Mosquitoes, cough, hairball, heartworm, infection, blood, prevention
When we think of heartworm disease, we usually don't think of it affecting cats. But, we have been seeing more and more feline cases nationwide, so it is a disease we should at least be aware of. As with the dog, the disease is transmitted via a bite from an infected mosquito. The infant larval stages of the heartworm, called microfilaria, are picked up by the mosquito as it bites an infected animal, then are transmitted to another with its next bite. The scary part is that your cat doesn't even have to ever go outside to become infected, since, as we know, mosquitoes find their way into our homes as well.
The first sign you may notice in your cat is a soft cough. The issue is that the much more common hairball problem will often present the same way. Feline upper respiratory infections or feline asthma, both also very common, will often present with nothing more than a mild cough as well. As you can see, this can really present a diagnostic challenge.
So, heartworm disease will often be considered if a coughing cat lives in a heartworm endemic area and shows no response to hairball treatments or evidence of a respiratory infection. A specific diagnosis requires the same special blood test that we use for dogs, as well as chest x-rays. It will also be necessary to evaluate the rest of the body in case treatment will need to be instituted.
The big question arises if cats should be on heartworm prevention as a routine-much like dogs are-in heartworm endemic areas. Depending on where you live in the United States, this potentially fatal disease may or may not be a significant health threat to a cat. If mosquitoes are a problem around the cat's environment, and this includes indoor cats, then we do recommend prevention. The good news is that preventing this potentially fatal disease is very easy and inexpensive, and as with many diseases, prevention is far better, safer, and easier, than treatment.
If you live in a region that puts your cat at risk for contracting this very serious disease, speak to your veterinarian.
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