Preventing Heartworm in Cats

An infestation of a single heartworm in cats can be very serious. Symptoms of cat heart problems caused by heartworms may be indistinguishable from acute respiratory disease. Overall a feline heartworm infestation can be devastating to cat heart health. Heartworms have been know to give a kitten an enlarged heart.

Transmission and Diagnosis

Come April, veterinarians begin performing heartworm screenings for dogs and cats. Heartworms cannot be detected until they have sexually matured (approximately six months after the initial infestation), and this delay in detection means that worms found will, most likely, have been in the animal's body since the previous calendar year.

Heartworms are transmitted to cats by mosquitoes. A mosquito's offspring (larvae) are held within its saliva. When a mosquito bites a cat, it transfers its larvae through the bite hole and into the cats tissue. The larvae will continue to mature within the cat as they migrate through the animal's system, towards the heart.

Symptoms of Heartworm in Cats

Once heartworms reach the feline's heart and pulmonary vessels, the lungs begin to inflame causing a variety of symptoms, which may vary on a case to case basis. Symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty or rapid breathing
  • Coughing

Infected cats may remain asymptomatic. However, if symptoms do manifest they should clear up after approximately two weeks. After the first bout of infection few, if any, symptoms should persist. For those whose symptoms do not clear, medication may be prescribed by your veterinarian to help alleviate these continuing symptoms.

Usually the cat's immune system is efficient at eradicating the disease on its own. This fact, however, is no excuse to prevent and quickly diagnose heartworm. Whenever your cat shows signs of illness it is imperative you take him to the vet.

Left Untreated, Heartworms May Cause Sudden Death

When left untreated, the worms within will continue to mature within the heart. Worms will die after approximately two years. After the heartworms have died symptoms will reoccur. These symptoms are more intense, and may cause sudden death.

Preventative Measures

Keeping your cat indoors, or away from outside pets, may help to protect him from heartworm infection, but he should still receive preventative medication. Using preventative treatments and medications specifically designed to ward off heartworms is the only sure way to protect your cat from the parasites.

Over the counter preventative medications come in both tablet form, such as Interceptor and Heartgard, as well as topical treatments like Revolution. Always consult your veterinarian before beginning any medical treatment.

Make sure to use species specific treatments, as administering a treatment to a cat that has been designed specifically for dogs could prove detrimental to the feline's health.

Understanding the disease, and taking preventive measures to keep your cat healthy, is key. Preventive heartworm medications are available over the counter for both dogs and cats and should be administered regularly for the best possible results. Always follow proper dosing guidelines and instructions carefully.