Heartworm among dogs is a pretty well-documented phenomenon, and many dog and cat wellness plans include heartworm medication for this very reason. However, many people are a little unclear if cats can get heartworm. If you're wondering about the essential facts of the matter, then this blog is for you!
What is Heartworm?
Heartworm is a severe disease that affects a variety of mammals. It is a disease caused by a parasite - specifically the worm Dirofilaria immitis. Despite the name, heartworms can make their home in the blood vessels or lungs of a pet and the heart.
Heartworm is generally transmitted to mammals by mosquitos. When a mosquito bites a mammal that is already infected by a heartworm, it inadvertently sucks in the larva of the heartworms. It can then transmit those larvae to a new host. It takes about half a year for baby worms to grow into adults.
Heartworm and Dogs
Heartworm can technically affect any mammal, or at least many of them. So why are they so associated with dogs? There are a couple of reasons. Partially, it seems that dogs are more prone to becoming infected. Dogs also seem to be a natural home for heartworms. They tend to live a couple of years longer in dogs than in other animals, living for up to seven years.
Heartworm and Cats
However, just because heartworm is more common in dogs doesn't mean that cats are immune. Like dogs, cats can be bitten by mosquitos that carry the heartworm larvae. And just like dogs, those larvae can grow and threaten the organs. However, since cats aren't as good a host for heartworms as dogs, generally, only a few worms will survive into adulthood. However, even if enough worms don't grow to threaten your cat's heart, the younger worms can cause serious damage to their lungs and discomfort to your cat.
Symptoms of heartworms in cats include coughing and asthma, vomiting, lack of appetite, and weight loss. In extreme cases, the cat may be unable to walk, suffer sudden seizures, or collapse outright.
Dealing With Heartworms in Cats
Anywhere that there are mosquitos and dogs to be hosts to heartworms is an area that is a risk to wellness for cats. Places with high numbers of wild canines such as coyotes, wolves, and stray dogs are particularly noteworthy as heartworm risk zones.
The first step in dealing with heartworms is detecting them. This is why your cat wellness plan must include annual examinations. Specifically, a cat or kitten wellness plan should include blood tests.
There is no current drug therapy for heartworms in cats. In fact, you mustn't use the drug designed for dogs on cats, as it can be just as harmful to them as the heartworms. Depending on the diagnosis, various treatments can be formulated for your cat's wellness plan. Thankfully, cats tend to develop fewer adult heartworms than dogs.
Therefore, heartworm treatment in cats aims to flush the younger worms out of the lungs and manage the effects of any adult worms. Drugs will be needed to flush the excess fluids out of the lungs. As for the adult worms, since they live short lives in cats, the goal is generally to mitigate their effects and have the cat outlive them. Medical care is focused on giving your cat the best quality of life.
While surgery can be an option in the case of a greater number of adult worms, it is generally not ideal, as it carries a high risk for the cat.
Of course, the best treatment is always prevention. While no drug can eliminate existing heartworms in cats, there are heartworm preventatives that can lower the risk of your cat becoming infected.
Whether you are looking for a cat wellness plan that includes heartworm medication, or a pet insurance plan that will cover surgery, you don't want to worry about every eventuality. At Wagmo, we have everything you need to keep your dog or cat at their healthiest and happiest. Make sure to get your quote today!