There are so many things that we cannot protect our precious pets from, but when it comes to parasites such as heartworms in cats, we often have a real chance at preventing trouble. Most dog owners know about heartworms, but owners with feline family members aren’t always as knowledgeable.

Heartworm disease in cats is a real issue, and this parasite has worse implications for our kitty companions. True Care Veterinary Hospital thinks it is important for our clients to understand the risks and implications of heartworms in cats.

Understanding the Heartworm

The heartworms that infect dogs are the same as those that infect cats. These nasty little parasitic worms carry the scientific name Dirofilaria immitis and are transmitted by the mosquito. When an infected animal is bitten, the mosquito carries tiny baby heartworms, called microfilaria, in its digestive system until it bites another animal, infecting that victim with the parasite.

Once an animal is injected with microfilariae, these tiny heartworms enter the bloodstream and settle in the heart and large blood vessels in the lungs where they become adult worms. Over time, these large worms (up to six inches in length) can result in severe problems, including lung disease and heart failure.

In most cases, symptoms are not present in the early stages of the disease. Over time, symptoms, some more serious than others, can emerge, such as:

  • Coughing
  • Heavy breathing
  • Decreased activity
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Sudden death

Bad News

Heartworms are never good news, no matter the species they infect. Dogs tend to tolerate a heartworm infection better than their feline counterparts, though.

Cats are not a natural host for the heartworm, which makes the behavior of the parasite in the feline body somewhat unpredictable. Cats tend to have fewer heartworms at any given time, making it difficult to detect an infection. Their bodies also do not tolerate the size of the worm and may mount an aggressive immune response, resulting in dangerous side effects.

Sadly, the most common way heartworms are found in our cat patients are post-mortem, after a sudden and unexplained death.

It is also unfortunate that even if we do detect heartworms in cats prior to death, we do not have a safe way to treat the disease. The medication we use to treat this parasite in dogs is not handled well by the feline body.

Preventing Heartworms in Cats

Never fear, though, if you are a concerned cat owner. There is a light at the end of this tunnel. While we do not have a safe, effective option for treating heartworms in our cat patients, we have some very effective options to prevent infection from the get-go. Parasite prevention is the foundation of a good wellness plan for all pets, and even more so when it comes to heartworm disease.

Even indoor cats should be on a heartworm preventative, as it has been shown that up to one-third of infected cats are strictly indoors. Mosquitoes make it into our homes whether we like it or not.

Periodic heartworm testing for cats is also prudent. While we can’t treat the heartworms, there are some health recommendations that may help your cat to live a longer life, even if infected.

We are happy to help you select a safe, effective heartworm prevention option for your cat. Prevention is the best cure in this situation, and we want to be sure that all of our feline patients are protected.