Adopted family takes good care of cat's health

October 9, 2007 

Preventive medicine is one of my favorite subjects.

Vaccinations, dietary products and parasite prevention programs are a few of the topics that fall into this category.

Angel's caretakers have been very good about keeping her fully vaccinated, on worm control for various intestinal parasites and on a monthly flea prevention program. They are concerned about heartworm disease, though, and whether Angel should be treated for prevention of that potentially lethal disease.

The 6-year-old orange, brown, black and white cat adopted the family of four when she was a kitten. Angel noticed a sign in front of the home that read something like, "Stray kitten welcome here," and decided to grace the house with her presence. The funny thing was that no one but Angel could see the sign. Apparently, she has fit into her home wonderfully well and is greatly loved.

Heartworm disease primarily strikes dogs. It is caused by a parasitic worm that resides in the heart and blood vessels leading from the heart to the lungs. These adult worms build up to the point where they affect the heart's ability to pump blood and if left unchecked ultimately kill the host. This can take years.

While the adult worms are living in the heart, they do what all creatures are designed to do: They mate. The result of this are offspring called microfilaria, tiny wormlike organisms that circulate in the bloodstream. From there, they are picked up by biting mosquitoes. Inside the mosquito, they develop further and then are injected into the next victim down the road, starting the whole process again.

Heartworm disease is most prevalent in areas where there are many mosquitoes, including the East, Midwest and South. There are areas of California that have a higher incidence of heartworm disease due to habitats that favor mosquitoes. Modesto and the surrounding areas are not among them, but we are seeing more heartworm disease than in the past because of the influx of dogs from outside the area that have the disease.

The feeding habits of local mosquitoes spread the process. Still, the incidence of heartworm disease for dogs here is low, and for cats even lower.

Heartworm disease is preventable in cats and dogs. Risks and benefits must be considered when weighing whether to use a product for heartworm prevention. It is also important to note that in dogs, many heartworm medications also prevent other intestinal parasites as well.

I recommend their use in my dog patients. Cats, on the other hand, may be at a far less risk of contracting the disease, and using the heartworm-specific medicine for them is something you should discuss with your veterinarian. Factors such as mosquito exposure, disease incidence and cost may all play a role in this decision.

Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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