While more commonly associated with dogs, heartworms can affect cats, too. As a loving cat owner, it’s vital to understand this potentially deadly disease and how to protect your precious pet. Here at Owings Mills Veterinary Center, we understand that you might be searching for information before your cat’s appointment or trying to decide whether you need to bring your cat in for a checkup. That’s why we decided to provide answers to some of the most common questions about cat heartworm below. If you’re looking for a veterinarian near Owings Mills, MD, give us a call at (410) 807-8193. We’re here to provide the expert care your feline friend needs!

What is heartworm in cats?

Heartworm is different in cats than in dogs. Because cats are not natural hosts, they tend to have asthma-like symptoms as the worms travel through their bodies.

Unlike intestinal worms, you cannot see heartworms in your pet’s stool. Mosquito bites transmit this parasite. The larvae travel through the infected pet’s blood and develop into worms inside the body. Sometimes, these worms can grow to be as long as 12 inches. They live in the heart and can cause severe complications in cats and other pets. 

How do cats get heartworms? 

Cats contract heartworms after being bitten by an infected mosquito. A single bite can lead to infection.

What do veterinarians recommend as heartworm prevention for cats?

As veterinarians, we generally recommend a topical or oral medication for heartworm prevention for cats. Topical medications are usually the best option since getting most cats to take pills is no easy task. 

How do you spot heartworm symptoms in cats?

Heartworm symptoms in cats are often similar to the symptoms of asthma. 

The most common heartworm symptoms in cats include: 

  • Coughing
  • Panting
  • Breathing with an open mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Nosebleeds
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Keep in mind that roughly 80% of cats with heartworm are asymptomatic and show no clinical signs. By the time symptoms become apparent, your cat will be in the late stages of heartworm disease. For this reason, prevention is critical.

How would a veterinarian diagnose heartworm in cats?

Diagnosing heartworm disease in cats can be challenging. Blood tests often come back negative even if cats are infected with heartworms, so we often rely on chest x-rays to look for worms in the heart and pulmonary arteries. We may also listen to your cat’s lungs or recommend an ultrasound to visualize their heart and lungs. 

Is heartworm prevention necessary for cats?

There is no conventional heartworm treatment for cats, however, the earlier we detect heartworm in your cat, the better the prognosis is. Heartworms can cause permanent lung damage and lead to life-long asthma-like symptoms. And because the cat’s heart is so tiny, even a single worm can do significant damage if it reaches full maturity. Unfortunately, the inflammatory reaction triggered by the death of the worms is often fatal for the cat. 

Because heartworm is difficult to detect and treat in cats, keeping your feline friend on an effective heartworm preventative is vital. Even if your cat never goes outside, a single infected mosquito that makes its way inside your home can have a devastating effect on your cat’s health. 

If you still have questions or have any reason to suspect that your cat could have heartworm, contact us right away. As your cat’s veterinarian in Owings Mills. MD, we are here to help get them back on the road to good health. Call (410) 807-8193 for the care your companion needs.