Here at Cat Care of Vinings, we often talk about heartworm disease with our clients–there are so many myths out there regarding its incidence, prevalence, and prevention. It sounds complicated, but it is actually very simple.

First things first, unless your furry kitty friend lives literally without ANY possible exposure to even one mosquito, your baby is at risk. Mosquitoes carry heartworm disease and pass it from dog to cat to cat to dog and so on. The best way to protect your cat or kitten is with year-round preventative measures EVEN when indoor-only.

Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states in cats, and risk factors are impossible to predict. The truth is that all cats are at risk, regardless of their life-style. Multiple variables, from climate variations to the presence of wildlife carriers, cause rates of infections to vary dramatically from year to year—even within communities. Nothing truly freezes or dies in the South East to end the life cycle of mosquitos and give us a well-deserved break!

Furthermore, heartworm disease in cats is NOT treatable, difficult to detect, life-threatening and very preventable. Signs of overt heartworm disease in our feline friends rarely manifests until very late; this makes a diagnosis difficult. This seems all “gloom and doom” but truly, the bottom line for cats and heartworm disease is prevention,  prevention, and more prevention!

Heartworm Is Different In Cats

Many cat owners erroneously believe that heartworm disease is only a concern for dogs and, while the risk is very high for canines, the effects are quite different – and often fatal in felines. Cats are not the natural host for adult heartworms and, when an infected mosquito bites a cat, the worms don’t settle in the heart.

The undeveloped larva deposited by the mosquito are found in a cat’s lungs where serious inflammation results. This inflammation often spreads to the kidneys, intestines, and the nervous system and the symptoms are often referred to as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease or (HARD).

Symptoms of Feline Heartworm Disease

The signs that your cat is suffering from heartworm disease are much like asthma, allergic bronchitis, or other respiratory diseases, OR they have no symptoms at all.  This makes heartworm disease in cats very tough to diagnose. If your cat suddenly displays the following symptoms, please give us a call:  (link to our website here for the “please give us a call”)

  • Coughing or breathing difficulty
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Refusal to eat or significant shift in appetite and weight loss
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Convulsions

Because some cats do not exhibit symptoms and can live with heartworms for some time before succumbing to sudden death, biannual exams with a weight check and good conversation with your veterinarian about how your cat is doing at home can be priceless.

Michael D. Friedlander, DVM

Cat Care of Vinings