"Your cat is a con artist" was the topic of an educational program we had at our office last month. The speaker discussed the frequency of heartworm disease in cats.
Cats manifest heartworm disease differently than dogs. Spread by mosquitos, heartworm favors warm, wet weather just like our summer so far. Add in the number of pets traveling here from traditional areas of infection and the tens of thousands of relocated Katrina dogs, and you have a real problem.
Even the indoor cat is at risk. Mosquitoes find their way into the home, and a single bite can be deadly. Heartworm disease is now found in all 50 states in both dogs and cats. Parasitologists for years have been recommending monthly preventative for both roundworms and heartworm in dogs and cats, but veterinarians have been slow to recommend monthly medication for cats who live indoors.
Revolution, a topical flea medication, can prevent fleas, roundworm and heartworm with one easy and cost-effective medication. Advantage Multi is also effective. Other ways to prevent heartworms are oral medications and some flea treatments that also combat heartworms.
The problem with feline heartworm is that the disease is difficult to diagnose and treat. Cats do not show the same clinical signs as dogs, as they are not the intended final host of the parasite. Even light infections can be deadly. In cats, heartworm infections are seen in lung and respiratory problems, some of which include asthma-like symptoms.
Cats will also con us with flea infestations that aren't apparent because they have groomed the parasite away. Even close examination will not find a single live flea but the hosts will show a variety of skin problems. Some develop skin crusts on their neck, making us think that an injection of steroid will solve the problem.
The feline con artist can trick the best of veterinary practitioners. My own cat was a chronic vomiter years ago. Although she never lost weight, she could vomit multiple times a day. What looked like inflammatory bowel disease turned out to be just a carbohydrate intolerance, and a simple switch to a low-carbohydrate diet cured her in a few days.
At 19 years old, she seemed to be on her ninth life last week. She was drinking a lot, losing weight and always seemed hungry. She had all the typical signs of hyperthyroid disease. But this con artist fooled me again. A checkup and blood tests at my office revealed just mild kidney disease. She could be around for quite a while.
Cats often do not get the same care as dogs, and that is unfortunate. Many feline diseases can be treated and cured with early diagnosis. Cancers, arthritis, metabolic disease, heart disease and dental disease are best treated in their early stages. Routine health checks and especially senior care is important. A careful history coupled with a good exam and diagnostic tests might just reveal a treatable condition, extending their life with us.
Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email email@example.com. Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.