What Is Feline Heartworm Disease
Feline heartworm disease starts when a cat is bit by an infected mosquito. The larvae then make their way through the cat's tissue, bloodstream, arteries, lungs, and heart. It takes about eight months for the larva, also known as microfilaria, to grow into mature adult worms in the heart. Heartworms can live about three years in a cat's body, which is much shorter than the heartworm lifespan in a dog's body. Even if the microfilaria never grow into adult worms, they can still cause damage to the cat's respiratory system.
While it is true that cat's are more resistant to heartworms than dogs, they are still at risk for getting feline heartworm disease. Cats are not the intended host for this parasite. Outdoor cats are at a higher risk for contracting the disease. Many people think that since their cat stays strictly indoors, they do not have to worry about feline heartworm disease. This is not true, indoor cats also get heartworm disease.
Symptoms of Feline Heartworm Disease
Heartworm associated respiratory disease, also known as HARD, is the result of feline heartworm infection. HARD causes many chronic symptoms that are sometimes misdiagnosed and thought to be some other disease such as asthma. These chronic symptoms include coughing, increased respiratory effort, vomiting, lethargy, weight loss, and loss of appetite.
Many times, feline heartworm disease goes completely undetected and a cat dies suddenly. There are several acute symptoms such as increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, blindness, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, collapse, and sudden death. Unfortunately most of the time, these symptoms begin when it is too late to make an accurate diagnosis or save the cat's life.
How Is Feline Heartworm Disease Diagnosed?
Diagnosing feline heartworm disease is not typically easy. There are antigen tests, but these tests do not always detect a heartworm infection. It is possible for a cat with heartworm disease to have a normal exam.
Some common tools used to diagnose feline heartworm disease include x-rays, bloodwork, antigen tests, EKG, and cardiac ultrasound. As feline heartworm disease is easy to misdiagnose, many cats may be diagnosed with asthma, tracheal bronchitis, or other diseases.
What Is the Treatment for Feline Heartworm Disease?
There is currently no treatment that is safe for killing heartworms in cats. Since there is no cure, supportive care is needed. It is possible for heartworm infections in cats to go away on their own with time. A doctor may prescribe steroids to decrease inflammation in the meantime. A veterinarian may also recommend regular routine check-ups and tests to monitor the patient's status.
A sudden onset of symptoms caused by feline heartworm disease may require emergency care. Cats may experience difficulty breathing and be placed in an oxygen cage. They also may be given bronchodilators and/or antibiotics.
How Can Feline Heartworm Disease Be Prevented?
Today, there are a few good heartworm preventatives on the market for cats. It is highly recommended that all cats use a monthly heartworm prevention, especially those who go outside. Even indoor cats should use prevention. Prevention is safer, more effective, and less costly than diagnosing and treating a cat with feline heartworm disease.
Prevention comes in both oral and topical products. Oral products are Interceptor and Heartgard for cats. Topical products include Advantage multicare and Revolution. They are all once a month methods of prevention. Another good measure to take in prevention of feline heartworm disease is to keep pet cats indoors. Also, minimize mosquito infections around the home by removing any sources of stagnant water.