Indoor cats seem invincible, shielded from the dangers that affect outdoor cats. But when the question of heartworm prevention comes up, you might find yourself asking: Does my indoor cat really need it?
Heartworm is a mosquito-borne disease that usually affects dogs. However, it has found its way into the world of our beloved outdoor and indoor cats as well. Keep reading to learn all about heartworm in cats, including how common it is, whether or not your indoor kitty needs prevention, and how to tell if your beloved cat already has it.
What Is Heartworm in Cats?
Before we dive into the heart of the matter, let’s understand what exactly heartworm is.
Heartworm is a deadly disease caused by parasitic worms called Dirofilaria immitis. They’re transmitted through mosquito bites, which transfer the parasite into your cat’s blood. Once inside, these worms embark on a journey, growing into foot-long adults that set up camp in the heart and adjacent blood vessels. As you can imagine, this is not good for your feline friend.
Heartworm is a little different in cats than in dogs, however. Cats are not the usual hosts for heartworms, and because of this, most of the worms never grow to be a full foot long. Most cats never experience more than three worms in their body at a time, either. As a result, heartworm disease might not be noticed in cats for a long time. That doesn’t mean it’s not harmful, though. Heartworm can cause a variety of issues, such as coughing, lethargy, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, it can even lead to sudden fainting or death. What’s more, there is no treatment for cats like there is for dogs, making heartworm prevention that much more important.
How Common is Heartworm in Cats?
Heartworm is more commonly associated with dogs, but cats are not entirely off the hook. While cats are considered atypical hosts for heartworms, it’s important to understand that even a small number of worms can wreak havoc on a cat’s cardiovascular system.
In regions where heartworm is common in dogs, cats are at more risk. According to Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH, et al., the infection rate for cats is usually 5 to 20% of the rate in dogs in a specific region. Believe it or not, up to ⅓ of infected cats are indoor cats. Thus, mosquitoes show no mercy when it comes to biting both indoor and outdoor felines. If you live in an area where heartworm is a concern for dogs, it’s wise to consider the potential threat to your indoor cat as well.
Can Indoor Cats Get Heartworm?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. While indoor cats may not be as exposed as outdoor cats, they are not completely sealed off from the outside world. Mosquitoes are crafty little buggers that can find their way into our homes, leaving behind a trail of potential heartworm trouble. In fact, most of us can remember finding random mosquitos buzzing around our house from time to time. If you’ve found yourself in this situation, your indoor kitty can get heartworm.
Suggested reading: Mosquitoes aren’t the only insects we have to worry about with our pets. What happens if your cat gets stung by a bee or wasp?! Find out how to treat your kitty here.
Do Indoor Cats Need Heartworm Prevention?
Now that we know indoor cats aren’t immune to heartworm, the next question is: do they need preventive measures? Some argue that the risk is minimal for indoor cats, making preventive measures not needed. Nevertheless, most veterinarians advise prevention to ensure that our indoor felines remain heartworm-free.
While the risk is lower for indoor cats, it does exist. A single mosquito can unleash a cascade of health issues for your cat. Prevention might seem like overkill, but consider it as a shield against the unexpected invaders that might find their way into your cozy home.
How Do I Know if My Cat Has Heartworm?
Detecting heartworm in cats is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The symptoms can be subtle and easily mistaken for other feline illnesses. If your cat exhibits coughing, lethargy, vomiting, or difficulty breathing, it’s time to consult with your veterinarian. However, keep in mind that these symptoms are not exclusive to heartworm and could indicate various other health issues.
For a definitive diagnosis, your vet may conduct blood tests to check for the presence of heartworm antigens. Imaging tests like X-rays and ultrasounds can also provide a glimpse into your cat’s cardiovascular system. Early detection is crucial, as treatment for heartworm in cats can be challenging, and prevention is always preferable.
Pro tip: What other preventative measures should you take to protect your kitty? Learn about the recommended vaccines.
Is There an Oral Heartworm Prevention for Cats?
Fortunately, there are several preventive measures available, and one of the most convenient and effective methods is oral medication.
Oral heartworm preventatives come in the form of tasty treats or pills that your cat can easily consume. These medications work by attacking the immature heartworm larvae, preventing them from growing into the foot-long intruders that wreak havoc in your cat’s heart. Some popular options include monthly treatments, except for Bravecto, which is administered every two months. Many heartworm medications protect against hookworms, tapeworms, and roundworms as well.
While most cats tolerate these preventatives well, it’s wise to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best option for your feline friend. Factors such as your cat’s age, health status, and lifestyle can influence the choice of preventive measures.
Protect Your Furbaby from Creepy Crawlies of All Kinds
As a devoted cat parent, your mission is clear: safeguard your furball from all the creepy crawlies that might threaten their well-being, heartworm included. While the debate over whether indoor cats truly need heartworm prevention continues, the consensus leans towards proactive measures if it is prevalent in dogs in your region.
While the risk may be lower for our indoor feline friends, the potential consequences of a heartworm infection are severe. As responsible pet parents, it’s our duty to weigh the odds, consult with veterinary professionals, and make informed decisions for the well-being of our beloved cats. After all, a heartworm-free cat is a happy cat!
Do you use heartworm prevention for your indoor kitty? Let us know in the comments below!
Stay Informed – Join the HypePets Community!
If you’re like us, your pets are like family. Stay up to date on the latest news, info, tips, and gear to help your pet live its best life!
Also, join the conversation over on our HypePets Discord server!