Cat Care – Heartworms and Parasites

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 17,100
    Dr. Candy Olson, owner of Greenbriar Animal Hospital discusses heartworms and parasites that can effect your pets.

    Candy Olson

    Dr. Candy Olson graduated from veterinary school in 1978, and has been working as a small animal veterinarian ever since. She started her own practice, Greenbriar Animal Hospital, in Fairfax, Virginia in 1993 with a goal to providing a very personal level of service, like an old fashioned family doctor’s office. The hospital has grown into a busy 2 doctor practice with a full time dog and cat groomer. The practice and Dr. Olson have received several awards for top quality service to her patients and their owners, but what she enjoys the most is fine tuning the day to day care of her patients, and helping their owners cope with medical and behavioral issues that pop up in today’s lifestyles. Dr. Olson is particularly interested in the care of geriatric pets and in pets with multiple medical and/or behavioral problems. She keeps her veterinary knowledge current by reading more than 8 veterinary journals every month, and by attending more than 80 hours of continuing education meetings each year (Virginia requires 15 hours per year). She also serves as a mentor for student veterinary technicians and high school students interested in veterinary medicine. Her hobbies include gardening, travel, and photography (photography is an extended family hobby). Some of her photos and some of her family’s photos are framed and on display at the animal hospital.

    Hi, I am Dr Candy Olson from Greenbriar Animal Hospital. We are shooting a video on Tips for how to care of your cat at home. This section is on Heartworm Disease in cats. Its relatively a new area and it is an area that cats are at risk for. Heartworms are a dog parasite. They are passed from dog to dog by mosquitoes, but they can get in cats, and the trouble with Heartworms in cats, is a Heartworm is about six inches long, thats only about as big a round as a piece of Angel Hair Pasta, so, it's really skinny, but imagine something thats that long in a cats little chest. Most of the time, when Heartworms get into cats; they dont lodge in the heart like they do in dogs, they get into the lungs and the chest and they cause terrific problems. Not a common problem at all, but, there's no treatment for cats with Heartworms, and the most common thing that happens is they suddenly die, and it's a really spooky thing to have happen to your cat. When we say it's not common, it's not exactly where either. One of the issues with this, is cats get to expose to Heartworms by being bitten by a mosquito thats carrying them. So, if there's a lot of Heartworms in your area in dogs, that means there's a lot of mosquitoes going back and forth that are carrying them and your cat is more likely to get bitten by a mosquito carrying these Heartworms.

    The bad thing for Heartworms in cats is that cats that are indoors only, that dont go outside at all, are at lower risk for it, but I dont know about you, I live in an old house and we get mosquitoes inside all the time. When they do studies, they actually found that 25-30% of the cats that were coming up Heartworm positive had never been outside. So, it's a pretty significant chunk there. Now, you may not have heard anything about Heartworm prevention, and Heartworms in cats, but it's an important, new thing to be considering here. When we say new, we've actually known about it for quite a few years, but it was only in the last couple of years that a medication was developed to prevent the cats from getting Heartworms. So, once a month medication that you give them, there are two different forms. There's one thats an oral dose, it's like a little treat if your cat likes it, it's great, if they dont like it, it's not so great. Try to get it down once a month, but there's also another form thats a Topical medication that you can now put on your cats back and its actually absorbed through the skin, it's also once a month. That really helps to prevent the Heartworms.

    The other thing that both of these medications do, is they help prevent some of the intestinal parasites that cats can pick up. Those intestinal parasites are also of concern, not just for your cat, they are not particularly common in adult cats, but again, they are not rare either. Very common in kittens, but these are parasites that can affect people, and the effects on people are rare but they are pretty major, and there actually have been cases where on children in particular are vulnerable to this kind of thing. Children have permanently lost the use of an eye from these parasites. So it is, again, it's a rare thing, but it's a huge deal. One of the good things about Heartworm disease in cats is that dogs when they have Heartworms, have all kinds of symptoms and everything, and cats are usually pretty silent. There arent really any symptoms there, but you dont have to do the yearly test, the blood test, that you need to do for dogs. Thats kind of a good thing, because it means, less needles for cats, less blood drawing, but the reason for that is because there isnt a good test. So, we go ahead and we prevent and we hope they dont get it. The other thing is nobody has really worked real hard to develop a good test. The whole point of having a good test in dogs was actually for two separate reasons. If they test positive then you can treat for the Heartworms and get rid of them. Those are the big reason, but, a second reason which is almost as important as in dogs, the medicine that you give to prevent Heartworms, if you give it to a dog who has Heartworms, it's likely to make him really sick. So, there's the two different reasons there to develop the important test for dogs and in cats, neither of those happens.

    If they have Heartworms you can't treat them. They are either going to get rid of them on their own, which some cats can do, especially if you know and you can support them a little bit, give them a little bit of help or they are going to die, and there's nothing you can do thats really going to effect that. There's no effective treatment for it. The second thing is the medications that are used to prevent Heartworm disease in cats and help prevent these other parasites, dont interact with the Heartworms themselves. So, if your cat has Heartworms, one of the first thing thats recommended is something arent already on the preventatives to get them started on it, because that will help prevent any further exposure, because imagine, if you had one of those worms, what if you had two or three? I mean thats a really bad thing. Most cats that do have Heartworms only have one or two worms, but just the physical size of that, imagine a piece of Angel Hair Pasta and break it in half, something that big, in that little tiny heart, cats heart is only about that big or in the lungs, which are mush bigger. Physically, it gets in the way and causes a lot of problems. There arent particularly any definite symptoms for cats with Heartworms disease, but cats that do have Heartworms will often times throw up, just kind of randomly. They are not sick, they are not necessarily throwing up hairballs, they just throw up here and maybe there, and theyll sometimes, wheeze. A wheeze is kind of what they call it, audible breathing. You shouldnt be able to hear a cat breathe. But, you know, if you are listening too closely, you can actually hear them breathe. The cats do those, both of those things for all kinds of other reasons. So, it's just one of the things on a big long list of what could be going on. Well, the real important thing though, is if cats are coughing, there's something wrong. People cough for all kinds of different reasons. Dogs cough for all kinds of different reasons, most of which are temporary and no big deal. But a coughing cat is a serious issue. It could have a severe case of asthma, it could have an infection, it could have Heartworms, it could have cancer, it could have all kinds of things. But cats dont cough for no reason, there's always something serious going on. So, if your cat is coughing, call your veterinarian, it's an important thing to have checked out. And if your veterinarian hasnt already talked to you about Heartworm disease in cats, and about these preventative, maintenance medications, ask him about it. It's a hidden thing. A lot of people arent aware of it because it's new. So, thats the information on Heartworm disease in cats. We've touched on a lot of different topics in our video here for Homecare Techniques and Tips for Cats, from various things for how to give medication, to how to help groom your cat, exercise and feeding, and some preventive care here too. I hope you've enjoyed the video. Thanks.