Heartworm Disease in Cats – Uncommon but Dangerous
12 May, 2015
Heartworm Disease in Cats 1

Heartworm is a parasitic infestation transmitted to dogs and more rarely, cats, by bites from infected mosquitoes. Heartworm is a potentially fatal health threat and often requires aggressive, prolonged and painful treatment. Cats are more likely to have heartworms migrate to other areas of the body than are dogs, causing more problematic infections and symptoms.  Since cats rarely get heartworm, the disease can be misdiagnosed as a respiratory problem.

Common Heartworm Symptoms in Cats

Heartworm symptoms, which include coughing, lack of energy, loss of appetite and weight loss, are similar to that of dogs’. But also, cats can experience shock, fainting, diarrhea and sudden death at the severe end of the infection.

Heartworm Disease in Cats 1

Heartworm diagnosis also depends upon a test for the presence of female worm antigens. These antigens will only be indicated after minimally seven months of infection, so a cat could easily die before the test indicates positive for heartworms. An antibody test is also available, but cats will test positive up to several months after expelling all worms. X-ray and echocardiography tests are used by vets to detect adult worms in the heart.

Heartworm prevention in cats is highly problematic. Heartworm treatment, therefore, imperfectly consists of the use of a monthly heartworm drug and a short-term steroid which is produced in the adrenal cortex. Treatment for cats is spotty at best, right now.

Heartworm prevention is easier to manage than treatment

Heartworm disease is easier to prevent than it is to treat. The first line of defense in preventing your pet from any disease or infection is through taking care of your cat by giving your kitty a proper diet, a fair amount of exercise and play time, minimal stress, and keep your cats up to date with vet visits.

You can also strengthen your cat’s resistance (immune system) with whole foods.  Cats are more likely to resist heartworms when they are given all-natural foods, which help keep the immune system strong.

Try to keep your cats away from mosquitoes

If you can keep your kitty away from areas that are a haven for mosquitos, that is the best prevention. Standing water sources are needed for mosquitoes to breed, so whenever possible it is best to eliminate these breeding grounds, which should reduce mosquito bites to both humans and pets. Products like Garlic Barrier will also help reduce the number of mosquitoes and other unwanted insects in your yard.

There are a number of holistic products to help prevent heartworm infection. Many of these are topical sprays featuring blends of various essential oils. Be very careful using these sprays if there are cats in your home, as they can be toxic to resident kitties. Additionally, there are a wide variety of herbs that are recommended (either topically or internally) for the prevention of mosquito bites and thus heartworm (examples include garlic, and black walnut).  And some cat owners have had success using a spray of organic apple cider vinegar.

Talk to your veterinarian about the heartworm preventatives which would be best for your kitty Depending on where you live, you may need to provide heartworm preventatives year round or only in the warmer months when mosquitoes thrive. Ask your veterinarian about seasonal risks and infection rates in your geographic region.

Heartworm treatment

At this time, there is no approved heartworm medicine in the local states or treating the disease in cats. It appears as though heartworms go away without treatment in some cats. For the unlucky cats whose heartworms don’t just go awa, frequent monitoring is a must, prednisone is sometimes advised, and in severe cases, surgery may be an option to remove significant worm loads.

Heartworm medications generally involve a two-step approach to addressing the parasite load. There will be medication for killing the adult worms as well as medications for eliminating the offspring.

Hospitalization will likely be required for some stages of treatment. Additionally, your veterinarian will likely recommend fairly limited physical exercise and possibly even crate rest for all or some of the treatment stages.

I truly hope your kitty never gets heartworm disease as it is very difficult to cure.  Keep your kitten indoors, if possible, and you won’t have to worry about such a disease.  However, if you do need to keep your cat outdoors, try to follow some of the above preventative measures, so your kitty does not get affected.


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