Real Life Stories: Heart Worms and Pumpkin

Apr 7, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Tips & Advice

This is the story of my wonderful cat, Pumpkin and how I lost him- a happy, healthy cat, at such a young age. I know now that I should have tried harder to prevent the disease that ultimately took him. As a veterinarian, it especially pains me to know that he died of a preventable disease. Unfortunately, this happens to cats every year. My hope is that, by sharing our sad story, others can avoid the same fate.

Pumpkin came to us through our hospital’s adoption program. He was a healthy little kitten in need of a home. Although we aren’t supposed to have favorites, he was mine. He grew to a small, fluffy orange tiger with a sweet, outgoing and gentle nature. His one challenge was that he refused to eat the monthly chewable heartworm preventive (Heartgard). At the time, topical preventives were not available, and there was still much we didn’t know about feline heartworm disease. Although my other cat would gladly eat the whole box if I let him, I could not get Pumpkin to take the medication easily, so I was lax with forcing him to take it.

One day, when Pumpkin was four years old I came home from a quick run to the store to find him lying on the floor, taking his last breath. I ran to him and tried to resuscitate him, but it was too late -he was already gone. How could this be?! He was fine a half hour ago. He was young and healthy and was in the house with no sign of trauma. He was still so cute and sweet, but gone. In shock, we sadly said our goodbyes.

I brought him to the University of Connecticut to be examined. I had to know what had happened and if my other cat was in danger. After an extensive examination all they found was one adult heartworm- small, but enough to kill him. That was it.

Feline Heartworm disease is much different from heartworm disease in dogs. It is often difficult to detect, almost impossible to safely treat, and disease symptoms vary greatly. While some cats infected with heartworm may have frequent coughing or vomiting, one of the more common signs is sudden death. Heartworm has been diagnosed in all 50 states and indoor cats are not immune to the disease. In one study, almost one third of cats with heartworm disease were indoor only cats. The good news is that it is almost 100% preventable with safe monthly medication.

As pet owners, we decide what care our pets get: what risks we are comfortable with and what dangers are unacceptable and keep us up at night. As a feline veterinarian, my job is to make sure each of you know what dangers your cats face and how to avoid these. Luckily, when it comes to preventing Heartworm disease, we now have several options, including safe and effective topical medication for finicky cats like Pumpkin. I urge all cat owners to make Heartworm disease an unacceptable risk. Losing a beloved pet is difficult. Knowing the death was preventable is tragic.

More information can be found at http://www.knowheartworms.org and http://www.heartwormsociety.org

Dr Diana Lafer

Dr. Diana Lafer founded Cats Limited in 1995. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Wesleyan University and her veterinary degree from Cornell University. Dr. Lafer has a cat (Sparky), and a dog (Lucy). She enjoys spending time with her daughters, horseback riding, skiing, hiking, participating in triathlons, and volunteering for the Lakeville Pony Club.

Cats Limited Hospital
1260 New Britain Avenue
West Hartford, CT 06110

Phone: (860) 561-9885
Email: cats@catslimited.com

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