Heartworm in cats and their treatment

heartworm cats

What is the root cause of heartworm disease?

Heartworm in cats are a kind of blood-borne parasite known as Dirofilaria immitis that lives in the heart or surrounding big blood veins of afflicted animals and transmits the disease. Female worms measure 6 – 14″ (15 – 36 cm) in length and 1/8″ in width (3 mm). Males are around one-half the size of females.

In dogs, heartworm disease is far more frequent than in cats. Recent investigations of cats with cardiac and respiratory illnesses, on the other hand, have shown that the prevalence of heartworms is far higher than previously assumed. When compared to dogs, cats are more resistant to heartworm infection, with the infection incidence in cats believed to be 5-20 percent lower than the infection rate in dogs in the same geographic region; yet, infection may occur. Cats typically have fewer adult worms than dogs, with an average of less than six worms per cat. Several pet owners are astonished to hear that nearly one-third of sick cats are restricted to their homes.

What is the method through which heartworms are spread to a cat?

Because of the complexity of the heartworm’s life cycle, it needs the participation of two host animals to be completed. Heartworms need the mosquito as an intermediate host, and there are as many as 30 different kinds of mosquitoes that may serve as this host and spread the disease.

Mosquitoes consume juvenile heartworm larvae, also known as microfilariae, when they feed on an infected cat or, more usually, a dog that has been infected with the parasite. The microfilariae continue to grow for another 10 to 30 days in the mosquito’s stomach before entering its mouthparts and reproducing. When a cat is bitten by an infected mosquito, the insect injects infective larvae into the cat.

The larvae make their way into the circulation, where they eventually end up in the right side of the heart and the pulmonary arteries of the body. They grow into adult heartworms capable of reproducing within 6 to 7 months after arriving at their destination. They begin to generate a fresh crop of microfilaria shortly after, at around eight months after infection, and these microfilaria will survive in the cat’s blood for approximately one month. Cats are resistant hosts, and in general, only a few number of circulating microfilariae are identified.

A cat must be bitten by an infected mosquito in order to get heartworms, as a result of the life cycle of the parasite. Heartworms are not spread from one cat to another or from a dog to a cat in a direct line of transmission.

When mosquitoes are actively feeding, the likelihood of contracting an illness is highest. Temperatures over 50°F (10°C) are normally required for this.

What happens if a cat has heartworms?

What is the procedure for diagnosing Heartworm in cats?

Signs and Symptoms

One of the most difficult elements of detecting feline heartworm illness is that there are no distinct clinical indications. This makes the diagnosis much more difficult. The most typical symptoms are a sudden beginning of coughing and fast breathing, which are also symptoms that may be caused by a variety of different illnesses.
It is difficult to diagnose feline heartworm illness since there are no distinct clinical indications, which makes it one of the most difficult diagnoses.Other non-specific clinical indications include weight loss and vomiting, which are also frequent. On rare occasions, a seemingly healthy cat may be discovered dead or may suffer from sudden and severe respiratory failure, after which heartworm illness is discovered during a post-mortem examination of the cat.

Rapid mortality is supposed to be caused by a response inside the lungs to the juvenile heartworms, or by a reaction to dead or live heartworms entering the lungs and blocking the flow of blood to the lungs, according to the theory.

What are the first signs of heartworms in cats?

Tests of the blood

There are other blood tests that may be used for heartworm diagnosis, but the heartworm antibody test and the heartworm antigen test are the ones that are most useful in identifying heartworm illness in cats, according to recent research.

It is determined whether or not a cat’s immune system has been exposed to heartworms by administering a heartworm antibody test. In certain cases, a positive test may suggest the presence of an active infection. Cats who have had heartworms but whose heartworms have died may, nevertheless, continue to have antibodies for an unknown period of time. A positive antibody test result may also be obtained in cats with late stage larvae that have not yet developed into adults, as well as in cats with adult heartworms that have developed in locations other than the heart. Because this test is relatively sensitive, it is the first to be performed. If the result is affirmative, the following test is carried out.

2. The heartworm antigen test reveals the presence of adult female heartworms in the blood sample. Despite the fact that it is highly specific, it is not as sensitive as the antibody test. A positive test confirms the presence of heartworms, however a negative test does not always indicate the absence of heartworms. Because a positive test result requires the presence of at least two mature female worms in order to be obtained, a negative test result may indicate that the cat has a limited number of worms or that all of the worms present are male in nature. A substantial percentage of cats show false-negative on antigen tests as a consequence of the modest worm loads that are often seen in infected cats.

A diagnosis of feline heartworm infection is verified when both the antibody and antigen tests come back positive; however, not all infected cats will come back positive on both tests.

3. Microfilariae may be detected in a blood sample, which can be checked for. However, microfilariae are found in the blood of fewer than 20% of cats with heartworms, and they are only present for one to four weeks in the blood of cats with heartworms. Despite the fact that a positive test is diagnostic, a negative test is of little significance.

It is possible to assess the number of eosinophils present in cats suspected of harboring heartworms. It is a kind of white blood cell known as an eosinophil that appears in greater numbers when certain parasites are present in the body. It is true that their levels are raised in the presence of heartworms, but that this rise lasts only for a few months. As previously stated, this test is not specific since cats suffering from allergies or other parasites (such as intestinal worms or fleas) may have elevated eosinophil levels as well. During the first diagnostic workup, an eosinophil count is often conducted in conjunction with a complete blood cell count (CBC) and serum chemistries.

