Feline Heartworm Disease Blog: Part 1
Here we are. Officially into the steamy days and nights of summer. Aside from all of the fun and enjoyment that summer brings, along comes, of course a proliferation of mosquitoes. The media has been buzzing with stories about the transmission of disease to humans by these pesky and annoying insects, however it only takes one mosquito to cause serious and potentially fatal disease in your furry and beloved cat.
“Well, my cat lives inside so this doesn’t apply to me,” you may be thinking. Wrong! Sorry, I don’t mean to scare you but veterinarians now know that heartworm disease is more common among indoor cats than they previously thought. In fact, it has been diagnosed in all 50 states. In one recent study, 28 percent of the cats diagnosed with heartworm were inside-only cats. How is that possible you wonder? Quite simple, actually. Mosquitoes can get into homes fairly easily—through a door that’s open just for a moment, an open window, or a hole in a screen. And let’s not forget that some “indoor” cats do occasionally go outside on a balcony or porch to take pleasure in the sun and fresh air.
Let’s briefly explore how feline heartworm disease occurs. It begins when a mosquito sucks blood from an infected animal and then pierces a cat’s skin, and in doing so, the heartworms lay very tiny larvae (a fancy word for eggs!) which travel through the bloodstream. In about 8 months these larvae have developed so well in the bitten cat’s body that the adult heartworms (called Dirofilaria immitris) make their way from just underneath the skin into the muscle tissues and eventually into the chambers of the animal’s heart, lungs and in the arteries associated with those important organs.
So, to arm you with more information, here are the 7 deadly truths of heartworm disease in cats.
1. Infected mosquitoes spread heartworm, and approximately 3 in 4 cats exposed to heartworm-infected mosquito larvae become infected.
2. Adult heartworms can live for 2-4 years in cats.
3. Even 1 immature heartworm can permanently affect your cat’s health and ability to breathe by causing an inflammatory reaction in the blood vessels and lungs.
4. Researchers began studying feline heartworm disease 20 years ago. Now we know that cats can’t get heartworms almost as often as dogs, although heartworm tests in cats don’t always catch infection.
5. There are NO approved medications for treating heartworm in cats. If your cat develops heartworm infection, you and your veterinarian can only manage, not treat, the cat’s condition.
6. 1 in 4 cases of heartworm occur in cats that live indoors. Since mosquitoes can get inside, indoor cats need protection too.
7. Only 5% of cats are on preventative medication. It is important to discuss prevention with your veterinarian at your annual check-up.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Feline Heartworm Disease which will discuss more symptoms and prevention of this disease in your cat. To receive an email when this blog is posted, sign up at the orange button below.