The last two articles discussed the impact of heartworm disease in shelter dogs and the financial impact to dog owners. We also talked about how the disease is transmitted and the importance of year-round heartworm prevention.
But did you know cats can get heartworms too?
Although heartworm disease is primarily a canid disease (dogs and like species), heartworms can sometimes affect other species, like cats. Although rare, the disease is more serious and much harder to detect.
The first problem is that cats usually develop a few number of worms, so the heartworm antigen test is not always able to detect the presence of an active infection with adult heartworms. Veterinarians use an antibody test to evaluate exposure to the disease, but a positive test does not always mean the cat has heartworms. For this reason, a cat may be suffering from the disease but we may have no way to detect it. A radiologist or cardiologist may be able to find adult heartworms with an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), but not many people are willing or able to afford this procedure just to screen their cat for the presence of worms.
The second problem is that cats have very mild signs or no clinical signs while the worms are growing. Sadly, the most common reported sign of the disease is sudden death in an otherwise healthy looking cat. Few people ask for a necropsy (animal autopsy) to be performed, so we may not truly know when a cat dies from heartworm disease as opposed to another disease or injury.
When a cat is infected with heartworm larvae, they may not develop an adult heartworm infection, but the presence of the larvae 60-70 days after the mosquito bites the cat has been linked to inflammation of the lung and vessels and results in clinical and x-ray signs that resemble asthma (AmericanVeterinarian). Why is this important? If you have cats, chances are you are familiar with respiratory disease. Most of the time they are treated symptomatically or given the diagnosis of feline asthma and started on medication. But how many of these cats could be suffering from problems caused by heartworm larva? The answer is difficult if not impossible to find since biopsies of affected tissues in live cats are very risky and can be expensive.
Even though heartworm disease is considered rare in cats, as more information surfaces about the risk of other respiratory diseases due to heartworm larva infection we see the importance of heartworm prevention in cats. The best part is that there are heartworm preventives combined with flea prevention, so one application protects your cats against several problems. Veterinary approved products like Revolution and Advantage Multi for cats are ways to keep your cat safe from heartworm disease and flea-transmitted diseases. Please consult your veterinarian to determine what is the best way to protect your feline family member.
In case you missed the other posts in this heartworm series view titles and links below:
To view all posts in Rascal’s Corner click here!