Do Cats Need Heartworm Prevention?

Spring is upon us and most of us have heard the saying, “April showers bring May flowers.” But, spring and these showers also bring that annoying buzzing sound from those flying, pesky, disease carrying insects: mosquitoes. These nasty insects can spread disease to our pets — the most common that dog owners are aware of is heartworm disease. As the name implies, it is a “worm” that lives in the heart. Gross. However, many don’t know that cats are susceptible to heartworm disease as well.

The heartworm parasite in cats reacts a little differently than in dogs. Although cats can get infected as a result of mosquito bites, the parasite burden tends to be less in numbers, or in many cases the cat’s immune system can “fight off” the immature form of heartworm the mosquito transmits, not allowing the parasite to develop to the mature worm that eventually lives in the heart and lungs. However, with the smaller size of the cat, even small burdens of worms can cause major disease including chronic coughing, weight loss, heart failure and death.

Because of our feline friend’s immune system’s ability to fend off the immature stages of heartworm in developing to the adult stage, making a diagnosis of heartworm disease in cats is a little more challenging than with our barking canine companions. Typically, when testing dogs a small blood sample is collected and the test is specifically looking for what is termed the antigen. This is actually a small part of the adult female heartworm. The tests are very accurate, easy to run and many times we have test results in minutes. In cats, since worm burdens are typically lower in numbers (maybe as little as one or two worms) the antigen test may not detect heartworm accurately since the worms may be male or there is simply not enough antigen to detect. Therefore, an antibody test is also typically run in cats. This test detects antibodies that have been produced by our feline’s immune system  while “fighting off” the parasite. It also detects that your cat has been exposed to heartworm disease but may, in fact, not have adult worms at this point or may just have a small worm burden, or only male worms.

Treatment is available for our canine friends with heartworms. However, there is no specific treatment available for felines. We would simply provide medical support and hope the parasite doesn’t cause severe or deadly disease.

The good news is that heartworm disease can be prevented in both dogs and cats. While many dogs are routinely placed on heartworm prevention programs, much fewer cats are on heartworm preventatives. How sad! And yes, even your “inside” kitty can get heartworm disease. One study has shown that of the positively tested heartworm disease cats, over 55 percent were “mostly or strictly” indoor cats.  Mosquitoes know no boundaries.

Many of us love springtime, myself included. The warmer days, the cleaner smelling air, the ability to spend more time outside and the wonderful sights and fragrances of blooming plants are appealing to most. Springtime is also a happy time for mosquitoes and we all know what these “critters” do.  They “bite” and at the least are annoying or cause welts and itching, and at the worst spread unwanted diseases to us and our pets. Simple prevention programs for both your dogs and CATS can at least help to protect them against one mosquito transmitted disease: HEARTWORM.

Editor’s Note: Consider using a flea and tick squeeze-on product like SENTRY Purrscriptions Plus or Sergeant’s Silver that repels mosquitoes and kills fleas and ticks. Taking preventative measures will help to ensure the safety of your pets!

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