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Questions Answered About Feline Heartworm Disease


What is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease affects many animals, even some humans. The worm itself is known as Dirofilario Immitus and can grow up to 14 inches in length. Because heartworms can’t spread from animal to animal, mosquitoes play the role of transmitter. It only takes one mosquito bite for your cat to contract heartworms.

Mosquitoes will bite a heartworm-infected animal and carry microscopic versions of the heartworm, microfilarie, to another animal. When the mosquito bites the second animal, the heartworm microfilaria is transferred and begins to travel through the blood stream and makes its way to the tissues of the heart. It takes between 70 and 90 for the microfilariae to make it through the animal’s body to get to the heart which is where it thrives. If both male and female worms are present, they will begin to reproduce up to six months after the initial bite.

Can cats actually get Heartworm Disease?

Everyone knows dogs can get heartworms and that it’s a pretty serious disease. While it is less common, and not as well known, cats can get Heartworm Disease and it can be just as serious for your feline friend. The good news is that this disease is highly treatable, especially with cats. According to the Heartworm Society of America, when dogs are exposed to heartworms they will develop up to 75 adult worms will develop almost 100 percent of the time. When cats are exposed to the same amount, approximately 3 to 10 adult worms will develop in almost 75 percent of the cats. Another report said that the expected rate of heartworm disease in cats is 10 percent of the rate of dogs in that same area. The chances of an inside cat being infected are three percent.

How can I prevent my cat from getting it?

One important thing to remember is that you cannot use the same medicine for your cat that you use for your dog. Products like Frontline Plus Cat are specially designed for cats. It’s important to talk with your veterinarian to decide what dosage is appropriate for your breed of cat, as it varies.

Even if your cat is an inside cat, chances are that they will sometime be exposed. If you have other pets in the house, especially dogs or other pets that go outside, you should be more inclined to take preventative measures. Mosquitoes can get into your house easier than you think. If you have windows open on a beautiful day, they can sneak in. They can even sneak in on your clothes when you’re walking into the house.

As with any medication, there are pros and cons. It’s imperative to talk to your veterinarian before beginning on any treatments. Also be sure to talk with your veterinarian about which brand will be best because there are many kinds ranging from topical to oral, like Sentinel. Oral medication with cats isn’t as easy as it sounds.

How can I tell if my cat has heartworms?

Unfortunately, there are no real tell-tale signs of heartworms. Sometimes the first and only sign is sudden death in felines. The name “heartworm disease” is a tad misleading since it’s also known to affect the lungs and not just the heart. Sometimes breathing stress signs are mistaken for feline asthma, allergic bronchitis, or other respiratory diseases. There are tests, though, to find out if your cat is infected with heartworms.

There are two main tests: the heartworm antigen test and the heartworm antibody test. The antigen test is very specific, but not as sensitive. Just because a test comes back negative, that doesn’t mean that heartworms are absent since there must be two adult female worms present. The antibody test determines if the immune system has been exposed to heartworms.


About Author

Devoted pet owner and now, devoted pet editor, Judi worked in traditional offices, keeping the books and the day-to-day operations organized. Taking her dog to work every day for over a decade never seemed odd. Neither did having an office cat. She knows what it's like to train a new puppy and she's experienced the heartache of losing beloved companions. Retired, she currently lives with her spoiled dog and four chickens (who are, interestingly enough, also spoiled).

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