Cat Clinic of Cary Blog
Heartworm Disease in Cats: A Silent Enemy
Heartworm disease in cats is a silent but deadly enemy, and one that all pet owners should understand. This blood borne parasite used to be thought of as a dog only disease. We are finding out that heartworm disease is far more prevalent in cats than we ever knew, even in indoor only felines.
Read on to learn about heartworm disease in our feline family members.
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworms are what we call the parasite Dirofilaria immitis on a lay basis. They are actual worms that can be anywhere from 3 to 14 inches in length when fully mature. Heartworms, true to their name, reside in the heart and adjacent blood vessels and lung tissue.
Heartworms are transmitted when a mosquito feeds on the blood of an infected pet. During this process it ingests the baby heartworm larvae, called microfilaria. The mosquito plays host to the microfilaria as they mature, then injects them into the bloodstream of another pet when it feeds.
Once a pet is infected with heartworm microfilaria, they migrate within the body, eventually settling in the right side of the heart and large arteries of the lungs. It is here that the heartworms mature and potentially begin to reproduce, creating new microfilaria to be spread.
Why Heartworms are Serious
Cats are not as natural a host for the heartworm as dogs, and their bodies do not tolerate this unwelcome guest very well. Signs of heartworm disease in cats can be nonspecific to nonexistent, but may include:
- Trouble breathing
- Increased respiratory rate
- Weight loss
- Sudden death
Some cats may show no signs of infection leading up to death. Also unlike with dogs, heartworms in cats may be much more difficult to diagnose. This is because cats often play host to much fewer worms than do dogs. Several blood tests may be necessary to make a diagnosis.
We are able to treat dogs who become infected with heartworms, and although it is an unpleasant and expensive process, many recover. Cats, on the other hand, are not able to tolerate the same treatment protocol and there is currently no safe way to treat heartworm disease in cats.
How to Prevent Heartworm Disease in Cats
Finally, some good news for cat owners!
Heartworm disease is often very preventable. We have several very safe, effective monthly prevention options to protect your cat from this deadly disease. When given monthly as directed, heartworm preventatives in cats are nearly 100% effective.
Cats do not need to be exposed to other dogs or cats to become infected. This deadly disease is able to affect even cats that spend their days indoors (after all, mosquitoes get into the house, right?). Please let us know if you would like to discuss options for preventative for your cat. Prevention is the best cure in many situations, and heartworm disease in cats is no exception.