Heartworm Disease in Cats is Incurable and Preventable
There are numerous chronic health conditions facing cats today. Most of them can be managed effectively with little impact on quality of life or longevity. But among the different types of potential health concerns, heartworm disease in cats stands alone.
Spread by the bite of a single infected mosquito, a heartworm infection is fatal for felines. The good news is that year round adherence to your cat’s parasite prevention greatly reduces the risk.
The Straight Story
Cats are not the only pets that suffer from heartworm disease. Dogs and ferrets are good hosts to this parasite as well as various wildlife such as wolves, foxes, coyotes and sea lions.
Heartworm treatment for these other animals exists, but it is toxic in cats. That means that the only defense against heartworm disease in cats is complete prevention.
Dirofilaria immitis, the microscopic parasitic worm responsible for causing heartworm disease in cats, is directly deposited into the bloodstream from an infected mosquito’s bite.
After about 8 months, the larvae grow and develop inside the subcutaneous tissues. As they mature, they reproduce and move to the muscle tissues and stop in the right ventricle and arteries of the heart and the lungs.
All in the Timing
Heartworms don’t have to be full-size to cause problems, and even between 6-100 days after initial infection they can be detected with a simple blood test. Inflammation in the small arteries surrounding the lungs can lead to damage of the small airways and air sacs that enable gas exchange.
Many feline infections compromise the pulmonary arteries which are responsible for carrying blood from the heart to the lungs. Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease, or HARD, is characterized by the lung disease caused by heartworms.
Heartworm Disease in Cats
Some cats launch an immune system response strong enough to kill the parasitic worms. In other cases, heartworm disease in cats will develop without obvious signs. That being said, however, the following symptoms of an infection can often include:
- Loss of appetite/weight loss
- Respiratory difficulty
- Coughing or gagging
Heartworm disease in cats is incurable. Some cats with the diagnosis may not live very long or without sizable pain. Some cases result in sudden death.
There are diagnostic tests that determine the presence and location of heartworms, such as blood tests, chest x-rays, and ultrasound. Cats diagnosed with HARD can benefit from supportive treatments. Intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy, antibiotics, and heart medication can potentially extend a cat’s life.
Protect Your Cat
Georgia’s mosquito seasons never really disappear, but numbers skyrocket in spring and summer. The best thing cat owners can do to protect their cats is to routinely administer monthly heartworm medication throughout the entire year.
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