Photo of @aspen_thebengal on Instagram
Heartworm is typically considered to be dog disease, but we cats can contract it too. It’s a disease that is much more difficult to assess in us felines. Signs of heartworm can either be very subtle or very dramatic, there’s no in-between.
Cats affected by heartworm may have trouble walking, experience seizures and fainting, or suffer fluid accumulation in the chest. Sometimes, the first sign may even be sudden collapse or death.
Since there are no approved treatments for heartworm in cats, the only way to fight against the disease is through prevention. There are several monthly preventatives available on the market that your veterinarian can prescribe for your cat. It’s also important to maintain regular checkups to make sure they’re protected and healthy as can be.
What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a serious and sometimes, even life-threatening, disease caused by foot-long worms that once enters the body, will live in the heart, lungs and other associated blood vessels of affected animals. Damage to these organs will cause heart failure, severe lung disease, and compromised organ function.
Carriers of the disease include other mammals such as foxes, coyotes, and wolves, which live in close proximity to many urban areas.
What to watch out for:
- Mild to severe coughing
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss despite regular eating habits
- Difficulty breathing (gasping for air)
How is Heartworm transmitted?
Mosquitoes play an important role in the life cycle of the heartworm. Adult female heartworms living in infected mammals such as dogs, foxes or coyotes, will produce baby worms that will circulate in their bloodstream.
When a mosquito bites and takes blood from these infected animals, it also picks up these baby worms, which eventually develop into infective larvae. Then, when the infected mosquito bites another mammal, the larvae are deposited onto the surface of the animal’s skin and enters its new host through the bite wound left by the mosquito.
Once these larvae mature into worms, they can survive for 2-3 years inside a cat. That means the number of worms can easily increase for every mosquito season that passes.
How do I prevent my cat from getting heartworm?
Since the heartworm medications used for dogs can’t be used for cats, the only way to prevent them from getting heartworms is through preventative measures.
You can use monthly preventatives and schedule regular heartworm exams for your cat to ensure that they’re protected from the disease all year round.
Keeping your cat indoors can also help, but it is not fool proof, make sure to vaccinate your cat for heartworm.
Here are some monthly preventatives you can use (all of these preventative medications require a prescription from a veterinarian):
Revolution (Selamectin) is a safe and effective monthly topical medication you can use to protect your cat from not only heartworms, but also fleas and ear mites. It can also be used to treat or prevent hookworm and roundworm infestation.
Heartgard Chewables are flavored, oral treatment for cats to be given once a month for the prevention of heartworm and removal of hookworms.