April is Heartworm Awareness Month and, as veterinarians, we are happy to have an opportunity to spread awareness about this devastating yet completely preventable disease. Heartworm disease is often linked with Dogs, cats Heartworms can also affect cats. Cats are considered to be atypical hosts for heartworms, as most worms in cats don’t survive to adulthood. According to American Heartworm Society, “While this means heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats, it’s important to understand that even immature worms cause real damage in the form of a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD).
Moreover, the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used in cats, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease.” The AHS also found that Heartworm is still being diagnosed in all 50 states, so no is immune to what they’re calling a “hearworm-demic”.
Because awareness and, more importantly, prevention are key. Heartworm disease in cats is so critical, we’ve rounded up some frequently asked questions about it below and their accompanying answers below.
What is cat-heartworm disease?
Cat heartworm is an intestinal parasite that can cause severe lung damage. Cats can become infected when they are exposed to the parasite. Moskito bites. These worms are infected by a mosquito and then move toward the lungs.
Can a cat transmit heartworm to a dog, cat, or person?
No, all heartworms must be transmitted to another animal by being infected with a mosquito during their entire life cycle.
What is the cycle for the heartworm? And how can a cat use that information to help her?
The heartworm cycle in a cat is when a mosquito bites the cat and injects a baby worm into the cat’s skin. These worms then migrate through skin to the bloodstream and eventually reach the lungs. When the worms begin to reach the lungs, it takes months for the cat to develop an intense inflammatory reaction to kill them. The cat has these asthma-like symptoms—coughing, open mouth breathing, vomiting, and labored breathing.
How can a cat’s lifestyle impact their risk of heartworm?
Cats that Wander and be outside There is a slight increase in the risk that they will contract heartworms. It’s far less than what a dog is at risk. Preventing heartworm disease in cats is crucial, as it can be fatal if they reach adulthood.
What is the sign that my cat has heartworms
Cats develop symptoms earlier than dogs, as the immature stages reach the lungs much earlier than dogs. Adult worms are more prevalent in dogs than in cats. Problems in cats are usually caused by the immature or early stages of worms. Sometimes, a few worms can make it to adulthood. This is not a good situation.
Here are some signs that your cat may have heartworms.
- Weight loss
- Open-mouth breathing
- Labored breathing
- Vomiting (cats tend to vomit with many different diseases)
Is heartworm painful in cats?
Heartworm disease can cause asthma-like symptoms in cats, so they can’t breathe. They aren’t perfusing so they’re panicked. Some of their tissues may be a little painful because they’re not perfusing, although we can’t be sure.
How can a cat be tested for heartworm?
We will typically recommend a test for heartworm disease in cats if we suspect they have it. It is almost always negative. This is because the test checks for adult heartworms. Cats aren’t usually affected by these. There are no tests available for immature stages. Sometimes we test for antibodies. However, they can develop antibodies after a few months. They usually disappear very quickly, so we have a limited window to catch them. It does not necessarily mean the cat is still infected. We often take x-rays to check for heartworm. We can see changes in the lungs.
Most veterinariansRetroviral screening is recommended for feline leukemia and FIV. This is another topic that we will be discussing. However, this test also tests for heartworm diseases. We recommend outdoor cats be screened for those diseases. It helps you be prepared for what might happen in your cat’s life.
How often should my cat be tested to see if he has heartworms
If we suspect that the cat may have heartworm disease, we recommend testing. Routine testing is not recommended because there is no treatment once the cat has developed adult heartworms. They don’t have microfilaria which is the baby warm circulating within the blood. Therefore, all heartworm preventatives are safe. Prevention is recommended for cats.
In a symptomatic or sick cat where we suspect heartworms, then we’re going to get an x-ray to check for antibodies and do the ELISA antigen test as well.
Do I need to test my cat yearly if they are on preventative?
Because they don’t have any microfilaria, we can give them preventatives. Because they are so rare to test positive for adult worms, yearly testing is not recommended.
How can heartworm prevention be done in cats?
You can usually give cats some pills similar to dogs, but they are different. There are also topicals. Most people use the topicals you apply to the skin. Cats are also a popular choice. It is difficult to get pills. These prescription medicines prevent the dog or the cat from getting infected and, as we’ve mentioned, the key with a cat is to prevent them from getting infected.
How effective is heartworm prevention in cats
Heartworm preventions are 95% effective or higher if they are administered correctly and given regularly.
Are there any over-the counter or holistic treatments for heartworms
They aren’t. While vector and mosquito control is important, these preventative products are still essential. Many of those preventatives are also available. Keep ticks, fleas and other parasites away It can be used to treat intestinal parasites.
Can I do anything to reduce heartworm risk in my cat’s environment?
It is vital to avoid standing water. You can use sprays for mosquito control and such things, provided you follow the instructions. You can do anything you can to reduce the mosquito population in the area. You can usually combat this by draining the standing water from your flower pots and other similar items.
What should I do in case my cat misses a dose?
If you miss a dose, keep going. If you are unable to remember the dose, you can give your cat another one and continue with your monthly routine. If the cat isn’t showing any symptoms, then we don’t have to go any further with that.
There is no treatment for adult heartworms in cats. They don’t have the same access to treatment as dogs. The medication can be quite toxic to cats. The worm can cause death in cats, so prevention is essential. Chronic asthma-like symptoms can develop in cats that have been infected by heartworm. This condition can last a lifetime. While we can treat the symptoms with bronchodilators and corticosteroids, there is permanent damage to the lungs.
My cat has been diagnosed with heartworm. What’s the next step?
If your cat’s tested positive for heartworm disease, the next steps would be X-rays, monitoring, and bracing owners that this cat may go into a fatal crisis when this heartworm dies (they live about two years). There isn’t much you can do to stop this. These cats will eventually die, despite all your best efforts. Sometimes specialists can surgically/manually remove heartworms, but it’s a risky and costly procedure.
Is heartworm detection and treatment more difficult in cats?
Although cats often test negative for all things, they may be infected by heartworm disease. This is because it does different things to cats. If a cat develops asthma-like symptoms and cats have asthma, it is likely that they have allergic lung disease. However, heartworm can also trigger asthma. It’s an educated guess. The treatment is the same as treating asthma, with steroids and bronchodilators, but we’re still going to have to figure out if heartworm is the underlying cause. If we suspect that heartworm caused the asthma attack we may perform antigen testing. We may never know.
Because it is a parasite of dogs, the incidence in cats is lower than in dogs. Cats’ lifestyles and things like that make them a little less susceptible as well. The cat’s immune response to the parasite that infects them is what causes all cat symptoms.
Are there any side effects of heartworm prevention medications we give cats?
These preventives are generally well tolerated. Sometimes you’ll see local site reactions where you apply the topical; they’ll lose hair and get itchy. Sometimes, owners report that their cats feel sick after applying the topical. If we suspect that the heartworm prevention is causing depression or lethargy, we will switch products.
If you suspect your cat may have heartworm disease or you don’t have them on heartworm prevention, Call us right away This is especially important for cats, who need to prevent the disease from getting worse.
The Drake Center for Veterinary Care can be found at AAHA-accredited Animal hospital located in Encinitas, CA. The Drake Center is happy to be a resource for pet owners all over the country. However, if you have any questions about pet care and don’t live in Encinitas or nearby cities, we encourage that you contact your local veterinarian.