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As we love our cats, we’ll do anything to ensure they’re happy. From buying them toys to feeding them their favorite treats, we go to great lengths to give them the best life. However, keeping them in good health is also essential. This includes routine veterinarian visits, feeding them a healthy diet, and giving them the proper medications.
While there are multiple ways to keep your cat healthy, heartworm prevention is among the most important. In fact, only 25% to 50% of infected cats will survive a heartworm infection.1 Given these staggering numbers, taking your cat to the vet for routine checkups is necessary. Although heartworm disease is much less common in cats than in dogs, severe disease can still happen. Also, it’s important to note that cats experience heartworm far less than dogs in the same geographic location, with only 5-20% affected.1
In this post, we’ll talk more about heartworm prevention for cats. You’ll learn about the signs of the disease, possible causes, treatment options, and prevention tips.
What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a condition that affects pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and even death.2 The condition mainly impacts dogs, cats, and ferrets. It all starts with a mosquito bite that transmits the heartworm larva to your pet, which then leads to the development of a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis. Once infected, the worms spread by maturing into adults, mating, then producing offspring while living inside the animal. While the pet is the definitive host, the mosquito is considered the intermediate host. The heartworms live inside mosquitos for a short time, giving them the ability to cause heartworm disease. The worms are called “heartworms” because they infect the host's heart, lungs, and nearby blood vessels.2
While the disease is most common in dogs and cats, dogs are more at risk. As the worms thrive in a dog’s body, cats aren’t considered a natural host for the life-threatening disease. However, cases do happen, and both indoor and outdoor cats can be affected.
If you look at heartworm cases in dogs and cats, the disease looks very different. In fact, cats are an unusual host for heartworms, and many of these worms don’t even mature to their adult stage. Many infected cats will only have one to three worms with no adult worms. 3
While this is good news, it does not mean heartworm disease should go untreated. This is a huge reason why a heartworm preventative for cats is so vital. Even if a cat isn’t infected by adult worms, immature worms can still lead to serious problems. In fact, the infection can result in a condition called heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Furthermore, while dogs have medications for treating heartworm, that isn’t the case for cats. These drugs only work on dogs, so prevention is the only way to protect cats from the life-threatening disease.4
While heartworm prevention is vital, it’s also important to understand the common signs of the disease. This allows you to act quickly if your cat is showing any symptoms or indications of infection.
Unfortunately, signs of heartworm disease in cats can go unnoticed or share similarities with other medical issues. If you notice any physical symptoms or changes in your cat’s demeanor, consult a vet as soon as possible.
Here are the common signs your cat may experience:3
- Asthma-like symptoms
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
While these are the most common signs, other less common symptoms include difficulty walking, fainting, or fluid retention in the abdomen. On some occasions, the first noticeable sign is a sudden collapse or even death. However, these cases are more rare. In order to put up a strong defense against the infection, choose a qualified veterinarian that will provide the best heartworm prevention for cats.
A heartworm infection starts with the prick of a mosquito bite. Once a mosquito pierces a cat’s skin, this provides a pathway for the heartworm larvae. The mosquito transports these larvae after picking them up from another animal. Ultimately, this leads to the development of a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis, which is what causes the disease. Once the cat is infected, the disease can grow and worsen. In fact, the parasite can expand to nearly a foot long. These white, spaghetti-like creatures can damage walls in the pulmonary arteries and slow the transportation of blood to the area, which causes excessive strain on the heart. This is the result of an advanced infection, which is more common in dogs than in cats.4
When cats are infected, the disease may disappear suddenly. This is believed to happen because of the immune response from the cat, which can kill off the parasite. Also, it’s important to note that this immune response is potentially responsible for the heartworm disease symptoms experienced by felines. However, while the disease can disappear, this isn’t very common. The infection typically progresses steadily with symptoms that may mimic those seen with other feline diseases.4
Unfortunately, there currently aren’t any approved drug treatments for heartworm disease in cats. While dogs do have medication, it doesn’t work for felines.3 That said, preventative care is essential. We recommend finding an experienced veterinarian that can provide reliable heartworm and flea prevention for cats. They can review your cat’s overall health, look for any signs of the disease, and get them on the best preventative medications.
If the parasite is detected in your cat, it’s essential to monitor them. While they can suddenly eliminate the worms, your cat may have permanent damage. If your pet previously showed signs of the disease in the lungs, be sure to get chest X-rays every 6 to 12 months. When there are mild symptoms, your vet may prescribe prednisolone to lower inflammation. If the disease worsens, hospitalization may be recommended to provide more in-depth therapies, such as IV treatments, drugs, antibiotics, and general care. In some cases, heartworms may need to be surgically removed.
