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Preventing and Treating Heartworms in Cats

What are Heartworms?

Heartworms are a blood-borne parasite (or roundworm), and are spread in cats through mosquitos carrying heartworm larvae. The severity of heartworms in cats is directly dependent upon the number of worms present in a cat's body, the duration of the incubation, and the response of the infected cat.

Although heartworms in cats are less prevalent than they are in dogs, they are still a dangerous disease that has been on the rise in America. The risk of heartworm is about equal for both indoor and outdoor cats. If you do not use preventive medication, the risk of your cat contracting heartworm disease exponentially increases. This is why preventive cat heartworm medication is so important.

Symptoms of Heartworm Disease in Cats

One of the most challenging aspects of diagnosing heartworms in cats is that there are no definitive clinical signs that directly indicate the existence of cat heartworm disease. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that heartworm disease isn't present.

Two of the most common symptoms that may indicate the presence of heartworm disease in cats are vomiting and coughing.

Other symptoms include:

  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • Convulsions
  • Blindness
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia/Weight Loss
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Sudden Death

On occasion, an apparently healthy cat may be found dead, or may develop sudden overwhelming respiratory failure. In these cases, heartworm disease may be diagnosed on a post-mortem examination.

We can easily prevent heartworm disease in cats long before serious medical issues or life threatening emergencies develop by simply implementing preventive measures.

How are Heartworms Transmitted in Cats?

Upwards of 30 species of mosquitoes can act as heartworm transmitters in cats. Mosquitoes ingest immature heartworm larvae by feeding on either an infected cat or dog. The larvae develop further for 10 to 30 days in the mosquito's gut, and then enter parts of its mouth.

When an infected mosquito bites a cat, it injects the heartworm larvae into the cat. The larvae then migrate and mature over a period of several months, eventually ending up in the right side of the heart and the pulmonary arteries. Once this occurs, they mature into adult heartworms, and can reproduce about six months from the time of invasion. Approximately eight months after the invasion, heartworms begin to produce a new crop of larvae that will live in the cat's blood for about one month. By the time this occurs, most cats begin showing symptoms, and the disease can become fatal very rapidly.

How is Heartworm in Cats Diagnosed?

There is no one standard used across the veterinary industry for diagnosing heartworm for cats. Rather, our veterinarians employ a battery of lab tests in order to determine a heartworm diagnosis.

These tests include:

  • A urinalysis, or the testing of a cat's urine
  • A heartworm antibody test, which determines whether or not a cat's immune system has been exposed to heartworms
  • A heartworm antigen test determines the presence of adult female heartworms
  • X-Rays, which allow us to view the size and shape of a cat's heart. This is helpful because many cats with heartworm develop enlarged pulmonary arteries, or have obstructions in the arteries leading to the lungs
  • Ultrasounds, which allow us to view the internal structures of the heart and surrounding vessels, in order to assess the condition and function of the heart
  • A white blood cell count

Heartworm Treatment for Cats

Unfortunately, there is currently no viable heartworm medication for cats that can fight off an active infestation, which is why the importance of heartworm prevention for cats cannot be overstated.

If your cat is diagnosed with heartworm, they may still live a long, happy life under the supervised medical care and treatment of your veterinarian. This may include anti-inflammatory treatments and medications to aid in breathing, similar to those used to treat asthma.

Heartworm Prevention for Cats

The good news for cat owners and their feline friends is that reliable heartworm prevention for cats already exists. Veterinarians strongly recommend that all cats receive monthly heartworm preventive medications in areas where mosquitoes are active all year round.

Schedule an Appointment for your Cat to be checked for Heartworm today!

We recommend scheduling an appointment to discuss heartworm prevention for cats with us before your cat contracts heartworm.

If you witness any symptoms that might be indicative of cat heartworm disease, please contact us immediately to schedule an appointment.

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