Heartworms in Cats: Your Guide to Treatment Options

Heartworms in Cats

Heartworms in Cats: Heartworm disease is caused by parasitic worms that make their way into a cat’s heart and blood vessels. Mosquitoes transmit the larvae, which then mature into adult worms, clogging up the heart and arteries. Unfortunately, many cat owners don’t realize their felines are at risk until it’s too late.

When an infected mosquito bites a cat, the larvae are deposited onto the skin. They migrate into the bloodstream and develop into adult worms over about 6-7 months. By the time cats show symptoms, the infestation is usually quite severe. Some cats can have up to 100 worms obstructing blood flow!

Cats often don’t show obvious symptoms at first. As the disease progresses, you may notice coughing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, or loss of appetite. In severe cases, heart failure or sudden death can occur. The best way to diagnose heartworms in cats is through blood testing, chest x-rays, and in some cases, heart ultrasounds.

Heartworms in Cats

Diagnosing Heartworms in Cats

Has your cat been coughing, seeming lethargic or losing weight recently? These can be signs that heartworms have infected their heart and lungs. The only way to confirm a heartworm infection is through a blood test at your vet’s office. They will take a small blood sample from your cat to check for heartworm antigens or antibodies, which indicate exposure or infection.

1. Antigen Test

The most common test is an antigen test that detects specific heartworm proteins in the blood called antigens. If antigens are found, it means adult heartworms are present. This test can detect infections earlier than an antibody test and is very accurate. However, it may produce false positives in some cats. Your vet may recommend retesting in a few months to confirm.

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2. Antibody Test

An antibody test checks for antibodies your cat’s body produces in response to heartworm infection. It can only detect exposure to heartworm larvae but not necessarily an active infection. So, while a positive result means your cat has been exposed at some point, additional testing may be needed to check for current infection. Antibody tests may miss infections in the earliest stages before antibodies have developed. Retesting in a few months is also often recommended.

3. Other Tests

In some cases, additional tests like chest x-rays, an EKG, or ultrasound may be needed to check for signs of heartworm damage or infection, especially if blood test results are unclear. These imaging tests can detect enlarged pulmonary arteries or heart muscle changes indicative of heartworm disease.

Early diagnosis and treatment of heartworms is critical to managing this serious disease and improving your cat’s prognosis. Talk to your vet right away if you suspect your cat may have heartworms based on symptoms. They can order blood testing and any necessary follow-up diagnostics to determine if heartworm disease is present and the best course of treatment. The earlier heartworms are detected, the better for your feline friend.

Treatment Options for Heartworms in Cats

1. Medication

The most common treatment for heartworms in cats is a series of injections called melarsomine dihydrochloride. This arsenic-based medication is given by injection to kill the adult heartworms in your cat’s heart and arteries. The dead worms then break up and are absorbed by the body. Your vet will give a series of injections over several months to ensure all worms have been eliminated. This treatment requires multiple vet visits and can be expensive, but it is very effective at eliminating an active heartworm infection.

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2. Natural remedies

Some pet owners prefer to try natural remedies to treat heartworms in cats before using harsher medical treatments. However, there is little evidence that natural remedies alone can fully eliminate an active heartworm infection. Some options that may help support your cat during medical treatment include:

  • Herbal supplements like black walnut, wormwood, and cloves which may help paralyze and eliminate worms. However, the potency and effectiveness can vary between products and may not completely clear an infection.
  • Dietary supplements like coconut oil, diatomaceous earth, and papaya seeds may help deworm and support your cat’s digestion and immune system. But again, should not be relied upon as a sole treatment.
  • Essential oils such as eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint oil may help reduce inflammation in the lungs and respiratory tract. You can diffuse the oils in your home or apply diluted to your cat’s coat. Be very careful using essential oils around cats as they are sensitive to many oils.
  • Acupuncture or laser therapy may provide some relief from symptoms as a complementary treatment. But will not eliminate the infection on their own.

In the end, the most effective way to treat heartworms in cats is through medical treatment prescribed by your vet. Natural remedies and lifestyle changes may provide some supportive care, but should not be used as an alternative to medication. The good news is with proper treatment, even cats with severe infections have a good chance of recovering and living normally after the worms have been eliminated.

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