The Heart Of The Matter: Cats and Heartworm Awareness

The Heart Of The Matter: Cats and Heartworm Awareness

Mosquitoes are a common problem that all areas in the Southeastern United States battle. Your kitty is a prime target for their feasting! Heartworm disease in cats is NOT treatable, difficult to detect, life-threatening and very preventable. Signs of heartworm in our feline friends can be misleading at best and make a diagnosis difficult. There are no approved treatments for cats who contract heartworm disease currently and none on the horizon.

So what is bottom line for cats and heartworm disease?

Prevention, Prevention, and more Prevention. 

Mosquitoes Are To Blame

Mosquitoes are typically found in dense foliage and near sources of standing water, which sustains their development from the egg, larval, and pupal stages. While there are certain species active in the daytime, most bites occur at dawn and dusk. To reduce the breeding of mosquitoes in our area:

Remove any stagnant water from containers Turn over baby pools, outdoor toys, wheelbarrows when not in use Clear out gutters Keep swimming pools chlorinated and cleaned Clear out thick, damp overgrowth and high grass

Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states in cats, and risk factors are impossible to predict. Multiple variables, from climate variations to the presence of wildlife carriers, cause rates of infections to vary dramatically from year to year—even within communities. Check all window screens in your home to reduce the numbers of mosquitos able to get into your home and infect your indoor cat. Nothing truly freezes or dies in the South East to end the life cycle of mosquitos and give us a well-deserved break! Even in the winter months with some freezing rains, occasional snow flurries, etc., ALL Cats are at risk for heartworm disease.

Heartworm Is Different In Cats

Many cat owners erroneously believe that heartworm disease is only a concern for dogs and, while the risk is very high for canines, the effects are quite different – and often fatal in felines. Cats are not the natural host for adult heartworms and, when an infected mosquito bites a cat, the worms don’t settle in the heart. The undeveloped larva deposited by the mosquito are found in a cat’s lungs where serious inflammation results. This inflammation often spreads to the kidneys, intestines, and the nervous system.

Symptoms of Feline Heartworm Disease

The signs that your cat is suffering from heartworm disease are much like asthma, allergic bronchitis, OR they have no symptoms at all.  This makes heartworm disease in cats very tough to diagnose. If your cat suddenly displays the following symptoms, please call for an appointment:

Coughing or breathing difficulty, even if only occasionally Vomiting or diarrhea Lethargy Refusal to eat or significant shift in appetite and weight loss Rapid heart rate Collapse Convulsions

Sometimes we see general ill-thrift, weight loss, perhaps a cough, but often the diagnosis of heartworm disease is made very late when your kitty’s life is truly in jeopardy. The late stage symptoms are often referred to as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD).

Cats can live with heartworms for some time before succumbing to the disease, but treatment is not an option for them. The sooner it is diagnosed and addressed, the better the prognosis. Yearly exams—or biannual exams if over the age of 7 years—a blood pressure test and a good conversation with your veterinarian about your cat’s lifestyle, wellness and challenges at home can be priceless (feline health).

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