Heartworm in Cats

How do parasites survive?

Parasites can be internal (within the body) or external (on the surface of the body). Parasites that are most successful in nature have developed so that they live in or on your pet but do not kill the host. Coexisting is an important trait because if the parasites kill the host, your pet, the parasites also die.  Some parasites produce dramatic symptoms in your pet and others are barely noticed despite producing thousands or millions of eggs. People with parasites may have vague symptoms and express that they “just don’t feel right.”  We frequently see infected pets with mild or “hidden” symptoms and their owners often feel that their pet is normal. Some pets have some natural immunity through limited exposure or obtain some immunity from their mother and show fewer symptoms despite being infected. We and our pets enjoy the warmth and higher humidity of the South. which are also advantageous to parasites… so our pets are at higher risk than pets in dryer and colder climates. Some parasites are extremely common in our area, and some are somewhat rare.

How can I tell if my cat has parasites?

External parasites such as fleas, ear mites, mange mites and nasal mites may be visible to the naked eye yet are often missed as they inhabit the fur or the ears or the nose.  Symptoms typically include itching, scratching, head shaking, flicking ears, sneezing, hair loss or red or abraded skin.  Most pet owners do not notice ear mites or a flea of two, but two fleas lay approximately 80 eggs a month which may hatch weeks or months later depending on the time of year and the humidity.
Internal parasites include hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, tapeworms, Haemobartonellosis (Feline Infectious Anemia), Toxoplasmosis, coccydia, giardia and others, and are seldom seen with the naked eye.  Symptoms include no symptoms, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss or just not looking healthy.
 Because of public health concern and concern for the pet, an annual fecal examination is important.  We use newer testing methods that are able to detect even mild infections before they intensify. A fresh sample (24 hrs old or less) about 1 inch long is adequate even if covered in litter. Cat heartworm disease is now known to be more common than previously thought and cannot be treated, so prevention is key. North Carolina is 4th in the nation for heartworm disease and even in our mountains it is prevalent. While many parasites can be treated once a cat is infected, heartworms cannot and it is always better to prevent a disease rather than allow an infection. That is why it’s important to have your cat examined annually and placed on year-round prevention.

How does a cat get a parasite?

Parasites can attack your cat in many different ways. Heartworm is contracted when an infected mosquito bites a cat. Studies surprisingly show that indoor cats have a very similar infection rate for heartworms as outdoor cats.  Roundworms are contracted when your cat ingests worm eggs simply by licking feet after walking on soil. Tapeworms can be contracted if your cat accidently grooms and ingests a flea or eats a rodent. Other intestinal worm larvae can be passed through the mother cat’s milk to her kitten. Another unique parasite is a hookworm, whose larvae thrive in moist soil. Your cat can simply step on a larva and it can pass through the skin microscopically and painlessly into the paw and then migrate through the body for months until it finds the intestines and becomes a worm. Still other parasites, mites for example, can be contracted if you cat has direct contact with an infected cat. Infections are so common that prevention is the best approach.

So prevention is best!

Years ago, prevention was difficult or impossible. We tested our pets and treated as necessary just trying to keep the parasite burden low. That was all that we could do.  Now there are extremely effective, extremely safe methods of preventing parasites.  For cats, the product Revolution is our top choice.  A once a month drip-on application on the back of the neck treats roundworms, hookworms, fleas, ear mites and prevents feline heartworms.  Unlike dogs, no feline heartworm test is necessary prior to starting this preventative.  Since parasites can migrate in the body for weeks and months while developing and since they are so prevalent in our region year round prevention is safest.  Our price for this product typically is within pennies of Pet-Med Express and often lower. When you buy locally from us it benefits our patients, your pet. 

Can my cat or dog give me a parasite?

The prevalence in pets of hookworms (19.2%), roundworms (14.5%) and dog whipworms (14.3%) has not changed in America in 30 years. Pet associated roundworms (not pinworms) infect over 10,000 US children annually. Parasites can enter a human body through touching infected soil or accidental ingestion. These larvae do not become worms in people, but migrate throughout the body for your entire life.  They can migrate in organs (visceral larval migrans), the brain (neural larval migrans), the skin (cutaneous larval migrans), or the eye (ocular larval migrans). In fact, Toxicara species of roundworms account for 37% of US retinal disease in children and children 8 years of age have the highest incidence. Covert roundworm infection of children and adults has many symptoms, can be lifelong and is very difficult to diagnose.  Approximately 4% of people in the US and 23% of people in rural N.C. test positive for this parasite. Just imagine that one roundworm lays approximately 20,000,000 eggs per week – Wow!  So, because of public health concerns, the current preventatives such as Revolution for cats, given year-round offer a great advantage.