Heartworms in dogs are well-known, but did you realize that heartworms may also affect cats? Cats' heartworm is less frequent and behaves differently than dogs'. Heartworm illness in cats, on the other hand, can be significantly more severe.
What Is Heartworm Disease in Cats?
An infection with the parasitic roundworm Dirofilaria immitis causes heartworm illness. When a cat is bitten by an infected mosquito, heartworm larvae enter the cat's body. Because cats aren't ideal hosts for heartworms (dogs are), the larvae may get weaker and succumb to the immune system of the cat before producing any difficulties. Heartworm illness in cats is rather uncommon because of this.
If the young heartworms survive long enough to reach the arteries of the lungs, the immune system of the cat responds with an inflammatory reaction. This can have catastrophic consequences, such as heartworm-related pulmonary illness (HARD). Chronic lung disease in cats is a possibility. Others are in severe pain and require immediate veterinarian assistance. Although rare, some cats may abruptly collapse and die.
Signs of Heartworms in Cats
Heartworm illness does not affect all cats. Unfortunately, a tiny percentage of cats will exhibit no symptoms until they collapse or die. Coughing, choking, laborious breathing, wheezing, and asthma-like episodes are common in cats who show indications of sickness. Other symptoms include nausea, lack of appetite, fatigue, and weight loss.
Causes of Heartworms in Cats
Heartworms are transmitted to cats by mosquito bites. Although outdoor cats are more likely to have heartworms, indoor cats are still susceptible. After biting an infected animal and consuming heartworm larvae, a mosquito gets infected. A dog is frequently the diseased animal. Other animals, on the other hand, may be carriers of the heartworm parasite.
The heartworm larvae begin to develop in the mosquito. When a cat is bitten by a mosquito, the heartworm larvae are deposited on the skin and enter via the bite wound, where they grow further in the cat's tissues. The larvae travel through the body, finding their way to the heart, pulmonary arteries, and lungs through the circulation.
In dogs, the larvae migrate to the heart, develop into adult worms, and begin to reproduce. The adult heartworms eventually cause problems in the dog's heart, lungs, and circulatory system.
Heartworm disease is mostly a pulmonary concern in cats. Because cats are not natural hosts, the immune system of the larvae may be impaired. The immune system responds to the presence and death of young heartworms in the lungs by mounting an inflammatory reaction. Due to this immunological reaction, cats may show indications of respiratory disease. Furthermore, the demise of juvenile heartworms can produce toxins, resulting in further difficulties like as blood clots.
Diagnosing Heartworm Disease in Cats
Heartworm illness is more difficult to identify in cats than it is in dogs. Although an antibody test can be done, it only confirms that the cat has been exposed to heartworms. The existence of young worms in the cat cannot be confirmed.
Damage to the lungs and heart can be shown on chest radiographs (X-rays) and echocardiogram, indicating heartworm illness. Lung alterations, on the other hand, might resemble asthma and do not always indicate the presence of young heartworms.
Veterinarians use a combination of testing along with the cat's clinical signs to determine whether or not heartworm disease is present.
Heartworm Treatment for Cats
Unfortunately, heartworm illness in cats does not have a particular therapy. The heartworm disease therapy for dogs is not suited for cats since it might have major negative effects. Heartworm prophylaxis is frequently recommended by veterinarians to help avoid subsequent infections.
Surgery to remove heartworms is rarely done, but may be recommended in severe cases. Unfortunately, surgery is risky; many cats will die during the procedure or recovery period.
Heartworm illness in cats is usually treated with supportive treatment. Some treatments to relieve symptoms and others to minimize the inflammation produced by heartworms may be prescribed by your veterinarian. The cat's lungs and general health should be assessed on a regular basis. In cats, heartworms can survive for two to three years (as opposed to the five to seven years in dogs).
How to Prevent Heartworms in Cats
When it comes to heartworm illness in cats, prevention is crucial. Stopping heartworms from infecting a cat is more successful than trying to treat a cat with heartworms. There are several effective cat heartworm preventive medications on the market. The majority are used topically or orally once a month. Inquire with your doctor about the best heartworm prevention products for your cat.