Feline Heartworm Disease
Cats can get heartworms, too! The disease presents itself very differently from canine heartworm disease. The cat is NOT the typical host and most worms in cats do not survive the adult stage. The prevalence of heartworm disease in cats versus in dogs is much lower. Cats that do have adult worms normally only have 2-3, but many cats never end up having adult worms. Immature worms in cats can wreak real damage by causing a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease.
As in the dog, the mosquito is what transmits heartworms to cats. The mosquito bites an animal already infected with heartworms, where an immature heartworm is then transmitted to the mosquito. The baby heartworm will then mature in the mosquito over 10-14 days. At this point, when the mosquito bites another animal, the larvae are deposited under the skin. It takes 6 months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms.
Signs of heartworm associated respiratory disease in feline patients can be subtle or dramatic. They can include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting or weight loss. In some cases, the only sign is sudden collapse, or even sudden death.
Testing in cats is also more difficult. A blood test is most commonly performed, but we could use radiographs or ultrasound to try and detect these parasites as well. Treatment for feline heartworm disease is unavailable so instead we just manage their symptoms.
Although mosquitoes are more prevalent in the summer months, the best way to prevent this disease in cats (and keep them dewormed against intestinal parasites) is to use a monthly heartworm prevention on them year round. Ask your veterinarian what product would be best for your cat!
Dr. Karen Gant
The Pet Hospitals- Collierville