Feline Heartworm: A Common Risk Not To Be Ignored

Posted on: 27 July 2015

While cats are not the heartworm's natural host or most common target, heartworm in felines has been found in all 50 states of the United States. Since heartworm can occur in cats, even if not as commonly as it does in dogs, it's important to know the symptoms to look for as well as the required treatments needed to keep your cat healthy.

What are Heartworms?

The symptoms of heartworms are caused by parasitic, foot long worms that live in the heart, lungs, and related blood vessels. They travel from mammal to mammal through the bite of mosquitoes who carry and deposit their larvae.

These worms, whether adult or immature, can cause serious damage throughout your cat's body. Heartworms are most commonly found in dogs, but are also regularly found in cats and ferrets. Other mammal species can also be infected with heartworms, though the ideal host for a heartworm is the canine species.  

Feline Heartworm Symptoms

The symptoms related to a heartworm infection that you may know of, such as coughing, fainting, weight loss, and anemia, are most seen in dogs and may or may not be exhibited by an affected cat.

The usual symptoms for cats may include coughing, vomiting, and raspy breathing which can be misdiagnosed as a respiratory infection. Heartworm can be harder to detect in felines than canines, as the life cycle of the worm is shorter. While a number of tests can be done, such as urinalysis or blood-antigen tests, diagnosis may only come through the process of elimination—treatment for one suspected disease or another isn't working, so the only other answer could be heartworms.

Treatment and Prevention of Heartworm in Cats

Since heartworms are a common threat among the dog population, preventative care is usually administered to dogs in the form of a monthly medication given at home. Cats can be given preventative medications as well, so speak with your veterinarian about feline heartworm prevention options.

If heartworm is diagnosed in your cat, there are two common treatment options. The first involves waiting it out while the other involves surgery to remove adult heartworms. The majority of heartworms don't make it to adulthood within felines, so waiting it out is a common option and is usually used in conjunction with close monitoring by your cat's vet. Surgery is only used in extreme cases, where extensive damage has been found.

Even though heartworm infections are more common among dogs than cats, the infestation of cats still occurs commonly enough that preventative care should be taken. If you suspect heartworm in your cat or would like to learn more about common symptoms to look for and preventative steps you can take, speak with your cat's veterinarian (like those at Bearss Animal Clinic).