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Your Cat Can Get Heartworms

by: Nancy M. Gerhardt, DVM

"Heartworms? I've never heard that cats can get heartworms. Besides, my cat is always inside. She can't get anything!"

Veterinarians frequently see clients who believe heartworms only affect dogs or that pets are protected from all harm by being indoors. Certaintly, any indoor pet is safer from injury, since there are no dogs, coyotes, stray cats or cars to cause trauma. We commend owners for keeping their pet safe from these all too common potential threats. However, airborne viruses can get inside, intestinal parasites and fleas may be tracked in by the owners or arrive in potting soil and mosquitoes, the source of heartworms, can enter any time a door or window is oppened.

Despite its name, heartworm disease in cats is more often found in the lungs. When an infested mosquito bites your kitty, the larval worms migrate toward the heart. Unlike in dogs, the majority of the worms do not reach the heart, instead wreaking havoc as they pass through the lungs on the way. The larval heartworms cause severe inflammation in the lungs resulting in asthma-like symptoms which can lead to severe difficulty in breathing. In fact, most cases diagnosed as feline asthma are now believed to be heartworm disease instead. If the cat and at least one worm survive the process, one to three heartworms may end up in the heart where they may cause further harm. The adult worms often cause the most trouble years down the road when they die and once again have severe effects on the lungs.

While there is treatment for the symptoms of the heartworm associated respiratory disease known as H.A.R.D., therer is no cure for heartworms in cats. Although dogs can commonly recover from the risky and expensive treatment to kill the worms, anything that can kill feline heartworm would prove fatal to the cat. Because of this, an "ounce of prevention" is worth everything to prevent a disease that is not curable.

Kittens and cats should be on monthly prescription heartworm preventative. The pills available are effective but often prove difficult to administer. Topical heartworm prevention which includes flea and intestinal worm prevention is the easiest method for most people too use. Please get your feline friend on prevention as soon as possible. See your veterinarian today. One third of all sudden deaths in cats is caused by heartworm disease! Don't let your best friend suffer or die when this deadly disease can be prevented for pennies a day.