Cats can pick up any number of parasites during their lives, some more serious than others. They get them through bad hygiene around the home, interaction with other animals, or just the particular variety of insects that happen to live in your area. Heartworm are a particularly pernicious breed as they are not easy to diagnose without professional guidance, and can cause health issues that can sometimes be fatal even in otherwise healthy cats. Therefore it is important to check your pet’s health regularly, and to seek medical advice to get the best heartworm prevention for cats.
In this article, we will be discussing what heartworm is, how you might recognise it in a cat, what it’s symptoms are, and finally assessing the techniques to best heartworm prevention for cats.
What are Heartworm?
Heartworm are exactly what they sound like, parasites that enter an animal’s bloodstream and live in their heart, lungs, and blood vessels. They are transmitted from animal to animal through mosquitoes, which draw infant worms out in the already infected animal blood, and deposit them in the next animal that they bite. While there, they reproduce, and can cause a lot of issues in a cat, and can even turn into a fully-fledged disease. In the worse case scenario, if left undiagnosed and then untreated, it can be fatal even for an adult cat.
Traditionally, heartworm is associated with dogs, however cats are more than capable of also getting infected with them. Cats bodies are not natural hosts for heartworm, and thus the worms are unable to find such a hospitable or natural habitat in their pulmonary arteries – supposedly that they do not find routes around the blood vessels as straightforward or navigable as they do in dogs and often get ‘lost’.
This means that typically their life cycle is far more reduced, and many larvae don’t make it into adulthood, nor do they grow as large – which can be as long as 12 inches in some cases – as those in dogs. However, comparatively, because cats respiratory systems are smaller, even small worms can be harmful. Those heartworm that do reach maturity can live between 2-4 years.
Issues Associated With Heartworm
Heartworms are living organisms, which means they move and they grow. Their initial point of infection is irrelevant if they are allowed to spread, multiply, and thrive in the organs and circulatory systems of your cat. At different ages and different stages of their life cycle, heartworm are associated with different problems.
The issues don’t end when a heartworm dies, either. As adults, when they expire, they can trigger an immune system response which causes massive inflammation in the respiratory system. This inflammation can then expand to the lungs, the gastrointestinal tract, the kidneys and the nervous system. Even less appealing, the “fragments of worms can also cause vascular and interstitial inflammation.”
When the juvenile worms die, the inflammation caused can be associated with pulmonary, arterial, bronchial, and alveolar disease (also known as HARD – Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease).
Other issues can involve coughing and wheezing. If the worms migrate to the brain, eye or spinal cords they can also cause damage to the nervous system.
Is It Treatable?
Currently, there are no drugs approved for treating heartworm in cats. Though some drugs and various arsenic injections can be given to dogs, they can be incredibly harmful if used on cats (arsenic can cause pulmonary embolisms in felines).
Steroids may be prescribed to control the inflammation of the immune system should the infection get that far. Very occasionally, and this will vary from cat to cat, surgical removal of the heartworms may be an option.
Although there may not be a ‘magic bullet’ cure in these cases, it is not a hopeless scenario. By far the best practice is to try and prevent it from happening in the first place, to ascertain quickly when your cat is suffering, and diagnose it quickly.
There are numerous symptoms associated with heartworm in cats, and unfortunately many of them are quite understated so as to be sometimes unrecognisable. They are also symptoms associated with other, less serious illnesses, so extra vigilance is important.
Your cat may experience coughing, occasional vomiting, a lack of appetite, or even weight loss (common symptoms of say, digestion problems or stress). More serious, and thus easier to detect, include asthma-like symptoms and attacks. A cat may have difficulty maintaining its balance, and thus may be unsteady while walking, it may experience fainting and seizures. It can be an incredibly dramatic occurrence too, as the American Heartworm Society notes, “Unfortunately, the first sign in some cases is sudden collapse of the cat, or sudden death.”
Obviously, there is an increased urgency in finding the best prevention for heartworm in cats, and diagnosis is the first step to this goal. While your own diligence can prove invaluable to your cat’s health, the best bet is to seek the advice of a professional at the first sign of illness. Regular check-ups are the best way forward, and preventative drugs may be prescribed by a vet.
What To Do If Your Cat Has Heartworm
If you have diagnosed heartworm in your cat, there may be as few as half a dozen worms, but all the same treatment is urgently needed. Vets may prescribe drug treatments, or hospitalisation, or a course of antibiotics in order to stabilise the problem. Additional danger comes in later reinfection. Once a cat has been infected once, they have displayed an increased susceptibility, so it is important to be aware of that.
Conclusion – The Best Heartworm Prevention For Cats
The best heartworm prevention for cats is a combination of early diagnosis and expert advice from a vet. Preventative drugs can help, though they must be prescribed, and regular check-ups are advised. With the lack of any officially-approved, risk-free drugs to cure or treat them, prevention is a better approach.
The American Heartworm Society recommends that you, “get your pet tested every 12 months for heartworm, and give your pet heartworm preventive 12 months a year.” This wisdom is called ‘Think 12’ to help owners remember.