Feline Heartworm Disease
One of the biggest myths about heartworm disease in cats is that they cannot get it. Unfortunately, just like dogs, cats CAN get heartworm disease. The symptoms are less obvious, however, and often go undiagnosed. Because of this, there are many misunderstandings concerning this serious disease.
Feline heartworm disease is caused by a parasite called dirofilaria immitis. This microscopic worm lives in the heart and blood vessels of infected cats. Heartworm disease is transferred to cats through the bites of mosquitoes that carry the larval form of this parasite. Even cats that only live indoors can be affected, since it only takes one “bite” from an infected mosquito to transfer the heartworm larvae to a healthy cat. And unfortunately, there are very few symptoms your cat will show to let you know he or she has this disease. Very rarely, they will show signs of respiratory distress or vomiting, but most often, no clinical signs are present when a cat has heartworms.
There is no safe treatment for heartworms in cats. Once a cat has heartworms, the disease can only be managed by giving a monthly topical heartworm preventative. This preventative will only kill the young heartworms (microfilaria), but NOT the adults. Unfortunately, the adult heartworms will still thrive in the cat’s heart and bloodstream, growing up to a foot in length. When they reach this size, they can block important vessels to and from the heart and cause sudden death.
Luckily, using a monthly preventative (such as Revolution, Heartgard for Cats, or Interceptor) BEFORE the cat has contracted heartworms is a great way to keep your pet safe from this disease. There is a test available, (commonly called a “combo test”), which tests for heartworm disease in cats, as well as Feline Leukemia and Feline Aids. It’s a very simple blood test that your veterinarian can perform at your cat’s yearly vaccine visit. Because of the prevalence of mosquitoes everywhere in the United States, it is recommended cats be tested once a year for heartworms, and that they REMAIN on heartworm prevention once a month for their entire life. Remember, even if your cat’s heartworm test was negative today, they can still get the disease from an infected mosquito tomorrow.
Heartworm disease in cats can be a tragic, heart-breaking occurrence. It is easily preventable, however, using the right medications. For more information, please feel free to visit the following link: Feline Heartworm Disease.