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Feline Friday: Heart-to-Heart About Heartworms

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Anubis portrait

Anubis, a gorgeous kitty who shares life with Karyl Cunningham.

I just completed an interview for Pet Peeves radio show with Dr. Wallace Graham, the president of the American Heartworm Society (stay tuned—I’ll post the link when it goes live). Do you give your cat heartworm preventative? Yes, CATS can get the disease. Seren eats her monthly treatment like a treat. Thank heaven’s for that or I might risk loosing fingers when I pilled her!

WHAT ARE HEARTWORMS

An intermediate host, the mosquito, is necessary to transmit the disease. Although here in Texas we’re in the middle of a drought, you can bet mosquito-vampires find a way to continue to spread their lethal cargo.

Dogs are the natural host, but cats also get heartworms yet don’t develop the same kind of disease. Feline heartworm disease remains an invisible illness despite having nearly twice the incidence of feline “aids” or leukemia virus. The incidence varies across geographic regions but runs about ten to twenty percent that of dogs. Here in Texas, that means feline heartworm disease is much more common where the dog disease tends to be relatively high. And in the Mississippi Delta region there’s a virtual epidemic in dogs—and cats are affected more often, too.

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a veterinary internist and senior vice president and chief medical officer (CMO) of Banfield Pet Hospital says, “In our own analysis of data from more than two million dogs and almost half a million cats, we determined that heartworm disease is among the top three disease risks for pets in the southern United States. Education and awareness are vital to reducing this risk.”

Outdoor cats are at highest risk for parasites--even though they LOVE life on the outside! How do you make the outside safe?

HEARTWORM TRANSMISSION

To become infected, a cat must live in an area that has infected dogs, and with mosquitoes that have a taste for both dog blood and cat blood. Dr. Graham says that wildlife also serves as a reservoir for the disease so coyotes and raccoons could put your pets at risk. Heck, the coyotes come up onto my back patio! Even though Magical-Dawg is negative for the disease and takes preventative, Seren-kitty could get heartworm from a single mosquito biting a coyote and nailing her before I could swat the sucker.

That’s right, I said it. A cat doesn’t have to go outside to be exposed. Exclusively indoor cats also get heartworm disease. Dr. Graham mentioned he’d recently diagnosed a couple of exclusively indoor cats in his clinic in Corpus Cristi. Yikes!

Mosquitoes ingest baby heartworms (microfilariae) when taking a blood meal from an already infected animal. The immature parasites spend about three weeks developing inside the mosquito and migrate to the mouthparts of the insect. When the mosquito again takes a blood meal, larvae are deposited upon the skin and gain entrance to the new host’s body through the bite wound left by the mosquito. Once inside the body, the immature heartworm undergoes many more molts and development stages.

KITTY SYMPTOMS ARE H.A.R.D.

The larvae are carried by the blood through the heart to the cat’s pulmonary arteries which almost immediately become enlarged and inflamed. They usually die in cats in about 9 months (they can live 5 years in dogs!) and cause severe inflammatory respiratory problems when they die. This has been described as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD).

Feline airways become thickened, stiff, and inflamed. Cats with asthma symptoms—open-mouth breathing with blue gums—may in fact be suffering from heartworm disease. Frequent vomiting also can be a sign of feline heartworm disease. “The third unfortunate sign we see is the cat is fine this morning, and dead this afternoon,” says Dr. Graham.

HEARTWORM TESTS

Current tests don’t detect all feline heartworm cases. Antigen tests identify the presence of adult female worms. That means cats could have immature worms present, or an adult male, and appear to be safe. Antibody tests can detect very early infections by immature worms–fantastic for our dogs!–but half of all cats that have worms don’t have antibodies against them. Additional chest radiographs and echocardiograms may be needed when heartworm infection is suspected.

A single heartworm can kill the cat, and there’s no cure or treatment for feline heartworms. Instead, veterinarians suppress the inflammation in the lungs and make it easier to breathe using such drugs as prednisone, bronchodilators, and doxycycline. Infected cats usually are put on heartworm preventive so they don’t get any new worms that further complicate their care.

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Even pampered show cats aren't immune.

While diagnosis is difficult and treatment virtually impossible, there are preventive products for cats. The American Heartworm Society provides guidelines and the latest research on its site. They recommend all cats should be on preventative, year round. Start kittens at 6 to 8 weeks of age–there are products that not only prevent heartworms but also control other parasites like fleas so you’re multi-tasking and keeping kitty safe. It costs pennies a day to protect my dog and cat, compared to the expense of treating an infection. And these days, the dog treatment for heartworms is temperarily unavailable.

Losing Magical-Dawg or Seren-Kitty to heartworms is not a price I’m willing to pay.

