An Underappreciated Danger: Heartworms in Cats
Most dog owners in Texas are educated about heartworm disease. It’s not just about dogs, though – cats are at risk for heartworms, too!
While we don’t hear much about heartworm disease in our feline friends, it is perhaps an even scarier diagnosis for them. Read on to learn why Hallsville Veterinary Hospital wants you to know about heartworms in cats.
The Hated Heartworm
Heartworm disease is a very serious disease caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis. This nasty little worm is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, it picks up the baby worms (called microfilaria) in its digestive tract. In 10-14 days, these baby worms become infective, and when the mosquito bites another animal, it injects these larvae into a new host.
Once infected, the baby worms grow into adult worms. As adults, heartworms live inside the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of the infected animal. This can cause severe lung disease and, eventually, heart failure. There are few symptoms in the early stages of the infection. As the heartworm infection progresses, we might see:
- Exercise intolerance
- Breathing difficulty
- Weight loss
- Decreased appetite
We do have several safe, FDA approved options to prevent heartworm infection in both dogs and cats. Once an adult infestation is established, however, things aren’t so simple.
Why Heartworms in Cats are Bad News
As nasty as heartworm disease is in dogs, it is even worse in cats. There are a few reasons for this:
- The smaller number of worms in the typical cat infected with heartworms makes diagnosis much harder
- Cats often show vague or no symptoms of disease except sudden death
- There is currently no safe treatment for adult heartworms in the cat
Because of the serious nature of a heartworm infection in the feline species, a good preventative program is essential. Thankfully, preventing heartworms is very safe and easy.
Even indoor cats need heartworm prevention! As most of us who have lived in Texas for more than 11 minutes know quite well, mosquitoes don’t always stay outdoors. In fact, about 1/3 of heartworm infected cats live strictly indoors.
We recommend that all adult cats be tested for heartworms periodically. While no treatment currently exists to rid a cat of heartworms, good veterinary care and extra precautions can help affected animals. This is provided through our cat wellness package. We are also happy to discuss with you what heartworm preventative option is right for your cat, and conveniently get it for you from our onsite pet pharmacy.
Please let us know if you need recommendations for protecting your cat. In the case of heartworms in cats, defense is definitely the best offense.