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How Does Heartworm Disease Affect Cats?

How Does Heartworm Disease Affect Cats?

Preventive measures can shield your feline against the deadly heartworm disease, which peaks in hot, moist weather.

With the arrival of spring, summer can not be much behind. This means, of course, a lot of mosquitoes. For us humans, this is an inconvenience, but for your feline, these irritating little creatures can pose a significant threat.

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is a severe illness that leads to severe lung disease, cardiac arrest, other organ damage, and death in pets, mainly canines, cats, and ferrets. However, this can likewise infect other animals such as wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions, and in some isolated cases, even people. It is brought on by a parasite called dirofilaria immitis. The worms are spread out with mosquito bites. The pet then becomes the definitive host, meaning that the worms grow up, mate, and generate offspring while living inside an animal. The insect is the intermediate host, implying that the worms live inside an insect for a brief period to become infective (trigger a disease. The worms are called "heartworms" because they stay in the heart, lungs, and connected blood vessels of an infected animal.

The disease is more common in the country along the Atlantic and Gulf coastlines. However, it has been reported in pets all over 50 states.

Heartworm in Cats

how does heartworm disease affects cats?

The canine is a more common host for heartworms, which means that worms that live inside a dog mature, mate, and generate offspring. If unattended, their numbers can rise, and dogs have been known to nurture several hundred adult worms and immature worms inside their bodies. Heartworm infection causes long-term damages to the heart, lungs, and pulmonary arteries. It can affect the patient's quality of life and overall wellness long after the parasites are gone. Thus, prevention is the best alternative. Treatments ought to be provided as early in the infestation as possible.

Heartworm in cats looks very different from the same infestation in dogs. The cat is an atypical host for these worms, and a large number of worms in felines do not develop into adulthood. And if they do develop, heartworms typically are one to three adult worms in cats. While this means heartworm disease in cats commonly goes undiagnosed, it is still essential to understand that even premature worms create real damage. Heartworm infection in cats can result in a condition known as heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD). 

Additionally, the drug used to treat heartworm disease in dogs can not be used in felines, so prevention is the only method of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm conditions.

How is Heartworm Transmitted from one Pet to Another?

how does heartworm disease affect cats?

A certain mosquito plays an essential function in the life cycle of these worms. Adult female heartworms inside a contaminated animal produce infant worms called microfilaria that flow in the bloodstream. When infected mosquitoes bites and an infected animal, it picks up these infant worms, which mature into the "infective phase" larvae over 10 to 2 weeks.

When the said mosquito attacks one more cat, dog, or susceptible wild pet, the infective heartworm larvae are transferred onto the animal's skin and enter the new host via the insect's bite injury. It takes about six months for the worm to grow into adult heartworms inside a new host in the larvae stage. As soon as they mature, the worms can live for up to 2 or 3 years in cats and 5 to 7 years in dogs. Because of the worms' long life, each insect season can increase the number of worms in an infected animal.

What are the Symptoms and Signs of Heartworm Disease in Cats?

how does heartworm disease affect cats?

Indications of heartworm infection in cats can be extremely subtle or highly recognizable.

Clinical signs might include:

  • Coughing
  • Asthma-like exacerbations
  • Routine vomiting
  • Lack of cravings
  • Weight loss

Occasionally, an impacted feline might have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or experience fluid accumulation in the abdominal area. Regrettably, the first indication in some situations is the abrupt collapse of a cat or premature death.

How Likely Is My Cat Going to Suffer from the Disease?

how does heartworm disease affect cats?

You must consider several factors, including if the worms do not seem to be an issue in your local area. Your community may have a better occurrence of heartworm disease than you realize, or you may unwittingly travel with your pet to a location where the disease is more common. The illness is also infecting new regions of the country annually.

Therefore, the American Heartworm Society suggests that you get your pet examined every 12 months for the worms' potential presence. You can also use heartworm preventives for cats. Prevention is the best route you can go for your cat.

When Should My Cat be Checked?

how does heartworm disease affect cats?

Heartworm infection in felines is more difficult to spot than in dogs since feline worms are less likely to grow into adults. The recommended approach for the diagnosis of cats includes using both a heartworm antigen and heartworm antibody examination. Your vet may likewise make use of x-rays or ultrasound to try to find a heartworm infection. Since there is no approved treatment for worm infection in felines, prevention is vital.

Identifying feline infestation will typically include getting blood sample to do the following:

  • A blood chemistry profile and complete blood count
  • Chest X-rays
  • An antibody testing to determine whether the patient's blood consists of antibodies to the bloodsucker.
  • A blood test to see whether adult worm proteins are present in the blood.

On top of that, ultrasound imaging might expose heartworms in the heart or pulmonary arteries.

What if my Cat Tests Positive for It?

how does heartworm disease affect cats?

Like pet dogs, cats can be infected. There are distinctions, nevertheless, like the disease and how it is detected and managed. Since a heartworm-positive cat is not an ideal host for these worms, some infections resolve by themselves, although these infections can leave felines with pulmonary damage. Worms in the circulatory system also impact the cat's immune system and create common symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and trouble breathing. Infected worms in cats may also move to various other parts of the body, such as the brain, eye, and spine. Extreme complications such as embolism in the lungs and lung inflammation can result when the grown-up worms die in the cat's body.

How Can I Treat It?

how does heartworm disease affect cats?

As mentioned before, there is no drug accepted for dealing with worms in cats. Medication for treating the worm in dogs has been used in cats, but it creates substantial adverse effects.

To make things more complicated, when the adult heartworms die during this treatment, they pass through the pulmonary arteries to the lungs. The reaction of your cat to the dead and dying worms can cause sudden death. Therefore, it becomes very complex when a cat is diagnosed with the disease.

In dealing with worms in cats, these steps are commonly taken:

1. Deal with the signs and symptoms of heartworm disease through preventive medications and hope the cat outlives the worms. Considering that these worms reside in a cat for two to three years (rather than 5 to 7 years in dogs), several months of therapy are needed. Felines are treated with oxygen and corticosteroids (cortisone) to soothe the pulmonary arteries and inflammatory response and, if needed, medicines to get rid of liquid from the lungs (diuretics). When the cat is stable, they are treated either continuously or periodically with corticosteroids. In many cats, this therapy will manage the signs and symptoms and boost their quality of life. However, the hazard of an acute crisis or sudden death is always looming.

2. Surgical elimination of the worms is presently the suggested treatment for cats with severe heartworm disease. This treatment should be executed by a professional. Studies have shown that up to 40% of cats might pass away during or after this procedure, so surgical removal is generally reserved for those pet cats who have extreme conditions and a poor diagnosis without surgery.

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