively without compromising quality of life or longevity. Among the different types of potential health problems, heartworm disease in cats stands alone.
Spread by the bite of a single infected mosquito, heartworm infection is fatal to cats. The good news is that adhering to your cat’s parasite prevention system will greatly reduce risk year-round.
The straight story
Cats aren’t the only pets with heartworm disease. Dogs and ferrets are good hosts to this parasite, as well as various wildlife such as wolves, foxes, coyotes, and sea lions.
There is heartworm treatment for these other animals, but it is toxic in cats. This means that the only defense against heartworm disease in cats is complete prevention.
Dirofilaria immitis, the microscopic parasitic worm that causes heartworm disease in cats, is deposited directly into the bloodstream from the blood of an infected mosquito.
After about 8 months, the larvae grow and develop in the subcutaneous tissue. As they mature, they multiply and move to muscle tissue and stop in the right ventricle and arteries of the heart and lungs.
Everything in timing
Heartworms don’t have to be full-sized to cause problems, and even between 6 and 100 days after the initial infection, they can be detected with a simple blood test. Inflammation in the small arteries that surround the lungs can damage the small airways and air sacs that allow gas exchange.
Many cat infections affect the pulmonary arteries, which are responsible for carrying blood from the heart to the lungs. Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD) is the disease of the lungs caused by heartworms.
Heartworm Disease in Cats
Some cats cause an immune system response strong enough to kill the parasitic worms. In other cases, heartworm disease will develop in cats with no obvious signs. However, often the following symptoms of infection can include:
- Loss of appetite / weight loss
- Difficulty breathing
- Coughing or choking
Heartworm disease in cats is incurable. Some cats diagnosed may not live very long or without significant pain. Some cases result in sudden death.
Diagnostic tests are available that can determine the presence and location of heartworms, such as blood tests, chest x-rays, and ultrasounds. Cats diagnosed with HARD can benefit from supportive treatments. Intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy, antibiotics, and heart medication can all potentially make a cat’s life longer.
Protect your cat
Georgia’s mosquito season never really goes away, but the numbers skyrocket during the spring and summer. The best thing cat owners can do to keep their cats safe is to give them monthly heartworm medication on a routine basis throughout the year.
If you have any questions or concerns about your cat’s lifestyle and health, we encourage you to contact us. Our team is always there for you at Cat Care of Vinings.