The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly holds true when it comes to the prevention of cat heartworm disease.
Cat heartworm disease is a serious, progressive disease. The earlier it’s detected, the better. The only problem with early detection is that there are few, if any, early signs of the infection in your cat.
Signs of Cat Heartworm
Clinically-speaking, there are no distinct signs of heartworms (dirofilarial immitis, or roundworms) in cats. However, vomiting and coughing are two of the most common symptoms.
Other symptoms may include lethargy, weight loss, convulsions, or labored/raspy breathing.
Testing for Cat Heartworm
Heartworms are much more prevalent in dogs, and detection involves testing a small blood sample.
However, diagnosing heartworm disease in cats is not as straight forward. In fact, there are no specific tests to detect the presence of heartworms in cats, which is why prevention is so critical.
Your veterinarian has a battery of tests available to detect the possibility of heartworm infection in your cat. These tests may include testing the cat’s urine, x-rays, white blood cell counts, or any combination of these.
Recommendation for Treatment of Cat Heartworm
Since heartworm infection is harder to detect in cats than in dogs, the American Heartworm Society recommends that you get your cat tested every 12 months and give the preventive medicine 12 months a year.
How is Cat Heartworm Spread?
Heartworms are spread through mosquito bites carrying the heartworm larvae. The actual severity of heartworms in cats depends on the number of worms present in the cat’s body. Surprisingly, the risk of heartworm is about equal for both indoor and outdoor cats.
When an infected mosquito bites a cat, it injects the heartworm larvae into the cat. The larvae then migrate, eventually ending up in the heart and arteries.
Approximately eight months after the initial invasion, most cats will begin to show symptoms of the disease, at which point it can become fatal very rapidly.
Regions Where Cat Heartworm are Detected
Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all fifty states, and since there are so many variables in climate and wildlife carriers, the risk of infection can vary from year to year, and from community to community.
Heartworm disease is spreading to new regions of the United States each year.
Even if you are not aware of heartworms in your area, they may be introduced by wildlife carriers, such as foxes or coyotes. Also, mosquitoes can be blown great distances by the wind and the relocation into the community of infected pets.
Prevalence in Cats and Dogs
The prevalence rate of heartworm disease in unprotected cats is approximately one-tenth the rate of dogs.
Even if a cat has only a few heartworms present, the heartworms have a shorter lifespan than those infecting dogs. It is possible that given these two factors, a spontaneous cure (that is, a cure without medication) is more likely to occur.
The good news is that reliable heartworm prevention is available and veterinarians strongly recommend that all cats receive monthly heartworm preventive medication. This is especially true in areas where mosquitoes are active all year round.
Cat Heartworm Can be Prevented
Why not weigh in on this? Have you had your cat tested for heartworms? Are you aware of any cat heartworms in your area? If so, what region of the U.S. do you live?