Protecting cats from disease can be a difficult struggle for owners, especially when they have control over so few of the variables. Heartworm is a disease spread by mosquitoes, making it hard to control. While an owner can set up a number of ways to prevent the spread of the disease, the problem is also dealing with a creature as independent as a cat. Your feline tends to find all sorts of ways to expose themselves to heartworms, and usually for the detriment of themselves. Fortunately, there are ways of dealing with the disease, making it more bearable for the cat in question.
What Are Cat Heartworms?
Heartworms are a parasitic invertebrate that can find ways into a variety of animals and spread from there. They are foot-long invaders that can create a number of problems for the animal that they infect. These problems can include heart disease, lung disease, and damage to the other organs of the body.
The primary target of heartworms are dogs, and they can have hundreds of worms inside of them, creating problems even after the worms have been removed, assuming that the animal survives.
You may ask, “do cats get heartworm?”. The answer is a sad yes. Fortunately, cats are less of a target, and as such rarely have more than a few worms inside of them.
The worms usually gestate and grow in a wild animal, usually a canine of some sort such as a fox, a coyote, or a wolf. In rare cases, seals and humans may be the original hosts.
When the worms mature, they fertilize their eggs. When that happens, if they are lucky the host animal will be attacked by mosquitoes, who take the eggs to other animals. Once the eggs are delivered to those other animals, the cycle starts all over again.
In general, heartworms do not live long, only two to four years, and they take an additional month, at seven to eight months, to become adults.
As the worms grow, they infiltrate their host’s body and create all sorts of problems. Even the eggs can create respiratory problems for the host, but those problems only get worse as the worms mature and the worms invade the rest of the body, creating a wider range of potential health problems.
Dogs can be treated, but the same medicines that work for dogs do not work for cats. Sadly, this means that the owner needs to enact preventative measures to protect their cat.
Cat heartworm prevention is not easy on the cat. During mosquito season this can make for a pretty sad cat, especially as they are forced to stay inside and behind a screen.
How Are Heartworm Infections Different For Cats Compared to Dogs?
The heart of the problem is that dogs and cats suffer from heartworm infestations. There is also only a 20% chance of microfilariae being found in cats, compared to 80% of dogs, with its presence being inconsistent and short-lived. It is also harder to determine if a cat has been infected than a dog.
Cats usually show signs of infestation when the immature heartworms arrive in the bloodstream and when the adult worms start dying off. The first can show itself as a heartworm-associated respiratory disease, or HARD, and can cause problems in the lungs. This is a little more obvious than other symptoms, so the cat should be checked out if it is having problems breathing.
When the adult heartworms die off they release poisons into the bloodstream; even one dead heartworm can be fatal for a cat. The poisons usually show themselves in HARD, again giving the owner another chance to seek treatment. However, keep in mind that you should act quickly considering how dangerous an infestation can be to the feline in question.
Heartworm Symptoms in Cats
It can be hard to tell if your cat has heartworms as the symptoms can range from subtle to dramatic. Unfortunately there is no way to predict where they fall on that spectrum.
The symptoms can include: coughing, asthma-like attacks, lack of an appetite, vomiting, and accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. Sometimes the affected cat will have problems walking or even suffer from fainting or seizures.
Sadly, sometimes the first sign that the cat may be suffering from heartworms is a sudden collapse or even sudden death of the cat.
This means that you need to keep an eye on your cat, especially during mosquito season.
You need to keep in mind that a cat can suffer from heartworms even if you may not be in an area traditionally known for infestations. Mosquitoes can be blown way off course, for example, or the cat itself could be from an area known for the problem. The latter is especially the case when the cat is adopted or born in an area far from his current home. In some cases, just passing through an area with a heartworm infestation can be a problem.
In short, a cat can get infected no matter what. Even if the cat is in a cold region and has been kept from the usual heartworm sources.
How Can I Test My Cat For Heartworm?
Testing a cat for heartworm is a simple process. It just requires a little blood so that the veterinarian can test for heartworm proteins. The test can be processed relatively quickly, so the results are also known quickly.
As the signs can be subtle, testing is sometimes the only way an owner can determine that the cat has heartworms. Because of this, the American Heartworm Society suggests that owners think in terms of “12” when it comes to testing your cat. This means test every twelve months, and administer a preventative every month.
It should be noted that the testing itself is harder for cats. Cats are not affected by heartworms as much as other animals are. They will not have as many heartworms as other animals do. But this also means that they will not have as much of the antigen produced by the body to fight the infestation compared to other animals.
In order to deal with that, veterinarians may also recommend an ultrasound or X-rays in order to find an infestation. However, testing should be done before administering a preventative in order to best document any potential problems.
What To Do If Your Cat Gets Heartworm
When a dog gets heartworms it can easily be treated. However, a cat cannot be healed as easily from a heartworm infection.
As a cat is not the best host for heartworms, some problems may resolve themselves, albeit giving the cat some respiratory problems. However, the cat is not always that lucky. The heartworms can migrate to other parts of the cat, such as the spinal cord, eye, or even brain. While heartworms in the circulatory system alone can be an issue, causing problems in the immune and respiratory systems, they are more minor problems compared to that of the brain.
As noted cats cannot be readily cured if an infestation is detected. At best, the symptoms are minor then prednisolone may be given in order to deal with the problem. Otherwise, there is no real heartworm medicine for cats.
Usually, x-rays will be given every six to twelve months to monitor the situation. The cat is also likely to be hospitalized if the situation is dire enough. Surgery can also be an option for some cats.
Regardless of how the infection is treated, preventatives should still be administered. This ensures that no new infestations occur. Prevention is better than treatment.
Do Cats Need Heartworm Medicine/Prevention?
The problem to keep in mind is that cats need prevention, not medicine.
If you are asking, “what should I give my cat for heartworm medicine?” then it is too late.
As such, you need to keep in mind that you need a good preventative. Administer it as indicated by the medicine’s instructions, or by your vet. As noted above, the preventative should be given at least once a month.
For cats, a heartworm preventative is usually a form of macrocyclic lactones, and can be given either topically or orally. Fortunately, they can also prevent other cat problems, such as fleas and ticks. However, you should watch for any allergic reactions from your cat.
Although you may be tempted to do so, keep in mind that only medicines from your veterinarian will prevent heartworms. This means that you should not use such things as essential oils; they will not help prevent heartworms. The health of your cat depends on how you take care of them. Keep that in mind when you start debating which medicine to use.
Cat Heartworm Prevention
Ultimately, heartworms are preventable but not as treatable. The only real way to deal with the problem is to prevent it from becoming a problem in the first place. That requires using the right medicine.
Keep that in mind when you are debating which medicine to use. Work with your veterinarian to find the best possible solution for your beloved feline companion.