What You Need To Know About Heartworm In Cats

Signs, prevention and treatment for heartworm infection.

heartworm in cats

Heartworm in cats is no joke. You’ve seen all the pamphlets and posters at your vet’s office, but what actually happens if your cat gets heartworm disease?

Consider this your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about heartworm in cats, including what it is, how they get it, what symptoms look like, how to treat it and how to prevent a heartworm infection in the first place.

What is heartworm in cats?

Heartworm in cats is a disease where worms infect your pet’s heart. The worms live in your cat’s pulmonary artery, which is the vessel that brings blood to his lungs.

Cats with heartworm disease often have fewer worms than dogs do, but even just one worm can cause major damage and be life-threatening.

Heartworm disease can be pretty tough to diagnose in cats because the testing will only detect female worms. So, if your cat’s infected only with male heartworms, his test results will come back negative even though the parasites are in his system.

How do cats get heartworms?

There’s only one way for cats to get heartworms: mosquitos.

There’s obviously a ton of mosquitos outside, so part-time outdoor cats are definitely at risk. And since mosquitos can easily make their way inside your house from an open window or door, even cats who live indoors only can still get a heartworm infection.

That’s why it’s so important for all cats to be on a routine heartworm preventative, no matter their lifestyle.

Heartworm prevention for cats

Luckily, there are plenty of heartworm prevention options for cats.

Most commonly, these are prescription medications, so you’ll need to talk to your vet before stocking up. (And honestly, you should chat with your vet before you start your cat on any medicine to make sure you're giving him the right option.)

Heartworm prevention for cats is typically available as an oral medication or a topical solution and needs to be administered monthly.

Heartworm symptoms in cats

Heartworm symptoms in cats are tricky to spot, mainly because most cats with heartworm are asymptomatic.

On top of that, cats with symptoms are often misdiagnosed because those signs are similar to ones you’d see in cats with asthma.

Symptoms of asthma in cats include:

  • Coughing
  • Hacking
  • Fast or labored breathing
  • Wheezing

Between the lack of visible signs and reliable testing, it can feel almost impossible to tell whether or not your cat even has heartworm disease at all (which is why prevention is so important).

Heartworm treatment for cats

If your cat’s test results do show that he has heartworms, unfortunately there’s not a whole lot you can do for treatment. In most cases, you have to let the infection run its course, though there are medications your vet can administer to reduce the risk of complications. In serious cases, you might need to consider surgery.

Heartworm in cats can feel pretty daunting, but now that you know what you’re up against — and how you can prevent it — you can keep your BFF’s heart safe and sound.