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Preventing And Treating Heartworms In Cats



Dr. Sudeep Wahla
Prestige Animal Hospital

What is heartworm disease in cats?

Heartworm is not a worm where people think that hey, they do a poop test and they could see the worms or parasites on the stool, no. Heartworm is a worm that's transmitted by mosquitoes that travels through the blood as a larva and develops into a worm in the body. And sometimes these worms could be as long as 12 inches, so it derives this name because it's a worm that essentially lives in the heart.

What do veterinarians recommend as a heartworm prevention for cats?

Just in case somebody, nobody heard in the previous question, they get it from mosquitoes feeding on the pets, but as prevention, we generally recommend a topical medication that helps prevent heartworms in kitty cats.

What are heartworm symptoms in cats?

So here's the tricky thing. 80% of cats are asymptomatic, which means they will not show any clinical signs or symptoms of having heartworm. By the time you see symptoms, many times you're already at the later stages, which is why prevention is so much more important in kitty cats.

Symptoms can be vomiting, diarrhea, but a lot of times you start seeing more respiratory issues in cats, asthma, panting. I've mentioned this in my videos before, cats don't pant. If you see any panting, that's an area of concern, bring them in. But acting down, lethargic, loss of appetite, weight loss. They’re kind of generalized symptoms, but a lot of it is respiratory. There have been some times where some cats get a pretty serious nosebleed, and that's been associated with heartworm disease as well. So those are some things to just watch for.

How will a veterinarian diagnose heartworms in my cat?

Diagnosing heartworm in cats can be a little bit tricky, but the best method that we have found is basically a blood test to really check antibodies of the worms. Unlike dogs where there could be hundreds of worms living in a dog's heart, cats you only have one to three worms. That's what makes it a little bit more challenging to diagnose, but that one worm in that small heart can cause serious inflammatory issues.

And even though we say a heartworm in cats, it's more of an inflammatory issue of the lungs. That's why we obviously watch the cat’s breathing pattern, because the worm causes issues in breathing, an inflammation in those lungs. So basically, heartworm detection is diagnosed by a blood test, antibody test, and or x-rays or ultrasound to make sure we can see, and see if we can see changes in the heart.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of heartworms in cats so important?

Early detection and diagnosis of heartworm is so important because the earlier you detect it, the better the prognosis is for treatment. Kitty cats, again, it can be very difficult to detect. It’s much, much better to keep them on prevention. Even if they're indoor that one mosquito gets in, or they go outside just for a brief moment. I have so many people say, "Oh, we have an indoor-only kitty," and I start asking them more questions, and the response is, "Well, he goes outside once in a while in the backyard, but comes right back in." Remember, these are all areas where a mosquito can bite them, even inside. So make sure you keep them on prevention, please. It's becoming more of an issue and a lot of cats are asymptomatic and will have sudden death due to it.

FAQ - Cat Heartworm


Dr. Sudeep Wahla
Prestige Animal Hospital

What is a sign my cat has heartworm?

So here's a trickier question than some people may think, 80% of cats are asymptomatic from showing signs of heartworms. So basically what that means is that they will not show any clinical symptoms. So remember eight out of 10 cats won't show symptoms, but the ones that do show symptoms, they'll usually have more breathing air issues kind of almost sounds like asthma, like wheezing or dyspnea. It can be very subtle sometimes, sometimes not, a little bit more aggressive, any panting. Anytime you see a cat pant, bring them in. Cats do not pant normally so you have them examined if they do.

Other things that are more extreme, it's rare, but they could have a pretty aggressive nosebleed. Sometimes some cats can get something called thromboembolism, where they throw a blood clot and almost their back legs go cold and they can't really move them too much. So these are just some of the signs, but more respiratory signs you would see in a kitty cat.

How soon after they are infected will the cat show a sign of heartworm?

That's a really hard question because, as we said, a lot of cats don't even show symptoms, so it can vary from cat to cat. Just keep in mind if you're showing any kind of respiratory signs symptoms, or not eating, lethargy, eating less, bring your cat in and we can examine them.

Is heartworm painful?

That's also hard to say. The traveling of the worm itself may not be painful, but the inflammation it brings about inside the body can lead to some pain and discomfort and stress. Even people when they can't breathe too long or they have issues breathing, they lead to stress and anxiety. So in that aspect it might be discomforting or painful. Yes.

Are heartworms visible?

Heartworms are not visible like other parasites, how people think, "Oh, I could see a worm on a fruit from a dog or a cat or something to that extent." No, they're not visible. They travel in the blood. The only way they're visible is with imaging, x-rays, and ultrasound. But otherwise, no, they're internal. They're inside the body.

Are there other conditions that could be caused by heartworms?

As we said, inflammatory conditions of the lungs. That's the number one in cats is that, yes, it's a worm that may live in the heart, but it causes severe inflammation, respiratory signs in the lungs.

What should I ask my veterinarian about heartworm disease?

You should definitely ask about prevention, testing and lifestyle changes, when we can get tested, when to put them on prevention, and I think those are the main questions you should be asking.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (909) 527-7004, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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