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Posted on 04-02-2015
While dogs have weaker natural defenses to heartworms than cats, your feline friends face equally serious risks from full-blown heartworm infections. The illness results from larvae (transmitted via mosquito bites) maturing into adult worms inside your cat. And, that’s seriously icky. Currently, there are no products in the United States approved for the treatment of heartworm infections in cats. That’s the bad news. But, the good news is that you can prevent feline heartworm disease and HARD (heartworm associated respiratory disease) through monthly preventive medications, beginning with kittens as young as eight weeks old. These preventives stop any larvae transmitted by mosquitoes from maturing into adult heartworms that reach critical organs, where they cause permanent damage.
The Heartworm Lifecycle
Over approximately eight months, the larvae introduced through mosquito bites grow into adults as much as 14 inches long. These adult worms live one to three years in the right side of the heart and the arteries in the lungs. Housed in these vital areas, even just a few adult heartworms (3-10) can cause serious illness and death. The heartworms trigger an inflammatory response in the blood vessels and tissues of the lungs – much like a bad irritant or allergy.
Cats most often show signs of illness as the worms first mature or later as they die off. Symptoms can include:
• Difficulty breathing
• Rapid breathing
• Loss of energy
• Weight loss
Many times the symptoms look much like an asthma attack or something else. In some cases, cats have such a severe response that they get sick and die quickly from heartworm disease. It’s our goal to prevent you this heartache.
The diagnosis of feline heartworm disease typically requires several steps that may need repetition to monitor your cat’s condition:
• Antibody blood test: looking for markers of an immune system response to infection
• Antigen blood test: looking for markers produced by adult female heartworms or dying male heartworms
• Chest x-ray: looking for common abnormalities caused by heartworms in the heart and lungs
• Heart ultrasound: looking for heartworms themselves inside the heart or arteries
Again, it’s important to understand that there are no products in the United States approved for the treatment of heartworm infections in cats. No surefire cures. No easy fixes. Adult worms cause permanent damage. That’s why prevention is critical. In some unique cases, cats spontaneously recover. Others, with relatively mild symptoms, receive monitoring in six- to 12-month intervals and perhaps use of anti-inflammatory steroids, which can be repeated if symptoms recur. In cases when cats have critical illness, veterinarians can attempt to stabilize feline patients and use supportive therapies in hopes the cat’s own defenses will be enough. Most veterinarians consider surgery to remove heartworms or medications to kill adult worms last-resort treatment scenarios. Both carry serious risks that must be considered carefully.
Prevention is Best!
Because heartworm disease is serious and even deadly, let’s talk about your pet’s needs based on lifestyle and health status so that we can develop a unique heartworm prevention plan.
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