Heartworms are long threadlike worms that live in the hearts of dogs, usually. Most people don't know that heartworms affect the pet health of our feline friends as well. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes and once bitten the worms take around four months to reach the heart. Once there, the worms can grow up to a foot long. Cats can have a very severe reaction to the worms usually causing coughing, trouble breathing, and lethargy. For the longest time, doctors only thought that dogs could get heartworms. A few years ago, a study was done on cats that died suddenly and a large majority of them were found to have heartworms. Unlike in dogs, which take as long as two years to show symptoms, cats tend to die without ever having any symptoms at all. Also in the study, one third of all the cases of heartworms were found in indoor only cats. This is an amazing statistic, showing that indoor cats are not immune to the disease.
Another factor that makes heartworm disease in cats difficult is the difficulty in testing. Owners can be very frustrated by this disease because of the lack of definitive testing. There are two blood tests that veterinarians use to help in diagnosing the disease. Antibody tests look for antibodies for heartworms that their immune system produces when worms are present in the body. The problem with antibody tests is that the infection doesn't have to be current to be positive, they could have had heartworms years in the past. Antigen tests are the main ones used to test dogs for heartworms. The antigen tests detect female worms in the body.
Since it only takes one or very few worms to cause problems cats can have infections with only male worms. Once again, if cats only have male worms it will test negative on an antigen test. The only test that will definitively confirm heartworms if the antigen test is negative is an ultrasound. The final frustration with feline heartworm disease is that it is so difficult to treat. There are no medications used to kill adult infestations with heartworms. Medications that are currently being used are designed to lessen the symptoms of the disease and medications that improve breathing. But it does nothing to rid the cat of heartworms and improve pet health. In dogs heartworms live for over seven years, but since cats are not the primary hosts they only live about two years.
Since diagnosis is so difficult, and the disease is so severe, prevention becomes the key with feline heartworms. This is the ultimate answer with heartworms, if they don't get it, you don't have to worry about it. There are a lot of preventatives out there for heartworms. Products that can be found at your local store can prevent heartworms and treat hookworms and roundworms. The disadvantage to these products is that it is a chewable, which can be difficult for our feline friends. There are also topical medications for pet health, which prevents heartworms; treat hookworms, roundworms, fleas, earmites, and the mange. This is a great product that really fully protects our kitties. On a final note, remember that one third of positive cases are in indoor only cats, so prevention is still very important even for them.
Gary Pearson is an accomplished niche website developer and author.
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