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Yes, Your Cat Can Be Infected With Heartworms, Too

Cat and owner
It's true that dogs suffer more often from heartworm-related diseases, but cats can also acquire heartworms. Cats and dogs are infected with heartworms in the same way, but their bodies react to heartworms differently. Here are more facts about heartworms and cats.

Where There Are Mosquitoes, There Are Heartworms

Mosquitoes spread heartworms to cats and dogs by biting the animals. The microscopic larvae of Dirofilaria immitis enter a bitten pet's bloodstream and make their way toward the cat or dog's heart. The mature worms congregate in the blood vessels of the lungs, the right side of the heart, and the pulmonary arteries.

Adult heartworms can live for five to seven years in dogs. Adult heartworms typically live no longer than two to three years in cats. However, infected cats and dogs become vectors for new heartworm infections every time a mosquito takes a blood meal from the heartworm-infected animals.

Both indoor and outdoor cats can be bitten by random heartworm-transmitting mosquitoes. Cats have some natural defenses against heartworms because felines are atypical hosts for the worms. Typical heartworm hosts include dogs, foxes, coyotes, and wolves, according to the American Heartworm Society.

Many of the heartworm larvae don't survive to adulthood inside the cat's body. Cats typically have far fewer numbers of adult worms when tested than dogs at the same stages of heartworm infection.

Symptoms of Feline Heartworm Infections Vary

The heartworm larvae take between four to six months to reach the heart and lungs of infected hosts. If your cat was infected with heartworms in the summer, you may notice signs of advancing heartworm disease in winter months. Some signs of feline heartworm infection mimic colds and respiratory issues.

The following symptoms can be signs of heartworm infections in cats:
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lowered activity level
In the beginning stages of heartworm infection, your cat may show no signs of a parasite problem. In the later stages of heartworm infection, cats may have seizures, panting, and difficulty walking.

Cats Should Be Screened and Medicated for Heartworms

Your cat's veterinarian uses a combination of tests and physical examinations to diagnose heartworm disease in a pet. Newer blood tests detect heartworm proteins in blood samples, and the tests can reliably confirm the diagnosis.

If caught in time, many cats fight off a heartworm infection with veterinary support. There are no approved medicine-based treatments for heartworm infections in cats. The approved treatments for dogs are not safe for treating cats.

Prevention is the key to having a heartworm-free cat. Schedule your cat for a full range of tests including a test for heartworms. Your cat's veterinarian will advise you on the appropriate testing schedule for feline parasites of all types.

If your cat is heartworm free, your cat's veterinarian can prescribe monthly spot-on or pill heartworm preventives. Cat-friendly preventives reduce the chances of heartworm-infection development after infested mosquito bites.

Feline Heartworm Sufferers Need Human Care

The best way to help your cat fight a heartworm infection is by providing a good diet, plenty of clean water, and a safe home for your cat. Limit your cat's exposure to the outdoors, and practice safe pest management at home to limit mosquitoes.

The American Heartworm Society says that an infected cat should have X-rays done every 6 to 12 months to check for heartworm-related heart and lung problems. Your veterinarian may prescribe medications to ease some of your cat's symptoms. In some cases, hospitalization for severe illness and/or surgical removal of heartworms are options.

If your cat is wheezing, coughing, or showing other signs of heartworm infection, contact Rodney Parham Animal Clinic (RPAC) today and schedule feline heartworm testing in Little Rock. Our veterinary practice offers medical services for cats throughout Central Arkansas.

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