Heartworm Disease in Cats

Most people know that dogs can get heartworms, but did you know that cats can get heartworms, too? Heartworm disease in cats is not very common, but it is just as serious as heartworm disease in dogs.

Heartworm disease in cats can be difficult to diagnose, and very challenging to treat. Prevention is easy!

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What Causes Heartworm Disease in Cats?

Cats get the same heartworms that dogs getDirofilaria immitis. There is a little difference in how cats get heartworms, but the basics are the same. A mosquito bites an animal (usually a dog) that has heartworms. When the mosquito bites, he ingests baby heartworms (microfilaria). Inside the mosquito, the microfilaria grow into teenage heartworms (infective larvae). When the infected mosquito bites a cat, the infective larvae go into the cat and grow into adult heartworms.

heartworm disease in cats is transmitted by mosquitoes

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{Image from Diagnostic Imaging Atlas.}

In a dog, the adult heartworms will have more babies, or microfilaria, so the dog could pass heartworms on if he is bitten by another mosquito. In cats, the adult heartworms do have babies, but not very many and not for very long. Because there are not many microfilaria in a cat’s blood, it is not common for her to infect a mosquito and pass the infection along.

What are Signs of Heartworm Disease in Cats?

Most cats that have heartworm disease do not show any signs of heartworm disease. That is why heartworm disease in cats can be so dangerous – by the time they are showing signs they are very sick. Some cats may never show signs, but may suddenly die because of their heartworm disease.

Some signs that might indicate heartworm disease in cats are coughing, rapid breathing, weight loss, vomiting, weakness, and lethargy (tiredness). Unfortunately, all of these signs can be caused by many different diseases and it can be difficult to tell them apart. Blood tests can be done to look for heartworm disease, but these tests are not always very accurate in cats. Most often, a diagnosis of heartworm disease in cats is made by a combination of the signs the cat is showing, blood tests, and radiographs (x-rays).

Dogs with heartworm disease can be treated. It is not an easy treatment, and they will usually look like they are getting worse before they get better. In cats, the treatment is even more difficult. The medicines that treat heartworm disease in dogs have some side effects in cats, making treatment very hard on them, and sometimes dangerous.

Can My Cat Get Heartworm Disease?

Any cat can get heartworm disease, even if they only live indoors. All it takes is one bite from an infected mosquito to transmit heartworm disease to a healthy cat. Mosquitoes are very sneaky, and can find their way into a house through an open door, an open window, or even a tiny hole in a screen.

There are heartworm prevention medicines available for cats. Heartworm prevention medicines for cats are a chewable pill that is given once a month. The type we offer will also protect your cats against other types of parasites and fleas.

Is your cat on heartworm prevention medicine? Should she be? Call us or come in to discuss your options, and decide what is best for your family and your cat. Check out our Heartworm Disease Resource Page for even more information about heartworms.

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