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Heartworms in Cats: Prevention and Treatment

What are heartworms and how do you get rid of them?

Heartworms are a blood-borne parasite (or roundworm) that is transmitted to cats by mosquitos that bear heartworm larvae. The number of worms present in a cat's body, the length of incubation, and the infected cat's reaction all influence the severity of heartworms in cats.

Heartworms in cats are less common than in dogs, but they are still a deadly disease that has been on the rise in the United States. Indoor and outdoor cats are at at equal risk of contracting heartworm disease. The risk of your cat contracting heartworm disease increases exponentially if you do not use preventive medicine.

Heartworm Disease in Cats Symptoms

One of the most difficult aspects of diagnosing heartworm disease in cats is that there are no clear clinical symptoms that suggest the presence of the parasite. This does not, however, rule out the possibility of heartworm infection.

Vomiting and coughing are two of the most common symptoms that suggest the existence of heartworm disease in cats.

Other symptoms include:

  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • Convulsions
  • Blindness
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia/Weight Loss
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Sudden Death

A seemingly healthy cat can be discovered dead on occasion, or develop sudden overwhelming respiratory failure. A post-mortem examination can be used to diagnose heartworm disease in these cases.

By simply adopting preventive steps, we can effectively avoid heartworm disease in cats long before severe medical problems or life-threatening emergencies arise.

Cats are infected with heartworms in a variety of ways

In cats, up to 30 different mosquito species can transmit heartworm. Mosquitoes prey on infected cats and dogs, ingesting immature heartworm larvae. The larvae continue to develop in the mosquito's gut for another 10 to 30 days before entering areas of its mouth.

When a cat is bitten by an infected mosquito, the heartworm larvae are injected into the cat. Over the course of several months, the larvae migrate and mature, ultimately settling in the right side of the heart and the pulmonary arteries. They grow into adult heartworms after this, and they can replicate in around six months from the time of invasion.

Heartworms develop a new crop of larvae about eight months after the invasion, which will live in the cat's blood for about a month. By the time this happens, most cats will have developed symptoms, and the disease will quickly become lethal.

Treatment for Cats with Heartworms

Cats diagnosed with heartworm disease can still live a healthy and happy life with the close supervision of your veterinarian's medical care and treatment.  

Heartworm Treatment for Cats

Unfortunately, there is currently no viable heartworm medication for cats that can fight off an active infestation, which is why the importance of heartworm prevention for cats cannot be overstated.

If your cat is diagnosed with heartworm, they may still live a long, happy life under the supervised medical care and treatment of your veterinarian. This may include anti-inflammatory treatments and medications to aid in breathing, similar to those used to treat asthma.

Cats' Heartworm Prevention

The good news for cat owners and their feline companions is that there is already a safe heartworm prevention for cats. In areas where mosquitoes are active all year, veterinarians strongly advise that all cats receive monthly heartworm prevention medications. Please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible if you have any signs that might indicate cat heartworm disease.

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