The Myths and Facts of Heartworm Disease in Cats

Heartworm Disease in Cats

Heartworm Disease in CatsYou probably already know how important heartworm prevention is for your dog. But did you know that your cat is also susceptible to heartworm infection? Here we will discuss common myths and misconceptions about how heartworm disease affects cats.

MYTH: Cats are not the ideal host for heartworms, so it is not necessary to put my cat on a heartworm prevention.

FACT: While it is true that cats are resistant hosts, it is still possible for cats to become infected. Although some cats are able to mount an immune response strong enough to clear a heartworm infection, the immune response itself can cause many of the same signs associated with heartworm disease. And even if infection resolves, it can still leave your cat with respiratory damage.

MYTH: If my cat tests positive for heartworms, it is easy to treat.

FACT: While heartworm disease is treatable in dogs, the medication is not safe for cats. Currently, there is no recognized drug therapy for the treatment of heartworm in cats. Prevention remains the best option – ask us about starting your cat on a monthly prevention today!

MYTH: There is a reliable and accurate test available for feline heartworms

FACT:  Heartworm disease is difficult to detect in cats because they are less likely to have adult heartworms. As you already know, the test in dogs is only able to detect the adult female heartworm. The best method for detecting heartworms in cats consists of both antigen and antibody testing. The antibody tests detects exposure to heartworm larvae.

MYTH: The symptoms of heartworm disease in cats is the same as in dogs

FACT: Signs of heartworm disease in cats are are vague and often go misdiagnosed. Symptoms include coughing, periodic vomiting, weight loss, and inappetence. Loss commonly seizures, fainting, and fluid accumulation in the abdomen will occur. Unfortunately, some of those with heartworm disease will have no signs at all before experiencing sudden collapse or death.

MYTH: My indoor cat does not need to be on heartworm prevention.

FACT: Although exposure to the mosquitoes that carry heartworm is lessened if your cat never goes outside, the risk still remains. Just because your cat is strictly indoors doesn’t mean that mosquitoes can’t come inside too.


FAQ About Heartworms

How Are Heartworms Transmitted?

Heartworm DiseaseHeartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. The adult female heartworm lives in the infected host and produces baby heartworms called microfilariae which circulate in the bloodstream. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, it picks up the microfilariae which develop into larvae within 10 to 14 days.  Then, when the infected mosquito bites a dog or another susceptible animal, these mature larvae enter the new host through the bite wound. In six months they will mature into the adult heartworm and the whole process starts again. The adult heartworm will live five to seven years in dogs and two to three years in cats.

Why Should I Give Heartworm Prevention Year Round?

Mosquitoes become active when temperatures go above 50 degrees. In Alabama, it is not consistently cold enough to guarantee that mosquitoes won’t be active in the winter. Even in colder northern states, year round heartworm prevention is recommended. Mosquitoes are constantly adapting to colder temperatures, and different species are active at different times of the year.

What If I Miss A Dose?

If you miss giving one or more doses of heartworm prevention it is recommended to give the next dose as soon as you remember, and to continue giving every 30 days. Because it takes six months for the larvae to mature into adults, and a heartworm test can only detect the adult female, you will need to check a heartworm test six months from the missed dose.

If you are constantly forgetting to give monthly heartworm prevention, one option to consider is the remind me program through our online store. You can sign up to have a single dose automatically shipped to you at  the same time every month, and never forget your pet’s heartworm prevention again!

Do I Need To Give Heartworm Prevention If My Pet Doesn’t Go Outside?

All pets should be on heartworm prevention, whether they go outside or are strictly indoors. Mosquitoes can hitch a ride into your home on your clothes or through an open door or window. Rather than take the risk and hope your pet is never exposed, the best option is heartworm prevention. 

Heartworm Prevalence Map

What Are The Signs Of Heartworm Disease?

Signs of heartworm disease include chronic cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after activity, decreased appetite and and weight loss. Heart failure and cardiovascular collapse can occur as the disease progresses.

My Dog Is On Heartworm Prevention Year Round, Why Do I Need To Test?

No product is 100% effective, and yearly testing ensures that if there was a failure in the medication the your dog will be treated. Continuing to give the heartworm prevention will kill any larvae, but has no effect on adult heartworms.

What If My Pet Contracts Heartworms Even After Being On A Preventative?

No product is 100% effective. However, most heartworm prevention comes with a manufacturer’s guarantee, and they will reimburse you for some or all of the cost of treatment as long as there is proof that you have purchased it from a licensed veterinarian.

Are There Options Other Than Monthly Heartworm Prevention?

Yes! Whitesburg Animal Hospital carries an injectable form of heartworm prevention called Proheart 6, which protects against heartworms for 6 months. As with any heartworm prevention, a negative heartworm test is required before it can be administered.