If you have a dog, you’ve probably heard about heartworm. Most dog owners are familiar with this threat to their dog’s health, and many know that heartworm prevention is important for dogs. But what about cats?
Heartworm in cats is a growing concern in the veterinary community, but many cat owners don’t know that heartworm is a real threat to their cat’s life. In fact, studies show that less than 5% of cat owners use heartworm prevention in comparison to 50% of dog owners.
With that in mind, Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital thought it was time to have a heart-to-heart chat about heartworm in cats.
What is Heartworm?
Heartworm disease is spread via mosquitoes. Once bitten by an infected mosquito, baby heartworms (microfilariae) develop in your pet’s bloodstream. From there, they migrate to the heart and pulmonary arteries, where they develop into foot-long adult heartworms that are capable of reproduction.
Is Heartworm in Cats on the Rise?
Despite the fact that heartworm disease is entirely preventable, many cats are diagnosed with the disease each year. A recent study of shelter cats confirmed that 26% were infected at some point in their lives, and 10% of the cats tested had adult heartworms.
The American Heartworm Society estimates that over 1 million dogs in the U.S. have heartworm disease. With the number of potential hosts on the rise and the increasing number of mosquitoes that can carry the disease, more and more cats are being infected, as well.
Indoor cats aren’t safe either. As many of us know, mosquitoes are great at getting inside our homes.
Cats aren’t natural hosts for heartworm, and as a result, many heartworms die during development. Because of this, they don’t live long enough to produce microfilariae. As a result, diagnosing heartworm in cats is more complicated. However, due to their anatomy and immune system, the presence of even a few worms can cause significant damage to a cat’s lungs.
Signs and Treatment
Because of lung damage, most symptoms of heartworm in cats revolve around respiratory issues, such as wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Most of these signs are also indicative of other feline respiratory diseases, such as feline asthma. Sometimes, the only sign of heartworm infection in a cat is a respiratory emergency and sudden death.
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive or approved treatment for heartworm in cats. Monitoring for signs of respiratory disease and treating associated problems are the most common recommendations.
The removal of adult heartworms is also possible with specialty surgery; however, this approach is expensive and risky, and therefore, not often recommended.
Prevention of Heartworm in Cats
Safe, easy, and effective heartworm prevention is available for cats. We recommend a year-round monthly preventive. Please talk to us about the best option for your cat.