Heartworm In Cats
How To Check If Your Cat Has Heartworm.
Heartworm is a parasitic roundworm (Dirofilaria immitis) which is spread through infected mosquitoes. Dogs are the natural host and, although an atypical host, heartworm in cats is also a problem. The parasite is so-named as it inhabits the right ventricle of its host’s heart, which can lead to complications, including disease or even death.
There are differences between feline and canine heartworm disease; the main one being that heartworm larvae do not thrive well in cats and therefore only last for a few years with something like two to five worms. The infection rate in dogs is 20 times that of cats, although both can be infected inside the home in endemic areas.
Where is it?
Heartworm is present in the US, South America, Mediterranean Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Japan, and Australia. In the US, it was typically confined to the southern states, yet has since spread to every state, with the exception of Alaska. The Mississippi River and the region between Texas and New Jersey see the highest infection rates.
Symptoms and tests of heartworm in cats
Diagnosis of heartworm in cats can be tough as there are often no signs or symptoms other than that the animal may suddenly die. If your cat suffers with his breathing, coughs a lot, is lethargic, and vomits, then these are all possible signs of heartworm.
If you suspect your cat has heartworm, take him to the vets immediately. Vets can sometimes pick heartworm out with X-rays as well as through ultrasound (echocardiography). Blood tests can also be performed, which would lead to the cats’ antibodies being detected if heartworm is indeed present. Antigen tests are also a useful method; detecting certain proteins from the breakdown of the worm.
Herein lies the problem; treating cats for heartworm is quite difficult and especially dangerous. The mortality rate is generally high – typically 50 per cent – and there are no approved feline drugs. The main medicine used to treat heartworm in cats is thiacetarsamide; an adulticide that contains traces of arsenic and unfortunately comes with harsh side effects. It can end up causing blood clots in the heart of the cat not long after treatment has begun.
There is also the option of surgery if the cat is in good enough condition and there have been many successes with this approach. The option of simply not treating your cat for heartworm is often the best option, however. Many cats go on to outlive heartworm, as they survive in feline bodies a lot shorter than they do in canines. If she is not in too much stress, it is probably best to leave it.
Prevention of heartworm
Corticosteroid drugs ivermectin, milbemycin, and selamectin have been used as a preventative measure for heartworm in cats and are taken on a monthly basis. Tablets are chewable and flavored and are best taken a month before and after mosquito season. The tablets take on the larvae, preventing them from getting a foothold. There are minimal side effects in cats and kittens as young as six weeks can even take them, along with pregnant cats. Having your cat blood tested before going on this type of medication is recommended.
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