Heartworm Disease in Cats 

Many dog owners know that their pets are vulnerable to heartworm disease. However, cats are also susceptible to this potentially fatal infection. While infected canines may have two dozen or more worms in their systems, the numbers are lower for cats. However, even one or two worms will cause issues for felines. While heartworm disease in cats is serious, there are ways to prevent an infection in your pet. Your vet can assess your cat and prescribe medication that can keep heartworms at bay.  

How Do Cats Get Infected with Heartworms? 

Cats are infected when mosquitoes carrying the parasitic worm Dirofilaria immitis bite them. The larvae spread throughout the body. The infection begins as the larvae develop in the animal’s subcutaneous tissues and spread until it reaches the heart. While referred to as heartworm, the parasites also burrow into the lungs and arteries.  

Cats are less likely to develop heartworms than dogs, with felines in the same geographic location becoming infected at a rate of 20 percent or less compared to canines. Unlike dogs, heartworm larvae in cats seldom mature into adult worms.  

While heartworm infection is more common in certain areas, such as the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, it has been identified in every state. If you live in an area with a high mosquito population, the odds of your cat being exposed to heartworms rise considerably.  

Signs of Heartworm Disease in Cats 

Many affected cats have no symptoms until they succumb. However, many cats display subtle symptoms. The earlier heartworm disease is discovered and treated, the more likely your cat will enjoy a good outcome. Pay close attention to your cat and take them to the vet if they experience any of the following: 

  • Appetite loss  
  • Coughing 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Periodic vomiting 
  • Weight loss  

These symptoms may indicate various issues, but your vet can detect the presence of heartworm proteins via a simple blood test. If the test is positive, more diagnostic tests are ordered, which can reveal the extent of the infection. For example, an X-ray of your cat’s heart can detect whether the pulmonary arteries are enlarged.  

Treating Heartworm Disease in Cats 

While it is possible to eradicate heartworms in dogs by using Immiticide® or melarsomine, this drug is toxic to cats. A better approach is treating the cat with corticosteroids to reduce lung inflammation. Heartworms in dogs can live for five to seven years, but they live in cats for two to three years. Treatment, including diuretics to remove fluid in the lungs, focuses on the hope that the cat may outlive the worms. Regular testing, at least every six months, reveals whether the treatment is working.  

There is some good news about cats and heartworm infection. Dogs are good hosts, as far as heartworm larvae are concerned. Cats are not, and there is the possibility that an infection may resolve itself. Such cats still require monitoring after diagnosis because heartworms may have already caused lung damage.  

Preventing Heartworm Disease in Cats  

Keeping your cat indoors is one way of lowering the risk. However, it is not a fail-safe method. Because mosquitoes transmit the parasite and can get into a house and bite your cat, even indoor felines are susceptible. Start them on treatment when the vet deems them heartworm-free. Kittens can receive preventive treatment from the age of 8 weeks.  

Your vet can prescribe monthly heartworm preventives. If your cat isn’t fond of pills, spot-on medication is an option. There is also an injectable form of heartworm medication administered every six months. 

To prove effective, cats must receive heartworm preventives on a year-round, monthly basis, or twice annually via the injectable. Failure to keep the cat on a strict schedule can mean that heartworm larvae grow to maturity, which takes about six weeks.  

Contact TriStar Vet for Innovative Products 

The animal care experts at TriStar Vet design and develop innovative veterinary treatment equipment, including cat condos, which are necessary if they are suspected of having heartworm disease. Our products are high quality, ergonomic, ultra-durable and affordable. Contact us today to learn more.