12 Common Symptoms of Feline Heartworm Disease

Feline heartworm disease is caused by parasites found in cats, that cause them severe lung and heart injury and inflammation. Cats with strong immune systems that build resistance to heartworms are able to combat heartworm infection without medical intervention. It was formerly believed that dogs were more susceptible to heartworms. However, growing evidence proves that cats are also at a great risk of contracting feline heartworm disease.

How Cats Contract Heartworms

Mosquitoes spread heartworms to cats. Infected mosquitoes carry the larval form of heartworms. The infection passes on to the cat through a mosquito bite. The larvae penetrate through the cat's tissue and migrate towards the lungs. They develop and mature into adult heartworms and multiply. Adult heartworms release microfilariae in the cat's blood. This entire process takes nearly 8 months. Heartworms don't need to reach the adult stage to do severe damage. Since there isn't any treatment available for a complete and permanent cure of feline heartworm disease, it's important to make note of certain symptoms that infected cat's exhibit for an appropriate prognosis.

12 Common Symptoms of Feline Heartworm Disease

  • Coughing
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Gagging
  • Vomiting
  • Collapse
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Tachypnea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blindness
  • Sudden Death
  • Convulsions

If the heartworm disease is more acute, owing to adult heartworms, the cat may have an increased risk of fainting and sudden death. In the initial stage of feline heartworm disease the symptoms are very similar to asthma or bronchitis. The medical term for this condition is known as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD).

Diagnosing Heartworm Disease in Cats

Physical examinations alone are not highly effective in detecting heartworms in cats. X-Ray and echocardiography testing are useful diagnostic tools that check infection in the pulmonary arteries. Antigen tests in cats can only detect adult female or mature heartworm infection. Antibody tests can determine previous exposure to the infection in cats and the immune system response to heartworms. This test has to be conducted at a clinic. Although both antibody and antigen tests are extremely useful to detect heartworm infection, antibody tests work better when specific antigen are used.

Common Heartworm Prevention Medicines

  • Cat Heartgard chewables
  • Interceptor for cats
  • Advantage MULTI for cats
  • Revolution (selemectin)

Remember to read package instructions before you administer any medication to your pet. Don't use dog heartworm medication on your cats and vice-versa. Kittens can also be given heartworm medication after 8 weeks of age. The medication is useful in preventing adult heartworms from forming and multiplying. It's important to give preventive heartworm medication to your cat as adult heartworms are capable of reproduction.

Feline heartworm removal surgery is performed in cases where the heartworms are clearly visible in an ultrasound. Cats suffering from advanced stages of feline heartworm disease can be given supportive care to help them feel more comfortable. A combination of antibiotics along with IV fluids may be administered. Often bronchodilators are used to facilitate easy breathing. X-ray and ultrasounds can also be conducted at intervals to check the progress of the infection.

Although indoor cats are less likely to come in contact with infected mosquitoes, they are equally susceptible to feline heartworm disease. If you notice sudden fainting symptoms or convulsions in your pet, its best to seek prompt medical attention.