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Preventing Heartworm Disease



Heartworm Disease: A Growing Risk
Preventing Heartworms
What Causes Heartworm Disease in Cats?
Heartworm Disease Symptoms
Treating Heartworm Disease
Call with Questions
Infographics

Heartworm Disease: A Growing Risk

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It only takes one mosquito to cause serious health problems for your cat.

Mosquitoes can transmit the microscopic heartworm larvae that cause heartworm disease. So although outdoor cats are especially at risk during the spring, summer and early fall, indoor cats are targets, too. Veterinarians now know that heartworm disease is more common among indoor cats than they previously thought: In one recent study, 28 percent of the cats diagnosed with heartworm were inside-only cats.

The reason? Mosquitoes can get into homes fairly easily-through a door that's open for just a moment, an open window, or a hole in a screen. (Also, many 'indoor' cats do occasionally go outside, on a balcony or porch.) And a single mosquito bite is all it takes to transmit the potentially dangerous larvae.

The risk also is greater in Chicago than in most other parts of the country-Illinois is among the top 10 U.S. states in diagnosis of heartworm disease.

One of the most important things for cat owners to know about heartworm disease in cats is that there is no treatment. Therefore, prevention is absolutely critical.

 

Preventing Heartworms

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Fortunately, heartworm disease is easy to prevent. Give your cat a heartworm preventive every month, from April through November. Cat Hospital offers several medications and can help you decide which is best for your cat depending on the risk of exposure to multiple parasites, how easy it is to administer and other factors.  Options include a monthly chewable, as well as medications applied to the skin every month.

A few tips on prevention:

  • Never give your cat medication for dogs; canine heartworm preventives can be toxic to cats.
  • Take your cat for regular check-ups.
  • Learn the basics on heartworm disease-see the Know Heartworms Web site-and watch for symptoms in your cat.

What Causes Heartworm Disease in Cats?

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Heartworm disease is transmitted to cats by mosquito bite, which can put the heartworm larvae directly into a cat's bloodstream. As heartworm larvae mature, they settle into the cat's heart and lungs and then release their offspring into the bloodstream.

Heartworms, especially when they die, cause inflammation in the heart, lungs and arteries; the inflammation can eventually become severe enough to cause congestive heart failure, leading to death.  But despite its name, heartworm disease in cats generally causes more problems with the lungs than in the heart. Even worm larvae that never develop into mature worms can cause significant damage to the lungs. The problems can be difficult to diagnose because worms can live undetected inside a cat's body for several years.

 

Heartworm Disease Symptoms

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In many cases, the inflammation from the adult worms or the immature larvae leads to a respiratory disease called heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD), which can cause the following symptoms:

  • Difficult breathing
  • Heavy or fast breathing
  • Coughing or gagging
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Collapsing
  • Seizures
  • Loss of coordination
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Blindness

 

HARD can be difficult to diagnose because many cats do not show symptoms and because it imitates conditions like asthma. Unlike in dogs, there are no straightforward tests that reliably diagnose the disease in affected cats, so veterinarians typically use one or more of the following tests (and sometimes conduct tests more than once) to detect HARD:

  • Physical examination
  • X-ray
  • Angiocardiography (X-ray of the heart with injected contrast fluid)
  • Echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart)
  • Complete blood count
  • Serologic (antigen and antibody) testing
  • Microfilaria testing

 

Treating Heartworm Disease

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Some cats recover on their own from HARD, but there are no approved treatments for feline heartworms. (There is a treatment for heartworm disease in dogs, but the medication is highly toxic for cats.) For cats who do contract heartworm disease, veterinarians recommend regular monitoring-once or twice a year-to help prevent sudden death when the worms die.

If a cat exhibits severe symptoms, the veterinarian can administer intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy, bronchodilators (which expand the air passages of the lungs), cardiovascular drugs or antibiotics. If heartworms are seen through ultrasound or X-ray, surgery to remove the worms may be required.

 

Call with Questions

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Make sure your cat is guarded against this dangerous threat. If you have questions about preventing, recognizing or treating heartworm disease, please call Cat Hospital of Chicago at 773-539-9080.

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Infographics

For quick access to information about heartworm disease in cats, check out the following infographics:

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