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What does "exposure to heartworms" mean?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
The vet tested Cindy to "rule out" heartworm because of an abnormality she found in her bloodwork. They did an antigen test and a titer test (I hope I got those right). She said the antigen test was negative, but it only detects female hearworms. She said the titer test indicated that Cindy had been exposed to heartworms. We don't know Cindy's history because we got her from the shelter last December.

We are taking her for chest x-rays on Tuesday (the earliest we can do it and have the vet there to interpret the test results for us). Meanwhile, I'm freaking out that my baby may heave heartworm, and all I can read about it are bad things. The vet did say that her heart sounded good when she listened to it, and Cindy is showing no symptoms of anything except a little colitis.

I didn't talk to the vet myself (my husband did), and he neglected to ask what exposure to heartworms really means. He said the vet didn't think it was a problem, and that she told him most cardiologists would tell us to not worry about it and just keep her on heartguard. Naturally, we opted to have the xrays, but Tuesday is a long way off, and I'm seriously scared.
post #2 of 8
The antibody test basically only tells us if the cat had been exposed to heartworms. "Exposed" means that her body has antibodies being produced to fight off any heartworm infection, however, it doesn't necessarily mean that she is positive for heartworm disease.

Heartworm disease can be tricky for veterinarians to diagnose, as there is no specific test like there is in dogs, yet.

Here's a quick summary of the tests:

HW Antigen - (Like you had already found out) it will only test positive if the cat is infected with a mature female heartworm. Hearworm burden in cats is only 1-4 worms though, so if there are 2 male heartworms, this test would come back negative. However, if it were to be positive, then the cat is definitely positive.

HW Antibody - Tests for antibodies which the body produces to fight off heartworm microfilaria (baby heartworms). So, if the test is positive, that only means that at some point in the cat's life the body was exposed to heartworms, but that doesn't mean the cat has a current hw infection. Heartworms don't survive in cats as well as dogs because usually the cat's immune system can fight off the HW infection. So, if the test is negative, then it's a definite negative.

Hope this helps you some.
post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 
Thank you so much for your response. Yes, it definitely does help, I'm feeling much calmer about the whole process now.
post #4 of 8
Your welcome!
post #5 of 8
Hi, I wanted to share this with you as Heartworms are so scary.
I never even realized heartworms infected cats until recently!
Often times they go completely undiagnosed. A friends kitty was struck and it was terribly sad. Now with spring in the air it is increasingly important. They seriously effect Not just the heart but other organs too.
From the site
Signs Associated with HARD: Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease are as follows:
anorexia, blindness, collapse, convulsions,coughing,diarrhea
difficulty breathing, fainting, lethargy, rapid heart rate,
sudden death, vomiting,weight loss
Anyone concerned can learn a lot at http://www.catwellness.org/
As it says;
Heartworm infection takes place when a mosquito carrying microscopic-size heartworm larvae bites a cat. The larvae enter through the bite wound where they develop in the tissues. The immature worms then enter a blood vessel and are carried to the arteries in the lung where they cause an inflammatory reaction. Most worms die at this stage, causing even more inflammation. The worms that progress to the adult stage may live undetected for a couple of years. But, when the adult worms die, the inflammation can be severe enough to cause death. The respiratory signs associated with these reactions are called Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD).

Another great resource for everyone who has a pet including professionals in the field of veterinary medicine is http://www.goodnewsforpets.com There is even a vet on hand to answer questions.

I hope someone truly benefits from my contribution! Sorry for such a long post but this is so important to our furballs!!
post #6 of 8
This is so scary. I have a friend whos' cat actually has heartworm (he's doing fine) but I cant imagine wondering every day if something terrible is going to happen.

I am thankful I dont live in a place where there are tons of mosquitos and Zoey & Saki are strictly indoors. I cant do much about my 2 ferals but just hope our mosquitos dont carry heartworm. My vet doesnt even recommend medication or (vaccine?) as it is not common where I live.

Good vibes to you and your baby
post #7 of 8
I have a kitty that survived heartworm, but her buddy kitty died from a pulmonary embolism due to them. It was the most horrible thing.

I used to live in Minnesota, and the vet told me then, (9 years ago) cats didn't get heartworm. I asked specifically because heartworms were 100% endemic for dogs there. Well, now they know differently. My kitties were indoor only kitties then, but mosquitos used to get in the house all the time.

I have no good suggestions for you, I was told there was nothing to do, either they would survive the worm die off or they wouldn't. I also was given heartgaurd to give to them. It is a diagnosis that is frightening and depressing!

I'm sending lots of hugs and good vibes that even if Cindy is positive she will live a long happy life like my Zoe girl, who is pushing 12 now.
post #8 of 8
You can buy the medicine to prevent heartworms called Heartgard online. You just need a vet to prescribe it before they will let you purchase it.

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