Heartworm disease is a serious disease in cats and other pets that could be fatal in some cases. The disease is basically an infestation of foot long worms in the cats heart, blood vessels and lungs that can lead to major organs failing. Worms that infest cats have a shorter lifespan and are fewer in number than than those present in dogs. Stray dogs are 10 times more likely to have heartworms compared to cats. Outdoor cats are more prone to heartworms than indoor cats as they are more likely to be exposed to mosquitoes and other carriers.
Causes and Risks
Heartworms are caused by mosquito bites. When a mosquito bites, infective heartworm larvae is injected into your cat’s system. When the larvae reaches the heart and lungs, they tend to grow into full size and thus cause infestation.
Stray dogs have a high prevalence of heartworms and can be carriers of the disease. This helps spread the disease even further. There are certain areas in the US that have a very high rate of heartworm diseases. Due to events and circumstances that are not preventable, heartworms can spread to previously uninfected areas. It is recommended that you should get your cat checked for heartworms at least once a year.
Labored breathing, asthma attacks, vomiting, weight loss, loss of appetite and coughing are some of the most common symptoms of heartworm disease. Additionally, heart murmurs or irregular heart beats are also a sign of the disease. Unfortunately, in rare cases cats collapse suddenly and do not recover. If any of the symptoms are noticed then going to the veterinarian is crucial for quicker diagnosis and treatment. Unlike in dogs, heartworms do not last long in cats and have higher chances of being eliminated.
There are no specific tests done for heartworm disease. A variety of tests are performed including antibody tests, urine tests, x-rays and ECGs. During x-rays, the enlargement of certain veins are an indicator of heartworm disease whereas ECGs can also look out for other heart diseases.
Treating heartworm disease is usually done through medication or surgery. Surgery is usually done in severe cases but they might also be the most effective option. Since heartworms do not live for very long inside cats, medication can easily cure most cases. Once the disease has been cured, medication need not to be administered. Some cases of the infestation also get cured spontaneously without any external treatment factors.
Once your cat has been treated, your vet will ask for regular follow-up visits to observe the progress of the disease. Vets will also check for any side effects and treat them immediately.