Cats & Heartworm

Yes, you read the title correctly. Primarily when we talk about heartworm, it’s in relation to dogs, but heartworm can and does affect cats and it affects cats quite differently. In a dog, a natural host for heartworm, a dog can primarily coexist with heartworm (in small doses). For a cat, as a resistant host, a cat’s body instantly reacts and the inflammatory response is much more severe. (Being a resistant host simply means that heartworm is intended to infect canines but it will settle for a feline body.) The heartworm parasite is found everywhere throughout North America. Keeping your cat strictly indoors isn’t necessarily going to stop the spread of feline heartworm, as mosquitos (the carriers of heartworm) can carry the infective blood indoors.

Diagnosing a canine with heartworm is relatively easy. For felines, not so much. The same test that is quite reliable for dogs will time and time again produce false negatives in felines. Dogs are also usually rife with heartworm, but it can take as little as one heartworm to infect a cat. If you or your vet suspect a heartworm infection, he will likely perform an “antibody” test screen (though the results can’t show whether the infection is active or from a previous infection) and x-ray the chest. What to watch for? Heartworm disease mimics feline asthma. Your cat will probably be coughing or wheezing. In fact, if your cat has been diagnosed as asthmatic, get a heartworm check done too. Many cats are misdiagnosed.

There are no approved feline treatments for feline heartworm disease. Treatment will include supportive care with steroids to control the inflammation. It may include bronchodilators and/or antibiotics. Treatment will also include prevention of further infection or re-infection by administering a heartworm preventive medicine. Treatment for your cat will likely span several years as you’re going to have to wait for the heartworms to die of old age.

The best way you can help your cat avoid lung damage or death from a heartworm infection is to prevent it in the first place. When you’re taking your dog in for his heartworm prevention, take your cat too. Heartworm in felines is more common than we all think.

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Cats and the Common Cold

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Cats can get both the common cold and the flu, but not the human versions; they have their own feline viruses. The symptoms to look for are described below. If your cat experiences any symptom for more than a day or two, he may have a cold.

Common Cold Symptoms: Sneezing, runny nose, coughing, wheezing, mouth or nasal discharge, respiratory problems, oral ulcers or conjunctivitis (eye discharge).

Like with us, upper respiratory infections are extremely contagious and it’s quite probable that all cats in a household will be infected at the same time. In the air, the virus lasts between a few hours or a few weeks. In a cat, the virus can last a lot longer in latent or potent form. In fact, many cats carry the virus for their entire lives, experiencing flare-ups during times of stress or when their immune system is weak.

Treatment: If you suspect that your cat has a cold, you must take him to the vet immediately. It’s not necessarily the cold that’s the problem, but cats are extremely vulnerable to picking up a secondary infection that can be more serious and/or lead to a chronic illness. Many cats with a cold will have decreased appetite. Cats that don’t eat for a day or two are at risk of hepatic lipidosis, a very serious illness.

The popular treatment is usually a coarse of drug therapy (antibiotics, decongestants or antiviral medications), rest, foods and liquids. You may be advised to take your kitty into the bathroom with you to use a humidifier.

If, after a few weeks, your cat is not feeling better, or if the meds have finished but he’s still experiencing symptoms, he must go back to the vet for more tests. He may need X-rays of the skull to determine whether there has been damage to the nasal passages from the infection. A nasal flush will be undertaken to collect matter from the nasal cavity to be analyzed to determine what is causing the prolonged infection.

Prevention: Keep your cat inside and away from sick animals. Keep your pet’s food and water bowls clean. Keep your home as clean as possible. Keep the temperature of your home above 70 degrees. If your cat gets wet, dry him off and ensure he stays warm as he dries. You can also talk to your vet to see if there are vaccinations that can prevent infections.

Bloat

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Bloat is a life threatening condition for many dogs, though it’s most common in deep, narrow chested breeds. Bloat is the second-leading killer of dogs (behind cancer). Bloat can kill in less than an hour so time is of the essence; get to your veterinarian immediately!

Bloat is often swallowed air (though food or liquids may be present) and usually happens when there’s an abnormal accumulation of air, fluid or foam in the stomach. Stress has been linked to being a significant contributing factor in developing bloat. Bloat can occur with or without “volvulus” (a twisting of the stomach). As the stomach swells, it can rotate and twist at the esophagus (food tube) or at the duodenum (upper intestine). The twisted stomach traps the air, food or water ingested. Veins are constricted in the abdomen which can lead to low blood pressure, shock, and damage the internal organs. This all combined can quickly kill a dog.

SYMPTOMS:

  • attempts to vomit (it doesn’t matter if the dog is successful)
  • your dog doesn’t act like himself
  • significant anxiety or restlessness
  • “hunched up” appearance
  • bloated abdomen
  • off-color gums
  • heavy salivating or drooling
  • foamy mucus

BREEDS MOST AT RISK: Doberman Pinscher, Gordon setter, Great Dane, Irish Setter, Irish Wolfhound, Standard Poodle, Weimaraner

DIAGNOSIS: only x-rays can confirm a bloat diagnosis. Reducing pressure inside the stomach is vital.

TREATMENT: emergency therapy with fluids, corticosteroids, antibiotics or drugs related to heart arrhythmias. At the same time, surgery will be performed to rotate the stomach back and secure in its normal position.

PREVENTION: limit water consumption for an hour before or after each meal. Don’t let your dog drain his bowl; water should be consumed in moderate quantities. Do not allow rolling or any other exercise after meals. Give your dog small meals throughout the day.