Is your cat getting monthly heartworm prevention? If you are like the majority of cat owners, your cat is not protected against heartworm disease and is currently at risk. That is the bad news. The good news is that you can get your cat protected very easily. If you are not sure why you should protect your cat against heartworm disease, read on.
What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is spread by mosquitoes. Even though the weather is getting cooler, the bugs are still out. The insects carry microscopic baby heartworms, called microfilaria, inside of them. When an infected mosquito bites your cat, the microfilaria are transmitted to your cat’s bloodstream. Once in the body, they can grow into large adult worms which reside in the heart and lungs. This is not when the problems occur though. The cat’s health becomes affected when the worms begin to die at the end of their 2-5 year lifespan. Common symptoms are coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, and vomiting. Signs are similar to and often mistaken for feline asthma.
Feline heartworm disease is not easily diagnosed. There are not reliable and affordable tests in cats that exist like they do in dogs. You may be saying to yourself now “But my vet gave my cat a heartworm test and it was negative.” Well, this explanation can get lengthy and complicated, but one such test is an ANTIGEN test. This test looks for the antigens present on the sexually mature female heartworm. Cats are different from dogs in that they may only be infected with one or two worms. If your cat is infected with a male heartworm, or a sexually immature female, the test will be negative, but your cat will in fact have heartworms. X-rays of the chest can assist the vet in a tentative diagnosis of heartworm disease. Definitive diagnosis for feline heartworm disease is accomplished by ultrasound examination of the heart (which can be very expensive).
There is no reliable treatment for feline heartworm disease unlike in dogs. Treatment primarily revolves around treating the symptoms that the cat exhibits. This is usually steroids and bronchodilators to open the airways. Oxygen therapy may be necessary in severe cases.
You now know that feline heartworm disease is not easily diagnosed or treated, so what can you do to protect you cat? Fortunately, there are products available which will prevent your cat from contracting heartworm disease. These products are given on a monthly basis. So if your cat is not protected against heartworms, your next step is to pick up the phone, call your veterinarian, and tell them you want to protect your cat against this awful disease. Remember, just because your cat in “indoor only” does not mean she is not at risk. Haven’t you ever seen mosquitoes inside your home? It only takes one mosquito to ruin your cat’s life.
(Dr. Star Gregory leads Zutilla Veterinary Housecalls, a mobile health service for pets based in Lilburn, Ga.)