Hello my dedicated readers,
February is full of pink paper hearts, Valentine’s cards, chocolate (you wouldn’t believe how much chocolate they consume at the front desk here) and sharing love with others. Sharing love includes taking care of others so this month we’re focusing on preventing an often fatal disease that affects both perfect cats and smelly dogs: HEARTWORM DISEASE. Unfortunately, heartworm disease is not when your heart feels crushed because that worm-of-a-French poodle didn’t look your way at puppy day care. This preventable, but often fatal, disease can be transmitted to cats or dogs (and other hosts) through just one mosquito bite. One bite! The health consequences of an infected cat are grave. WAIT!! Don’t stop reading just because you have an indoor cat. In the US, 27% of cats infected with heartworms are indoor-only. You open your front door (even in winter- mosquitos are hardly little buggers), and in flies a mosquito looking for an easy target. Fluffy, who spends most of her time napping, grooming, or eating, is that easy target. According to those smart humans at the American Heartworm Society:
“Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets in the United States and many other parts of the world. It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. Heartworm disease affects dogs, cats and ferrets, but heartworms also live in other mammal species, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions and—in rare instances—humans. Because wild species such as foxes and coyotes live in proximity to many urban areas, they are considered important carriers of the disease.
Dogs. The dog is a natural host for heartworms, which means that heartworms that live inside the dog mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. If untreated, their numbers can increase, and dogs have been known to harbor several hundred worms in their bodies. Heartworm disease causes lasting damage to the heart, lungs and arteries, and can affect the dog’s health and quality of life long after the parasites are gone. For this reason, prevention is by far the best option, and treatment—when needed—should be administered as early in the course of the disease as possible.
Cats. Heartworm disease in cats is very different from heartworm disease in dogs. The cat is an atypical host for heartworms, and most worms in cats do not survive to the adult stage. Cats with adult heartworms typically have just one to three worms, and many cats affected by heartworms have no adult worms. While this means heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats, it’s important to understand that even immature worms cause real damage in the form of a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Moreover, the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used in cats, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease.” (https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/heartworm-basics)
So how do cats and dogs get heartworms in the first place? Again, blame the mosquito. “The mosquito plays an essential role in the heartworm life cycle. Adult female heartworms living in an infected dog, fox, coyote, or wolf produce microscopic baby worms called microfilaria that circulate in the bloodstream. When a mosquito bites and takes a blood meal from an infected animal, it picks up these baby worms, which develop and mature into “infective stage” larvae over a period of 10 to 14 days. Then, when the infected mosquito bites another dog, cat, or susceptible wild animal, the infective larvae are deposited onto the surface of the animal’s skin and enter the new host through the mosquito’s bite wound. Once inside a new host, it takes approximately 6 months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. Once mature, heartworms can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats. Because of the longevity of these worms, each mosquito season can lead to an increasing number of worms in an infected pet.” (https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/heartworm-basics)
Gross, gross, gross. Cats are masters of hiding symptoms of illness; in our case, symptoms of heartworm infection can include coughing, wheezing, vomiting, dyspnea (shortness of breath), tachypnea (abnormally rapid breathing), and weight loss. Luckily, veterinarians can use blood tests, radiographs and ultrasounds to diagnose heartworm disease in kitties. While there is no treatment to kill the heartworms in cats like there is in dogs, veterinarians can provide excellent, supportive care to decrease the body’s inflammatory response to the worms.
Did you hear that veterinarians at UC Davis removed a 13cm heartworm from Stormie’s femoral artery? Egad! Check out the article and video clip of the doctor removing the heartworm here.
It’s not all doom and gloom people! Get your cat tested for heartworms (the doctor will draw a small blood sample and run the 10 minute test in-house) and keep your cat on heartworm preventative ever single month, all year round. The humans at Tri-County Small Animal Hospital have several feline heartworm preventions available that also act as intestinal dewormers and kill ear mites. The take aways are: Heartworm disease is often deadly but it is preventable. There is no approved treatment in cats. Prevention is the only option!
Now go, humans, share the love and get your pet tested and on heartworm preventative today!
For more information on heartworms, go here.
With love and heartworm preventatives,