Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mommy's Big Scare

Mommy had this reeeeally REALLY bad scare a few days ago, an' so we told her she could borrow our blog.
Yeah! I did it cuz I's so nice. Faraday did it cuz Allie was gonna whup his behind if he didn't let her (she's GINORMOUS, you know! *wide eyed look*).
BRATS! Don't make me come over there and pink-slap you! You won't LIKE it if I chip a nail ... *warning look* Besides, I've been delicate lately, so BE NICE!!!

Uh, thanks guys. I think. Living with three cats that have such strong personalities (two, actually-Maxie's so mellow, he'd get along with anyone!) is a never ending source of entertainment for Marty and me. They're our babies, which is why last Friday's news was such a shock to us.

Here's what happened:


I've been traveling a lot lately - in fact I've been in 9 states in just over 6 weeks. My most recent trip overlapped with Marty's travels so we hired a cat sitter to come in and care for our fur-kids. I know any disruption in routine has the potential to affect these guys, so when we returned and noticed Allie coughing we decided to give it a day or two and observe. Was it just a bad hairball? Maybe an upper respiratory infection (URI)? 

A few days passed and she was still coughing, so Friday we decided I should take her in for an exam.
What happened sent me into the weekend reeling in shock, combing the internet for answers.
Allie didn't have a URI, our vet didn't think.

Her lungs sounded clear and she wasn't running a fever. No passageway obstruction, he said. But she had lost weight. Did we have her on a diet? No-o-o-ooo ....

Then he dropped the bombshell on me: "I want to test her for heartworms."

 My little gray Waif? My husband's very own Daddy's Girl? Allie of the pink mani/pedi and cute girlie manners, has heartworms?

Dogs have heartworms, not cats! Parvo, distemper, heartworms - these are canine diseases. Feline leukemia, FIP, panleukopenia - now those are the things you worry about in cats, not heartworms. Right?


Though cats are not natural hosts, they can be infected, and the number has increased to the point that our family vet has seen more heartworm disease in cats in the past year than he has in dogs. Wow.

Okay, so we do the blood test, then we treat her. Sorry, no go, he said. There is no US-approved heartworm treatment for cats.

Studies indicate that the same form of treatment used in dogs would cause about a 70% fatality in cats. You do what you can to alleviate the symptoms and then you wait it out until the worm dies - in 2 or 3 years.

I left the clinic feeling like an absolutely horrible parent. This was preventable but no one had ever told me about it, so Allie had never been given an easily applied, monthly heartworm preventive.

We drove home, me frantically dialing my husband to tell him the (potentially) bad news, and the minute I hit the door, I started googling.
My first thoughts were, 'but...she's an indoor cat!" Well, okay, mostly indoor. She's only outside for limited periods under our strict supervision. Turns out it didn't matter.

As many indoor cats have been diagnosed as outdoor cats. When I mentioned this to a vet tech at the shelter where I volunteer, she just shook her head and said, "It only takes one mosquito. And how often do you see one of those in your house over the summer?"

Oh, and it wouldn't have mattered if I'd learned about this a month or two ago and started her on the preventive. The average time it takes, from when the mosquito infects the cat to when the parasites settle into the blood vessels of the lungs and start causing distress is about eight months.

So if Allie has heartworms, she would have been infected by a mosquito bite last October.
All that time, those nasty little buggers are setting up shop in your precious baby's lungs. And they're growing. 

The American Heartworm Society states that there are two times when an infected cat is most at risk: when the worms begin to mature and at their death. At these times, they can cause acute inflammation and significant lung damage. 

Our vet told us that it can be very hard to diagnose heartworms in a cat (also called HARD, or
Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease).

With a cat, there has to be a body of evidence and diagnosis can be tricky. The initial phase is often misdiagnosed as asthma or allergic bronchitis, as symptoms mainly include coughing, asthma-like wheezing, lethargy and weight loss.

Check, check, and check. No wonder he wanted to test Allie - she had all the symptoms.

Some infected cats have such severe pulmonary issues that they require oxygen therapy and asthma medications like inhalers (the only source of humor that weekend came from envisioning me holding an inhaler up to Allie's mouth and saying, "okay, now, BREATHE!" Um, not so much....).

Oh, and there's this other little thing.... When the worms die, they shed proteins that can shock your kitty's system into heart failure.

In all, a very scary disease - which Allie fortunately did not have.

We heaved huge sighs of relief when the antibody test came back negative on Monday and shortly after, Allie's coughs eased and she was her perky self again.

