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Heartworm infection in cats: 50 cases (1985–1997)

Clarke E. Atkins DVM, DACVIM1, Teresa C. DeFrancesco DVM, DACVIM2, Julie R. Coats RVMT3, Jennifer A. Sidley DVM4, and Bruce W. Keene DVM, MS, DACVIM5
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  • 1 Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27606.
  • | 2 Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27606.
  • | 3 Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27606.
  • | 4 Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27606.
  • | 5 Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27606.

Abstract

Objective—To characterize risk factors, clinical findings, usefulness of diagnostic tests, and prognosis in cats with naturally occurring heartworm infection (HWI).

Design—Retrospective study.

Animals—50 cats with Dirofilaria immitis infection.

Procedure—Medical records, thoracic radiographs, and echocardiograms were reviewed and findings compared with appropriate reference populations.

Results—Findings suggested that male cats were not predisposed to HWI, domestic shorthair cats were at increased risk, and indoor housing was only partially protective. Fewer cases of HWI were identified in the final quarter of the year, compared with other periods, and prevalence is not apparently increasing. Signs of respiratory tract disease were most common, followed by vomiting. Infection was diagnosed incidentally in > 25% of cats; conversely, 10% of infected cats died suddenly without other clinical signs. Serologic tests were most useful for diagnosis, followed by radiography and echocardiography. Eosinophilia supported the diagnosis. Overall median survival time was 1.5 years but exceeded 4 years in cats surviving beyond the day of diagnosis.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Sex does not appear to be a risk factor for HWI in cats, and indoor housing provides only incomplete protection. Signs of respiratory tract disease (dyspnea and cough) are the strongest indicators of HWI in cats, and some radiographic evidence of infection is detected in most cases. Antibody screening for HWI in cats is efficacious, and antigen testing and echocardiography are most useful for making a definitive antemortem diagnosis. (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;217: 355–358)