Heartworms refer to blood-borne parasites that are found in the heart or near the large blood vessels of many infected animals. A life cycle of a heartworm is complex. It requires two host animals for it to be completed. Heartworms are not transmitted from one animal to another. The mosquito carrying infected heartworm larvae can be an intermediate host. When a cat is bitten by an infected mosquito, the cat can be infected with heartworms.
When a cat is infected with heartworms, signs, and symptoms like coughing, rapid breathing, depression, loss of appetite, weight loss and vomiting are evident. These signs can be verified through urine analysis, x-ray, ECG and other blood tests such as the heartworm antibody test and the heartworm antigen test. The heartworm antibody test will tell if the cat’s immune system has been exposed to heartworms, while the heartworm antigen test can detect the presence of adult female heartworms. A diagnosis of feline heartworm infection can be confirmed only when both the antibody and antigen tests are positive.
If a cat is diagnosed with a heartworm disease, this can lead to the following complications:
- Damage to the walls of the heart
- Damage to pulmonary blood vessels
- Obstruction of blood flow in the pulmonary arteries
- Abnormal breathing
- Heart and lung failure
- Kidney and liver damage
Studies show that there is no drug approved to treat heartworms in cats. When treated, the dying worms can also cause a sudden death to the cat. In other words, there is no cure yet to a heartworm disease. There is a treatment for dogs but this can cause some complications when done to a cat. Another possible solution is for the cat to undergo surgery. However, this is very limited and is currently done in Japan and some parts of Europe.
Should people worry? For cat lovers – definitely. While there is still no cure for heartworms, there are many preventive measures to keep cats healthy and disease-free. The saying “Prevention is better than cure” is the best way to deal with heartworms. Keep cats away from mosquitos as they can be carriers of the disease.
It is highly recommended that cats are screened for heartworm infection before giving any kind of medication. Regular checkups can also be very helpful in detecting infections and thus will have a good chance at recovery. It is important to have monthly monitoring with the veterinarian. Cats must religiously take spot-one or pull to prevent new infections from developing.
While it is a fact that life is short – life must always be lived to the fullest. This saying is not limited to human beings. Animals also have lives, thus they should also have a share in making their stay on earth worthwhile. Like people, they also deserve the best things in life – food, shelter, and most of all, love and care from human beings. Love must be shared with every living thing that is created. This makes the world a better place to live in.