Facts About Heartworm Disease In Cats

What Causes Heartworm Disease In Cats?

Heartworm disease is also found in cats, but is not rampant as in Dogs. It's caused by bite of an infected mosquito. The disease is bit different in Cats as compared to Dogs, the worms dont live as long in Cats as they do in Dogs. Aslo the worm burden ( no of worms ) in Cats can be in single digit as compared to Dogs, but still a couple of worms are enough to prove deadly for a Cat as it's body is relatively smaller compared to Dogs.

It is harder to detect the infections in cats than in dogs.  Generally two types of blood tests in combination is used to check a cat for heartworms.  A veterinarian uses the results of both blood tests, along with the cat’s symptoms and the results of other tests such as x-rays and an ultrasound of the heart, to determine if a cat has the disease.

Symptoms Of Heartworm Disease In Cats

Symptoms for heartworms disease is not very evident in Cats. Some cats are able to spontaneously rid themselves of heartworms without having any symptoms. However, some infected cats die suddenly from heartworm disease without ever showing signs of being sick. Cats with heartworm disease may have very nonspecific symptoms that mimic many other cat diseases. These nonspecific symptoms include vomiting, decreased activity and appetite, and weight loss. Cats with heartworm disease rarely show signs of heart failure.

In cats that show symptoms of heartworm disease, respiratory signs are the most obvious due to the lung damage caused by the heartworms.  

The immature heartworms arrive in the heart and lung arteries about 3 to 4 months after a cat is bitten by an infected mosquito.  Many of these immature heartworms die, causing a strong inflammatory response in the cat’s lungs.  This response is called heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD) because respiratory signs, such as trouble breathing, increased respiratory rate, and cough, are the most obvious. 

When the adult heartworms die, they release toxins into the cat’s bloodstream which cause lung damage, leading to respiratory problems or sudden death.  Even the death of one worm can be fatal for a cat.

There is no FDA-approved drug to treat heartworm disease in cats, although symptoms may be managed with medications.  Surgical removal of adult heartworms may be a treatment option if the heartworms can be seen by ultrasound.  But surgery is risky, and if the heartworms are not removed intact, there can be potentially serious complications, such as shock and death. 

Prevention is Better than cure.

Several products are FDA-approved to prevent heartworms in cats. There are both topical and oral products for cats, and all are given monthly and require a veterinarian’s prescription. Some heartworm preventives contain other ingredients that are effective against certain intestinal worms (such as roundworms and hookworms) and other parasites (such as fleas, ticks, and ear mites).

Again, year-round prevention is best!  Talk to your cat’s veterinarian to decide which preventive is best for your cat.

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