Heartworm disease is a serious risk to feline health that harms and kills thousands of cats each year. While it is a very preventable disease, studies show that fewer that 5 percent of households with cats regularly administer heartworm preventative.
In light of new research on feline heartworm, the American Heartworm Society (AHS) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has launched a KNOW HEARTWORMS campaign to promote awareness and encourage prevention of feline heartworm disease. We believe that understanding feline heartworm disease will allow our clients to protect their cats, and make the best prevention decisions for their household.
- Myth: Heartworm only affects dogs: Heartworm is not just a canine disease, and it affects cats differently that dogs. While cats typically have fewer worms that dogs, and the life span of the worm is shorter in cats, the consequences for felines can be just a serious and life threatening.
- Myth: Indoor cats can’t get heartworm: Heartworm larvae are transmitted through mosquito bites. It only takes one mosquito to infect a cat, and because mosquitoes can get indoors, both indoor and outdoor cats are at risk. In fact, on North Carolina study showed that 28 percent of cats diagnosed with heartworm were inside-only cats.
- Myth: It’s a heart disease: “Heartworm disease” is a misnomer; in cats it generally affects the lungs and not just the heart. It can cause Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD) that can frequently be mistaken for feline asthma, allergic bronchitis or other respiratory diseases. Heartworm larvae induce an intense inflammatory response in the blood vessels and tissues in the lungs. Once an adult worm dies, after 1-2 years, there is an additional intense inflammatory reaction resulting in acute lung injury.
- Myth: Only adult heartworms can harm cats: New research shows that heartworm larvae at all stages, not just the adult worms, can cause serious health problems. Cats do not need an adult heartworm to exhibit clinical signs; in fact, larvae are a main cause of the problems. Studies show 50 percent of cats infected with heartworm larvae have significant disease of the small arteries supplying blood to the lungs.
- Myth: Heartworm is easy to diagnose: Diagnosis is difficult as negative antigen and antibody tests do not rule out heartworm disease. Positive tests, however, are significant. Even the best available heartworm tests will only detect heartworms at certain phases of the disease. Acute signs of feline heartworm disease include heavy, difficult or fast breathing, coughing or gagging, and vomiting. More chronic signs can be weight loss, lethargy, seizures, fainting, and loss of coordination. However, many cats with heartworm infection may exhibit no signs of disease.
While heartworm disease, or HARD, is difficult to diagnose and impossible to cure, it is very easy to prevent. Monthly heartworm prevention medication is all it takes to protect your cat from heartworms. We recommend either a chewable tablet called Heartgard or a topical medication applied to the skin called Revolution.