Objective: To determine the prevalence and severity of pulmonary arterial lesions in cats seropositive for heartworms (Dirofilaria immitis) but lacking adult heartworms in the heart and lungs during necropsy.
Animals: 630 adult cats from an animal control shelter in Florida.
Procedure: Cats were tested for adult heartworms in the heart and pulmonary arteries and antibody against heartworms in the serum. Histologic examination was conducted on the right caudal lung lobe of 24 heartworm- and antibody-positive cats; 24 heartworm-negative and antibody-positive cats; and 24 heartworm-, antibody-, and antigen-negative cats. Wall areas of 10 small to medium-sized pulmonary arteries of each cat were measured and expressed as a proportion of total cross-sectional area.
Results: Heartworm infection or seropositive status was significantly and strongly associated with seventy of medial hypertrophy of pulmonary arterial walls. Heartworm- and antibody-positive cats and heartworm-negative and antibody-positive cats had a significant increase in wall thickness, compared with wall thickness for heartworm- and antibody-negative cats. Heartworm- and antibody-positive cats had the most severe hypertrophy. The proportion with occlusive medial hypertrophy was significantly higher in heartworm- and antibody-positive cats (19/24 [79%]) and heartworm-negative and antibody-positive cats (12/24 [50%]), compared with heartworm- and antibody-negative cats (3/24 [13%]).
Conclusions and clinical relevance: Cats with serologic evidence of exposure to heartworms, including those without adult heartworms in the lungs and heart, have a greater prevalence of pulmonary arterial lesions than heartworm-negative cats without serologic evidence of exposure. Additional studies are needed to define the pathogenesis, specificity, and clinical importance of these lesions.