Signs of Heart Worm Disease in Cats

April 22, 2019 9:02 pm Published by

Keeping your cat happy and healthy is likely your highest goal as a cat owner. If they get sick with an infection like heart worm, you want to know why it happened and what to do. Below, the team at our cat care clinic in Alexandria, VA outlines what heart worm is and lists some of the signs of heart worm disease in cats.

Causes of heart worm disease

Heart worms are bloodborne parasites that settle in the heart or nearby large blood vessels of an infected animal—and these parasites are not small. The size of female worms ranges from 6 to 14 inches long, and 1/8 inch wide. Males are typically half that size.

Something you may have heard is that heart worm disease is more common in dogs than cats. While this is true, recent studies show that the incidence of the disease in cats is actually much higher than previously thought. Compared to dogs, cats are relatively resistant to heart worms, with the rate of infection in cats reported to be 5 to 20 percent of the rate in dogs. Note that both indoor and outdoor cats can become infected.

How heart worms get transmitted to cats

Heart worms are transmitted to cats through a second animal acting as a host—in this case, the culprit is likely a mosquito. The heart worm parasite needs mosquitoes as intermittent hosts in order to transmit the disease, which occurs through bites. Basically, mosquitoes ingest heart worm larvae by sucking blood from infected animals. Then, after 10 to 30 days in the insect’s gut, the worms develop and are ready to infect others. The larvae have to live inside a cat’s blood stream for months before they can do damage, meaning it is necessary for a cat to be bitten by an infected mosquito for it to become infected with heart worms. This means the infection cannot be transmitted from one cat to another.

Signs of heart worm disease in cats

There are many things to look out for in a possibly sick cat, but diagnosing feline heart worm disease is challenging due to the fact that there are no specific clinical signs. Veterinarians agree that the most common signs of heart worm disease in cats are rapid breathing and a sudden onset of coughing, although these can be signs of several other diseases. Other common non-specific clinical signs include vomiting and weight loss.

To illustrate how difficult it can be to diagnose heart worms in cats, a seemingly normal cat may be found dead, or may die suddenly from respiratory failure only to be diagnosed with the infection upon post-mortem examination. Why sudden death? Why wouldn’t there be any clear signs for cat owners to see? Sudden death is thought to be due to the lungs reacting to the young heart worms, or to dead or live parasites entering the pulmonary arteries and obstructing blood flow to the lungs.

Don’t hesitate to contact your local cat care clinic in Alexandria, VA to learn more about heart worm disease in cats. Reach out to the team at Kingstowne Cat Clinic today!

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