April is National Heartworm Awareness Month, and with our health being on our minds now more that ever, it is just as important that we are keeping our furry family members healthy as well. While heartworm prevention isn't at the forefront of most cat parent's minds, it is important to know the facts. 

 

What is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworms are parasitic worms, formally known as Dirofilaria Immitis, and are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Although dogs are the only definitive host of heartworms, making them more susceptible to both the contraction and progression of the disease, cats are still at risk for various complications due to heartworms. 

Cats are an atypical host of heartworms, meaning that heartworms have difficulty surviving in cats and typically do not make it to adulthood. For this reason, heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats. 

What are the Signs?

Signs of heartworm disease in cats vary from extremely subtle to outright dramatic. If infected, symptoms may include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, weight loss, difficulty walking, fainting, seizures, or fluid accumulation in the abdomen. With that being said, it is not uncommon for the first sign in some cases to be sudden collapse or death.

Does My Cat Need Prevention?

Due to the much lower risk of cats being susceptible to heartworms as opposed to dogs, most cat parents don't see the need for heartworm prevention to be crucial. Especially if your cat is indoor-only and not exposed to mosquitoes. However, this way of thinking could be very dangerous for your feline family members for a number of reasons.

  1. Heartworms have been diagnosed in cats in all 50 states. So, even if you are in a region that doesn't have a huge mosquito problem, there is still a risk.
  2. Even if Fluffy is indoors 24/7, that doesn't mean that she is completely sealed off from the outside world. One out of every four cats diagnosed with heartworm disease is an indoor cat. Opening a door or window could easily expose your cat to mosquitoes. Also, let's face it, every indoor cat goes through a "bad cat" phase where they want to see how the other half lives. There is always a chance that they could slip outside for a night on the town with the alley cats from the other side of the tracks. 
  3. If your cat does get infected with heartworms, even one immature heartworm can cause real damage to your cat. Particularly, in the form of a condition known as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD).
  4. Treatment for dogs infected with heartworms is not safe for cats, so the only true method of treating cats is by preventing them from getting heartworms in the first place. 

How to Prevent

Prevention of heartworm disease comes in the form of oral or topical treatments and can even be paired with your cat's monthly flea and tick preventative. Topical preventative options include, but are not limited to, Revolution, Advantage Multi, Bravecto, and Centragard. Oral preventative options include, but are not limited to, Interceptor and Heartgard. Before starting a preventative, be sure to talk to your vet and determine together which option is best for your cat.

 

Taking this extra step in your cat's care could really make all the difference in ensuring that they are healthy and happy for years to come! Although consulting with your vet is always the best option to determine any preventative care plan for your cat, we hope that this guide will help you start the conversation and make a more informed decision. 

 

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