In order for your veterinarian to determine the size and form of the heart, radiographs (X-rays) are taken. The diameter of the pulmonary arteries may also be measured with the use of these devices. Heartworm-infected cats often have enlarged pulmonary arterial size, or their pulmonary arteries may seem blunted (come to an apparent halt) on their journey to the lungs as a result of the worms clogging them on their route to the lungs. However, many other cats with heartworms do not exhibit aberrant results on their radiographs, particularly when the infection is early in the course of the disease.

6. Cardiac ultrasonography, also known as echocardiography, enables for direct visualization of the heart’s interior structures and surrounding veins, as well as assessment of the heart’s health and function. Adult heartworms may be observed in the hearts of certain cats, which verifies the existence of heartworms in the cats. Fortunately, since the majority of infected cats have a modest number of worms, this does not happen very often.

Treat the signs of heartworm illness
Heartworm in cats

Is it possible to cure feline Heartworm in cats disease?

There is currently no FDA-approved medication for treating heartworms in cats. One of the medications that is used to treat dogs has also been tried to treat cats, although it has had considerable negative effects in both cases.

To make matters even more complicated, when adult heartworms die as a result of this therapy, they move via the pulmonary arteries and into the lungs, where the body’s response to the dead and dying worms might result in a cardiac arrest. When a cat is diagnosed with heartworms, the situation becomes complicated. It is necessary to make one of three decisions:

Use a dog-specific medication to treat the problem. Cats, on the other hand, might have major adverse effects from this medication, including acute pulmonary (lung) failure and death. As a result, using this strategy is not suggested in this case.

Treat the signs of heartworm illness, hoping that the cat will live long enough to outlast the worms. Because heartworms may remain in a cat for around two to three years (as compared to five to seven years in dogs), a lengthy course of treatment (at least several months) is required. Once an emergency situation has been identified in a cat, the animal is treated with oxygen and corticosteroids (cortisone) to alleviate any response happening in the pulmonary arteries and lung, as well as medications to clear fluid from the lungs if necessary (diuretics). 


When they have reached a stable state, they are treated with corticosteroids on a constant or periodic basis. Many cats will see a reduction in clinical indicators as well as an improvement in their overall quality of life after receiving this therapy. The possibility of an acute crisis or unexpected death, on the other hand, is constantly present.

In cats who are showing significant indications of heartworm illness, surgical removal of the heartworms is now the most recommended therapeutic option. This surgery must be carried out by a qualified professional, who is usually found at a veterinary college. Surgical heartworm eradication is normally reserved for those cats that have severe illness and a dismal prognosis if they do not undergo surgery, according to research.

Unfortunately, there is currently no particular medication available for heartworm illness in cats at this time.

Treatment for heartworm disease in dogs is not recommended for cats since it may have major negative effects in these animals. When it comes to heartworm prevention, veterinarians will often suggest that you put your cat on it to help prevent future infections.

Surgery to eliminate heartworms is only performed in severe situations and is only indicated in the most extreme circumstances. Unfortunately, surgery is a dangerous process, and many cats will die during the procedure or during the recuperation time.

Generally speaking, supportive treatment is advised for cats suffering from heartworm illness. Some drugs may be prescribed by your veterinarian to alleviate symptoms, while others may be prescribed to lessen the inflammation produced by the heartworms. It is also vital to do routine monitoring to examine the cat’s lungs and general health. Heartworms may survive for up to three years in cats, according to the National Heartworm Society (as opposed to the five to seven years in dogs).

Can a cat recover from heartworms?

Is there a method to prevent heartworms from developing?

Veterinarians now highly suggest that all cats be treated with monthly heartworm prevention throughout the year. With the introduction of effective heartworm preventives specifically designed for cats, the prevention of heartworm illness has become both safe and simple.
According to the ASPCA, “excellent heartworm preventatives for cats are now available, making prevention of heartworm disease safe and simple.”Heartworm prophylaxis is currently advised for all cats for a variety of reasons, including:


1. Difficulty in Making a Diagnosis Cats are more difficult to diagnose when it comes to heartworms than dogs.


2. Unknown Cause of Death. Heartworms are not nearly as frequent in cats as they are in dogs, according to the American Heartworm Society. They are, on the other hand, possibly more prevalent than we think. We anticipate to discover that the incidence of heartworms in cats is higher than previously assumed as we conduct more aggressive searches for heartworms in cats and develop better and better diagnostics. The prevalence of heartworms in cats has been estimated to be as high as 15% in certain areas, regardless of whether they are indoor or outdoor cats, according to studies.


3. There is no effective treatment available. Simply put, there is no effective therapy for heartworm-infected cats. Because there are no effective medications available, cats who seem to be doing well may abruptly succumb to their injuries. Treating heartworm infections in cats is a high-risk endeavor at best, and failing to treat these animals is just as dangerous as treating them. For the cat, it will take around two years to be completely free of the parasite infection; nevertheless, major clinical indications might manifest themselves at any point throughout this time period.


4. Preventative measures are simple and safe. Cats given heartworm preventive medicines have not showed any indicators of toxicity, according to the researchers. Despite the fact that kittens as young as six weeks of age are at risk, there is a large margin of safety.


5. Heartworms may infect indoor cats as well. It is necessary to be exposed to mosquitoes in order to transmit the virus. Cats do not need to be exposed to heartworm-infected cats or dogs in order to get the disease. Obviously, cats that spend their time outside are more likely to be exposed; nevertheless, an infected mosquito may readily enter the home and infect a cat inside the house.

When it comes to preventing heartworm illness in cats, early detection and treatment are essential. It is more effective to prevent a cat from being infected with heartworms than it is to attempt to treat a cat with heartworms. There are a variety of effective feline heartworm preventive medications available on the market today. The majority of them are applied topically or taken orally once a month. Inquire with your physician about the most effective heartworm preventative medicines for your feline companion.

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