Monday, April 9, 2012

Heartworm disease headaches

Heartworm disease in cats is a difficult issue. Unlike heartworm disease in dogs, it is difficult to diagnose, and has no cure, but that is not where the differences end. Feline heartworm disease is quite different in many ways from canine heartworm disease.

1) Feline heartworm disease is not really a heart disease in cats. More often it is a lung disease - so much so that it has been given its own name: Feline Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD). The worms cause damage in the lungs, resulting in lifelong breathing issues that often mimic other diseases such as pneumonia, feline asthma, or chronic vomiting. In some cases, a cat will have no signs of  disease at all for the lifespan of the heartworm (about 2-3 years) and then, when the heartworms die inside the body, the cat will experience an anaphylactic reaction to the dead parasite (think of it like a bee sting reaction all over the inside of the body!) which will cause sudden death.

2) Testing for heartworm disease in cats is much more complex than in dogs. The test that is commonly used in dogs checks for the presence of a female worm in the body. Since dogs generally have 12-25 heartworms (or up to 300!) when they are infected, this test is very accurate. Because cats only have 1-2 worms when they are infected, the test is only about 50% accurate. Often, when a dog is infected, a single drop of blood will reveal hundreds of microscopic baby heartworms (microfilaria) - another good test. Heartworms do not reproduce in cats (mostly because there is usually only one worm) and so there will never be baby heartworms in the bloodstream. Generally, to confirm heartworm disease in a cat, 2-3 blood tests, an x-ray and possibly an ultrasound are needed to be certain. Because of this, at this time, it is not our recommendation to test cats annually before starting your monthly heartworm prevention treatments.

3) There is currently no recommended treatment for feline heartworm disease. In some cases, surgical removal of the worms is an option.

Feline Heartworm Life Cycle
What about indoor cats? We recommend that even 100% indoor cats take a monthly heartworm preventive. About 1/3 of cats that develop heartworm disease are indoor-only cats. It only takes one bite from one mosquito to infect a cat, and the species of mosquito that has a taste for cats tends to be attracted to the doors and windows of houses. We have clients that sometimes see mosquitoes in their homes well into the winter months. We have also seen patients in our own hospital that were indoor only cats and suffered from heartworm disease. It may not happen often, but it does happen, and the only way to protect your cat with monthly heartworm medication. One veterinarian learned the hard way about the importance of heartworm prevention for indoor cats. We recommend that both indoor and outdoor cats receive monthly preventive April through December every year.

American Heartworm Society
For more information about heartworm disease, visit the American Heartworm Society or KNOW Heartworms.
Know Heartworms
According to the CDC's Pets and Parasites risk maps, over 40% of the cases of canine heartworm disease seen in Michigan occur in Oakland and Wayne counties. Overall, Texas accounts for 20% of all US cases of canine heartworm disease, but county-by-county, the risk for dogs is remarkably similar to the risk for dogs in the Detroit area and surrounding suburbs, with risk running as high as 1 in 36 dogs being infected. Feline heartworm statistics are poorly reported, but generally tends to be about 10% of the numbers we see in dogs.

Heartworm incidence map
This year promises to be a very buggy year, due to the extremely mild winter we had. According to this report from Toledo, and the first ever heartworm forecast, the water sources are already teeming with mosquito larvae in record numbers, weeks ahead of schedule.If you have not considered using heartworm preventive medication in the past, we encourage you to make this the year to change your mind!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Meet Mr. April!

Age:14 months
Weight: 6.8# in August 2001, so the little man is not quite so little anymore!
Gender: Neutered male
Demeanor at the vet's office: Very active and sweet!
My Name is Hogan, but you may call me Ho-ho.  At about 5 months of age, I came into a bereaved family of mom, dad, and two fur-brothers, aged 6-Mozie and 8-Angus.  They had just lost their beloved one-year old cat, Ru.  I was harboring a serious URI that turned into pneumonia, but it presented itself after my older brothers were exposed.  They were seriously ill in turn and in different ways, and Angus still has lingering effects.  Because of that, we haven’t completely bonded, but Angus does lick my head on occasion when I’m not trying to test my mettle against him.  As everyone recovered from the initial URI, mom and dad brought younger brother, Cooper – aged 4 months, into the fold.  Cooper was quarantined until we all were given a clean bill of health, but I would catch glimpses of him at the door when mom or dad spent time with him.  I lay outside his door … waiting.

When the door was opened, Cooper and I looked at each other, ran toward each other, and darted down the stairs together.  No adjustment time was needed. We were instant friends.  Cooper is my favorite “toy” and as he grows bigger, he certainly tests my playing skills.  I’m quite nimble and have very quick reflexes.
Mom appreciates my inquisitiveness, my “help/supervision,” and they way I make a high-pitched cry as I look in the mirror when I think I’m alone.

Dad uses a feather/stick toy to train me.  I’m a good jumper and I love the many cat trees throughout the house.  Dad makes films and takes pictures of us all while doing cute things.

Mom feeds me canned food (and I’m not picky).  I finish first and have to be watched or removed while my brothers finish their portions.  I seek Dad out for comfort.  I make my high-pitched cry and go “Jonesing” for Dad who holds me in his arms (even if he’s working) and lets me nap there.

With the colder weather, all six of us cram onto the bed – fur children above the covers.  The other boys have their preferences, but I lay anywhere against anyone.

During the day you will find me with Cooper – sleeping in the bed atop the armoire, in one of the cat trees, in the bay window, on a chair – or alone in Angus’s bed!  We sleep hard and play hard so you will also find us zipping through the house together as we love to attack our toys or chase each other and jump around.  Cooper’s head smells like my breath because we groom each other, too.

April will find me at 14 months of age and Cooper at 11 months.Mom and dad enjoy watching me grow. I’ve come a long way from the scrappy kitten whose paws reached out of the cage at my mom when she first saw me at the Humane Society.