Feline Heartworm Disease
As many people know, Heartworms are worms that live in the heart and cause heart failure and even death in dogs. But did you know that cats can get Heartworms too? Although the rate of Heartworm infection is lower in cats that dogs, 2 out of 3 cats exposed to microfilaria develop an active Heartworm infection.
A number of studies have been performed to see how prevalent Feline Heartworm Disease is and the results are surprising. One study, that included Florida, showed over 20% of the pet cats participating tested positive for Heartworms. Another study shows that 25% of positive cats are 100% indoor cats!
Cats acquire Heartworms in the same manner as dogs, through a mosquito bite. The immature Heartworm is injected under the skin by the mosquito. It then migrates and matures to its juvenile stage in 50-70 days. By this time the Heartworms have reached the lungs and heart. This is where the difference between a dog infection and a cat infection begins. In a cat, some infections are aborted at this time and the juvenile worms die causing inflammation and irritation of the lung vessels and airways. In the cases that are not aborted, the worms then mature to adults at 6 months and reproductive age at 7-8 months of age.
The life span of an adult Heartworm in a cat is 2-4 years. The worm will die naturally but not without leaving lasting damage to the lungs and heart.
Symptoms consist of coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, weight loss, lethargy and sudden death.
There is no current treatment for heartworm disease in cats. The best you can do is prevention.
All cats 4 months and older should be tested for heartworms and then started on year round, lifelong prevention.