While cats are not natural hosts for heartworms, they are still at risk for contracting them. Just like with dogs, heartworms are contracted through mosquito bites. As we’ve mentioned before, we’re in prime mosquito territory. In areas that have mosquitoes, an incidence of 2-14% exist in cats.
Feline Heartworm Disease causes severe lung disease, heart failure, along with damage to other organs. Adult heartworms can grow to be 12 inches long. Cats will typically only have 1-3 adult worms, but they can have up to 6. It only takes 1-3 adult heartworms to cause the cat to collapse and die.
Cats are not natural hosts for heartworms. Their immune system is very reactive against heartworms and this makes it next to impossible to detect microfilaria in an infected cat. Microfilaria is the off-spring of adult heartworms born in the host body and found in the blood stream. If a mosquito bites a dog that has microfilaria in their blood stream, they become infected. The mosquito can then transfer the microfilaria to any cats or dogs that they bite next.
The tests currently available detect an antigen that is given off by mature female heartworms. It takes heartworms 6 months to mature. This is why with dogs, we recommend doing a heartworm test once they’re at least 6 months of age and repeating test in 6 months if there was a lapse in prevention. However with cats, due to the limited number of heartworms that grow to maturity, they can be difficult to detect with these tests.
While heartworms can be treated in dogs, the medication used (Immiticide) is toxic to cats. Unfortunately at this time, there are no treatments available for heartworm positive cats.
However, there is good news! The disease is 100% preventable. Our recommendation is Revolution. Revolution prevents fleas, roundworms, hookworms and ear mites as well as heartworms. Revolution is a topical preventative instead of an oral, making it easier to administer. If you apply once every 30 days, your cat will not only be flea-free, but they’ll also be protected against heartworms!
Twelve common symptoms of Feline Heartworm Disease are:
- Weight Loss
- Lack of Appetite
- Abnormal Rapid Breathing (Tachypnea)
- Difficulty Breathing
- Sudden Death
Remember – Mosquitos are everywhere! Just because your cat is strictly indoors only doesn’t mean that they aren’t at risk. Every pet should be on both flea and heartworm preventatives year round.
By: Candace Ivey
Concerned about your canine companion? Read about Double Defense here to learn more about heartworms in dogs & the best way to prevent your pup from them.