How to Protect Your Cat from Heartworms

Did you know that this month is Heartworm Awareness Month? If you already did, I wish I had a cookie to give you as a reward! If not, read on to learn more about what heartworms are, how animals become infected, and what you can do to protect your cat.

Yes—the cat! When most people think of heartworms, the pet that first comes to mind are dogs. While dogs do, in fact, have higher rates of infection, cats are not immune. In fact, one might argue that cats may be even more at risk, because many fur parents don’t think of this as a kitty issue.

Indoor cats may be in even greater danger as pet owners often believe staying inside magically protects us kitties from most parasites and diseases. This is partially true, but certainly not when it comes to mosquito-borne illnesses.

Because of this, we’re starting out our Heartworm Awareness Month articles with kitties. But, not to worry. How could we ever forget the doggos? Next week, I’ll be back with everything you need to know about heartworms and your dog. Now, let’s get started!


What Is Heartworm Disease?

The American Heartworm Society describes heartworms as foot-long worms that make a home in the lungs, heart and the associated blood vessels of infected animals. Naturally, when parasites invade organs that are so essential to life, the complications that may develop are life-threatening. Some common ones are heart failure and lung disease. Here are some of the many animals that can be infected:

  • Coyotes
  • Wolves
  • Foxes
  • Dogs
  • Cats


What are the Symptoms of a Heartworm Infection?

Cats often display no symptoms of heartworm disease, so regular testing is advised. However, when symptoms do appear, they can be serious. Here are just a few of them:

  • Blindness
  • Convulsions
  • Sudden death
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight loss


How Is It Transmitted Between Animals?

As with so many other harmful diseases affecting humans and other animals, the mosquito is to blame. Infected animals carry tiny baby heartworms in their bloodstream. When mosquitos feed on infected animals and then feed on animals that are not yet infected, the parasite spreads from one to the other. After roughly six months, the baby worms grow into full-blown adult heartworms. Once they have reached this stage, they can plague your poor kitty for up to three years.


What are the High-Risk Factors?

Naturally, there are some factors that put some cats at greater risk than others. Pay close attention to see if any of these factors affect your cat:

  • You live in an area that has a large population of wild animals who may carry heartworm disease, such as wolves, foxes and coyotes.
  • Your cat accompanies you when you visit areas with a large population of wild animals that may carry heartworm disease.
  • You live in an area where mosquitos are a big problem, even seasonally.
  • You frequently open windows or doors in the home to let fresh air in.
  • Your cat has outdoor access, even if it’s just the terrace or porch.
  • There are dogs who live in or frequently visit your home.


What Happens If My Cat Becomes Infected?

Heartworms pose a different kind of threat to cats than dogs. This stems from the fact that cats are not the ideal host for this type of parasite. Because of this, healthy cats tend to naturally fight off the parasite, making it difficult for heartworms to survive until the adult stage. Even cats who do have heartworms may only have one to three, whereas dogs can have hundreds!

However, don’t get too excited just yet. Because kitties are so good at fighting off heartworms, when cats are infected, symptoms may not be as obvious. The healthier the cat, the less likely they are to display obvious symptoms. This could lead to heartworms going undiagnosed for a very long time, which may then result in Heartworm Associated Respiratory Diseases in your cat. And, even worse, you cannot use the medication that treats heartworms in dogs to treat kitty infections.

You know what this means. The only clear solution is prevention. So much for that quick moment of rejoicing, huh?


How Do Cat Parents Protect Their Kitties?

Thankfully, there are many ways to protect your kitty. Failing this, you should at least test your cat often enough to know if they are infected with heartworms, so you can do everything necessary to keep them happy and healthy. While there are no approved medications to treat heartworms in cats, there are medications to prevent it. Talk with your vet about which medications may be best for your cat.


Remember, next week I’ll be back with information on how to protect your dog from heartworms. However, keep in mind that our articles should not be used in place of medical advice from your vet. For information on the services we do provide, check out our professional services page!


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