How about you? What sorts of preventatives to you give your fur-kids? Fleas and tick stuff? Heartworm prevention? Do you prefer the “natural” route or have suggestions how to get the cats to accept “what’s good for them?” There are liquid alternatives and spot ons for some of these preventions. What works best for your pets?

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Monday Mentions: Religious Cats, Little Dog Life Lessons & Pet Resources

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I do my best to avoid talking about politics and religion but just had to make an exception in the case of Ketzel, subject of the above book MEWSINGS: My Life as a Jewish Cat by my colleague Greta Beigel. This delightful book just got a stellar review and I had to add my SNOOPY-DANCE-‘O-JOY! to the celebration. Note: you can click on the book cover to go to the “buy” page on amazon.

What about your fur-kids? In centuries past, cats were worshiped as gods and sometimes still seem to expect that adoration. Dogs, on the other paw, sometimes treat their humans with such deference that we get too big for our britches. So what’s up with YOUR fur-kids? Are they spiritual beings? Do they meditate, celebrate or gravitate to more than the food bowl? Please share!

Monday Mentions is the mash-up-day of all the neato-torpedo links and blogs and writer-icity crappiocca collected over the past week. Today it’s all about pets.

RADIO SHOWS & MORE

Pet Peeves Radio – Women Training Dogs Camilla Gray-Nelson trains women to train their dogs–and yes, it’s a bit different than the male viewpoint. If you’re a lady with a pet dog and at the end of your leash with Fido’s antics, you’ll want to learn the tips in this show. Camilla has been training dogs and solving problems for more than 20 years and today runs Dairydell Canine Center in Northern California. She and her staff have helped more than 9000 dogs and owners from all over the United States!

Folks, if you have a suggestion for a guest or topic idea for Pet Peeves please drop me a line or post a comment to that effect. It can be funny to serious about what HISSES you off (or makes you purrrrrr and wag) about all-things-pets.

Four Legged Life with Arden Moore offers a pet community with pet care classes, a newsletter, an award-winning “Oh, Behave!” radio podcast with lots of pet-loving celebs, and more. Arden also happens to be the editor of Catnip, a publication of Tufts University (and I have the honor to write for her once in a while!).

PUPPY-LICIOUS PLUG. Those who visit this blog know I frequently share puppy-licious content from my puppies.About.com site. Maybe it’s not kewl to say it’s GREAT info…but I do have a GREAT time writing it. It’s still quite new so each month about 10-20 new articles and that many blogs (plus a weekly newsletter) get added.

HEARTWORM ALERT! Last week I added an article about canine heartworm disease and the fact that the treatment to cure the disease is in short supply. And I heard back from the American Heartworm Society (a GREAT resource for info!) asking me to share this video with more information–of course, I’m delighted to do so!

You know, of course, that cats get heartworms, too. Seren gets her preventive each month, even though she’s an indoor cat. You can find out more at the American Heartworm Society site. Franny Syufy’s cats.About.com site also offers top notch cat specific content. I had the good fortune to work with Franny last year as the contributing writer on cat behavior. Franny’s site has been around about 15 years so you can image the wealth of info she’s got, check it out!

GORILLA OF MY HEART? UC Davis School of Vet Medicine Newsletter has all kinds of great animal-istic information and special thanks to Lynn Narlesky who keeps me plugged in the fascinating latest. Check out one of the features about a HUMAN virus found in gorillas. Can you say “medical thriller plot?”

HORSING AROUND. Fertility vaccine for wild horse birth control, a study from the awesome folks at Morris Animal Foundation.

DOGGY TESTIMONY. My German dog-writing colleague Bernd Guenter pointed out this neat story about a dog helping rape victims testify in court–and how it’s being challenged. Incidentally if you ever need fanTAStic dog photos, check out Bernd’s books and Berner pictures–just awesome!

DOG FIGHT AP? EWWW! Some of y’all have been following the story about the dog fighting ap–yes, there’s an AP for that, apparently. No one has opposed it more strenuously than my colleague Steve Dale who offers details in his blog. And another colleague, Susan Conant, tracked down the link to report and request that offensive aps be taken down–check it out here.

GOOD NEWS FOR PET PASSPORTS. Apparently your pets no longer need to endure 6-month rabies antibody rechecks when imported to the UK–here’s the details about the new rules on pet passports.

LIFE LESSONS and Little Dogs, a most touching blog post by Catie Rhodes

TAKE YOUR CAT to the VET WEEK sponsored by PetFinder.com invites you to take the furry pledge! You don’t need a pet passport to do the right thing by your cat. Stay tuned for more about this later in the week…

Whew–it’s clear that the critters took over today’s Monday Mentions. I’ve got a slew of publishing/writing tips–so many that I’ll share them on tomorrow’s blog.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? I’m nearly ready to record a bunch of new ones, so be sure to get your requests in the comments. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!