We got lucky. Allie only had a mild URI. 

But I slapped a tube of Revolution heartworm medicine on the backs of all three kitties' necks so fast they didn't know what hit them. I'd been scared enough.

(There are currently four heartworm preventive products available in the US: two oral and two topical. All require a prescription from your vet but can be purchased from an online pet pharmacy at a discount. WARNING: don't ever give your cat any heartworm product meant for dogs, as this can kill a cat! )


  1. So sorry to hear about the heartworm. I hope she will be healthy in no time. There are plenty of mosquitos here too, but giving monthly medications is really bad for a cat's health too, so I'm not sure what to do.

  2. Hi! we are new to your blog. Our names are Jake and Elwood and our blog site is called The Royal Ruskies, (cause we are half Russian Blue) Wow we just read your Mommy's story and that must have been so scary!!!!! We are indoor cats too and Mommy does not like to put any chemicals on us but after reading your story we are going to have a chat with her! She might want to rethink that because we live in Florida! Maybe Mommy and her friends can find something natural that will work? If they do we will let you know! We hope you have a wonderful 4th of July!!! Check out our blog if you get a chance! We love making new friends!!

  3. oMC - that was too close for comfort. Now M is thinking she should take me to the vet to have me checked. I go outsice now and then too under strict supervision. But the oomans do not do misquoeto patrol, so I could have easily been infected alread. So glad you wrote this post.

  4. Glad to hear it was only a scare. Give everyone a little kiss and thank them for sharing their blog with you :)

  5. FaRADaY: *paw wave* HI Ruskies! Maxwell: Yeah, HIYA! Allie: *giggle* I'm crashing their blog to say hi too! *wiggles pink toenails*

  6. Mario, it sure skeered Mommy - and she been slapping at mosquitos all week and breathing a sigh of relief that we're now 'covered'.

    Avalon, we totally understand the whole chemical thingy. Mommy is big on organic stuff and avoiding chemicals, but this skeered her enough that she decided the alternative was too horrible to contemplate.

    Maybe there is a naturopathic mosquito repellant that would work for you? Keep us updated on what you find! Also, Mommy's only gonna put that stuff on us during the mosquito months....

  7. Excellent post... I did not know cats get heartworms either.
    Thanks so much for pointing it out to us... KC has posted this on The Cat Blogosphere.
    Love & Purrs,
    Mom ML & KC

  8. We are so happy Allie doesn't have heartworm. It's a scary disease and not many know that cats can get it too! Thanks for all the good info!!

  9. How lucky you are! Mom had a kitty who was diagnosed years ago with heartworm, when it was relatively unknown about in cats. They did an ultrasound of her heart and saw at least five worms on Cerise's heart. Very scary for Mom! The vet called Cerise their Miracle Kitty as she was the first patient that had at the time that survived it.

  10. Thanks for sharing this. I just found out about this from a breeder where I am getting new kittens. She is a vet tech and told me that I definitely needed to treat cats.

    Mom Paula

  11. Wow, thank goodness the tests came back negative, you must be so relieved! That heartworm is scary stuff. Glad Allie is feeling better. Nice to meet you all, this is our first visit to your blog.

  12. Thanks for the informative post! Mom will be talking to my V-E-T about the preventative that I use. (I HATE that stuff, by the way. ICK!)

  13. FaRADaY: Oh my CAT! Laila & Minchie, SO happy that Cerise is your Miracle Kitty and made it through!!

    Maxwell: Miz ML, thank you so much for asking KC to cross-pot this - Momma thinks it's important!

    Allie: *wiggles pink toenails at Praline* HI!!! Nice to meet you!! You too, Clooney!! *giggle*

    Mom: Hi Sebastian - tell mom to give you cuddles from me, 'k? (the boyz hate it too, but they hate Revolution less than Advantage - it's not so greasy!)

  14. Maxwell: *looks reproachfully at momma* MOM! You misspelled POST!
    FaRADaY: *sigh* good help is SOOOO hard to find these days....

  15. That iz rilly skardy, I iz so happy Allie iz okai. We did nawt know abowt indoor kittehs getting this icky werms so thanks you vurry muches for sharing this informayshunz.

  16. Thanks for the great info. We ae glad it was only a URI that Allie had.

  17. Oh my goodness what a scare! I'm so glad that everything turned out okay. Your furbabies are really growing! And so dang cute!

  18. You created a great post with excellent information, i learn a lot of stuff from this article.

    Pet sitting Allen


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