Heartworm is a serious and potentially fatal disease in cats. It is caused by parasitic worms that infect the heart and lungs. Because April is National Heartworm Awareness Month, we’d like to help you understand how to prevent and treat heartworm, so you can keep your kitty safe. 

What Is Heartworm Disease in Cats?

Heartworm is caused by parasitic worms that live in a cat’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats because the worms do not usually reach adulthood as they do in dogs. Immature worms are more difficult to detect. However, the worms can still cause plenty of damage before they mature, so prevention and immediate treatment are crucial.  

How Do Cats Get Heartworms?

Heartworms are typically transmitted from one animal to another through mosquitos. When a mosquito bites one infected animal, it picks up larvae and deposits them on the skin of the next animal they bite. It takes around six months for the worms to mature. Adult worms do the most damage, but even immature worms can cause severe lung damage. Although worms don’t always mature into adults in cats, they can live for up to 3 years when they do. 

12 Signs of Heartworms in Cats

The symptoms of heartworm disease in cats can vary widely. Because heartworms can infect the lungs, many heartworm symptoms get mistaken for feline asthma or other respiratory illnesses. 

Schedule an appointment with your vet if you notice any of the following signs of heartworms in your cat:

  1. Coughing
  2. Wheezing
  3. Difficulty breathing
  4. Vomiting
  5. Diarrhea
  6. Lack of appetite
  7. Weight loss
  8. Difficulty walking
  9. Fainting
  10. Lethargy
  11. Seizures
  12. Sudden collapse

Diagnosing Heartworm in Cats

Diagnosing heartworm disease involves a combination of tests, including a physical exam, blood tests, ultrasounds, and radiographs (x-rays). A blood test can detect the presence of heartworms in the bloodstream, while radiographs and ultrasounds can pick up the presence of adult worms in the heart and lungs. 

Treatment of Heartworm Disease in Cats

Unfortunately, there is no approved drug to cure heartworm in cats. The disease can sometimes be managed with supportive treatments such as IV fluids, oxygen therapy, medications to relieve symptoms, and antibiotics to treat secondary infections. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove adult worms from the cat’s heart and lungs.  

How to Prevent Heartworm in Cats

The best way to prevent heartworms in cats is to consult your veterinarian. They can prescribe a heartworm prevention medication that will kill the parasite’s larvae before they can mature into adult worms. 

A monthly topical medication is used to prevent heartworm in cats. Never use a dog’s heartworm medication for a cat, because this can cause serious harm.

Heartworm Prevention and Treatment for Cats in Gilbert, Arizona

Annual wellness exams are essential in maintaining your cat’s health. And at Anasazi Animal Clinic, your cat’s well-being is our top priority. We’ll examine your cat for signs of heartworm and recommend the best preventative treatment. If your cat is due for a checkup, please give us a call at 480-497-0505 to schedule an appointment today.

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (4/10/2023). Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash