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Heartworm Disease: It Affects Cats, Too!

  • 27 May 2016
  • Author: 3 Sided Media
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Heartworm Disease: It Affects Cats, Too!

Many decades ago, veterinarians didn’t really know the significance of heartworm disease in cats, but it turns out, cats are about as likely to be affected by the disease as dogs—the host the parasite is meant for.

Here’s where it gets a tad tricky: In cats, heartworm is a different disease than it is in dogs. But according to Stephen Jones, DVM, president of the American Heartworm Society, “different doesn’t mean less significant.”

Just as with dogs, heartworms wind up infecting a cat as the result of a mosquito bite. When an infected mosquito bites a cat, it deposits heartworm larvae into the body. The larvae then migrate into the cat’s heart or pulmonary arteries.

Once they mature, adult female heartworms produce tiny, immature worms called microfilaria that circulate in the bloodstream. This allows the cycle to repeat, as microfilaria are ingested by mosquitos who bite the infected animal and are then transmitted to other animals.

Cats are often end hosts, meaning they typically do not transmit the disease to others. However, this does not mean heartworm disease in cats is any less serious.

One symptom of heartworm disease in cats is sudden death. In fact, heartworm disease is the second most common cause of sudden death in cats (behind feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a type of heart disease characterized by thickening of the heart muscle). Still, it is difficult to determine how many cats suddenly die of heartworm disease, as necropsies (an autopsy on an animal) are rarely performed.

Some heartworm-positive cats have more generalized signs of illness that can often be mistaken for something else, such as a chronic cough, vomiting, or lethargy.

Jones says researchers only recently discovered at least some cats with asthma-like symptoms are actually suffering from a heartworm-caused condition called heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). While the disease can be managed, there are significant costs to both the owner and the pet.

Still, other cats offer no signs. Either these cats are masking illness, as cats can effectively do, or they truly have no signs of illness and feel great.

Typically, cats don’t suffer the potentially large heartworm burden that dogs do, which can easily exceed a dozen or more worms. For cats, one worm may be typical—but recent research suggests one worm is enough to cause permanent damage.

“We can’t easily test for heartworm infection in cats, and we cannot treat it, but since we can prevent it, that is the best wellness care recommendation we can make,” says Colleen Currigan, DVM, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP).

While keeping cats indoors is a good start, it does not completely eliminate the risk for heartworm infection. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), studies show that 25–30 percent of heartworm-positive cats are indoor-only.

For some pet owners, the definition of “indoors” might include a porch or backyard that is anything but mosquito-proof. However, even cats living in homes that are truly indoor-only may be exposed to mosquitos that make their way into the home.

The only way to truly protect cats from the disease is with year-round oral or topical heartworm prevention. This is another reason preventive veterinary visits are so important, even if the cat appears healthy, Jones says.

In dogs, treatment for heartworm disease far exceeds the cost of prevention. In cats, treatment is not an option, making prevention in cats is as priceless as the cats themselves.

Source: AAHA

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Categories: Pet Blog
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