Important Info for Cat Owners: Did You Know Felines Can Get Heartworms? Regrettably, it’s True!

Similar to canines, cats can get heartworms after being bitten by an infected mosquito — although they are not nearly as susceptible to infection as dogs. According to the FDA, a cat is not a natural host of heartworms because the worms do not thrive as well inside of their bodies, but both indoor and outdoor cats are at risk for heartworm disease.

This is news many feline lovers will find surprising, as we so often associate the debilitating illness with dogs. Regardless, if left untreated, heartworm disease will progress to damage the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys of infected animals and eventually lead to death.

outdoor cat
Photo: Pixabay/Katzenfee50

American Heartworm Society

Established in 1974, the American Heartworm Society also notes on its website that the disease in cats is very different from heartworm disease in dogs. They go on to explain:

“The cat is an atypical host for heartworms, and most worms in cats do not survive to the adult stage. Cats with adult heartworms typically have just one to three worms, and many cats affected by heartworms have no adult worms.

“While this means heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats, it’s important to understand that even immature worms cause real damage in the form of a condition known as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD).

“Moreover, the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used in cats, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease.”

Photo: Pixabay/ZoranD

Heartworm Disease in Cats

And therein lies the rub: there is no effective treatment or magic pill to save them once they have it. So, what does one do to protect them? Well, with summer quickly approaching the best thing you can do for your pets is to discuss the situation with your veterinarian. There are medications available for them that can be taken as a once-a-month chewable, a once-a-month topical, and a twice-a-year injection.

Photo: Pixabay/mirkosajkov

Signs of Heartworm Disease in Cats

Once they have it, signs of heartworm disease in cats or HARD can be very subtle or very dramatic. Symptoms may include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss. Occasionally an affected cat may have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid accumulation in the abdomen.

Unfortunately, the first sign in some cases is sudden collapse of the cat — or sudden death. Can you imagine how devastated you’d be if that happened?

heartworm disease in cats
Photo: Pixabay/mariya_m

For more information on risk factors, what you need to know about testing — including when/if they should be tested — and what happens next if they test positive, visit the American Heartworm Society at the link listed above. Your pet’s life could depend on it.

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