Preventing Heartworm Disease in Cats
Fortunately, it’s easy to find a heartworm preventative for cats. All it takes is a visit to a qualified veterinarian. There are several FDA-approved drugs used for heartworm prevention, including both topical and oral products. All of these drugs are prescribed monthly with a veterinarian’s prescription.
While these medications help to prevent heartworm disease, they include ingredients that are also effective against other parasites and intestinal worms, such as:
- Cat fleas
- Ear mites
To put up a strong defense against these harmful creatures, proper flea and tick medicine and routine veterinarian appointments are crucial. It’s best to choose a year-round prevention solution to keep your cat healthy.
While there are countless heartworm prevention meds out there, you shouldn’t choose just any. We recommend finding a trusted, reputable resource for your medication. If you’re searching for the best heartworm prevention for cats, look no further than Dutch. We’re an online provider that offers telemedicine solutions for your pet, including top-of-the-line medications. In fact, we can even provide heartworm prevention for cats without a vet prescription!
One of our top heartworm prevention medications is Revolution Plus for Cats (1 month). This is a one-month heartworm and flea prevention for cats. While this product fights off heartworm parasites, it also provides protection against:
- Ear mites
- Intestinal hookworms
Revolution Plus for Cats is a monthly topical treatment that’s easy to use. All you need to do is apply the liquid to the skin on your cat’s shoulders or base of skull once a month using the applicator tube.
Dutch is also happy to offer a six-month supply of Revolution Plus for Cats (6 months). This prevention medication is available for cats of the following weights:
- 2.8-5.5 lbs
- 5.6-11 lbs
- 11.1-22 lbs
This easy-to-use prevention drug allows you to keep your cat protected without going to the veterinarian. However, we still recommend routine vet visits to ensure your cat stays in good health.
Preventing heartworm disease is also possible without the use of drugs. This involves proper testing and other preventative measures. Unfortunately, detecting heartworms in cats is more challenging because cats are less likely to have adult heartworms. However, detection is still possible. The preferred screening method involves using both an antigen and antibody test. The antibody test looks for exposure to the heartworm larvae. Before taking prevention meds, the cat should be tested. Re-testing over time is also recommended to document continued exposure and risk.
Another non-pharmaceutical approach is to limit how often your cat stays outside. As the disease is spread through mosquito bites, keeping them indoors will offer them greater protection.
Do cats really need heartworm prevention?
Given how there are currently no approved treatments for heartworm infection in cats, prevention of this disease is vital to your cat’s health. Heartworm disease can be fatal or severely debilitating, so prevention measures are a must. All it takes is a monthly application of flea and heartworm prevention for cats, including simple, routine visits to the vet.
How likely is it for a cat to get heartworm?
Although heartworm disease is more common in dogs, cats can still get the parasite. When a dog is exposed to infected larvae, there’s a 100% chance they will catch the infection. On the other hand, when cats are exposed, their rate of infection is around 61-90%.5 So while dogs are at a higher risk, cats are still susceptible to the disease. It’s also important to note that outdoor cats are more prone to catching the infection because of the higher concentration of mosquitos in outdoor spaces.
What are the first signs of heartworm in cats?
Some of the initial signs of heartworm infection include:
- Intermittent vomiting
- Breathing problems
If you notice any of the above, call your veterinarian immediately. Early detection is key to successful treatment.
While dogs are more at risk of developing severe heartworm disease, cats can still catch a serious case of the infection. As there is no approved treatment for heartworm disease in cats, prevention is vital for their health. While we recommend monthly flea and heartworm prevention for cats, talk to your vet about your cat’s specific needs.Looking for a trusted, experienced vet? If so, Dutch has you covered! Our telemedicine service lets you talk to a vet online in just minutes. Call us today to get started!
Atkins, Clarke E. “Heartworm Disease in Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 19 July 2023, www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders-of-cats/heartworm-disease-in-cats.
Medicine, Center for Veterinary. “The Facts about Heartworm Disease.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/keep-worms-out-your-pets-heart-facts-about-heartworm-disease. Accessed 3 Aug. 2023.
“Heartworm Basics.” American Heartworm Society, 20 July 1970, www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/heartworm-basics.
“Heartworm in Cats.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 19 Apr. 2023, www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/heartworm-cats.
“Is Your Cat at Risk for Heartworm Disease?” PetMD, www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/lhuston/2013/april/is-your-cat-at-risk-for-heartworms-30117. Accessed 3 Aug. 2023.