Friday, April 10, 2015

Can My Cat Get Heartworm?

 The answer is a resounding “yes.”  You may have thought heartworm disease only affects dogs, but unfortunately cats can be infected with heartworm as well.  The cat is not a natural host for the heartworm parasite, Dirofilaria immitis, and so the microscopic immature heartworm larvae, called microfilaria, often do not grow into adult heartworms.  If they do reach maturity, there often are only a few adult heartworms in each infected cat.  That means fewer and smaller worms survive causing false negative heartworm test results and making accurate diagnosis more difficult. 

Heartworm disease in cats can have serious consequences and prevention is the key.  Both the immature microfilaria and the adult worms cause the cat’s body to set up an immune reaction to kill the developing worms.  This immune reaction causes lung damage, or Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD), resulting in asthma-type symptoms or even sudden death.  Moreover, the medication used to treat heartworm-infected dogs cannot be used in cats, so prevention is really the only means of protecting cats from HARD. Once infected, the only recourse is to manage your cat’s symptoms, which may require long term medication and even hospitalization if symptoms are severe.   The following signs may indicate that your cat has been infected:
  • Persistent cough
  • Breathing difficulties (panting, wheezing, rapid or open-mouthed breathing)
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sporadic vomiting
  • Lethargy

If your cat exhibits any of these symptoms, please call us right away at (203) 775-3679 to schedule an appointment. 

Next week, look for Dr. Salvatore’s piece on heartworm prevention in cats, and why it’s important for even our indoor cats to be protected. 

By Rachael Chandler, CVT

 Rachael Chandler is a certified veterinary technician and is one of two feline advocates we have on staff.  Please feel free to give Rachael a call for tips on making your cat’s visit to our office easier, or to ask any general cat care questions.  You can also visit our website at and look under the “Services” tab for other cat care tips.


  1. I had no idea that cats could get heartworms! Growing up, we always had dogs, so I knew that they could get them. When I moved out, my apartment didn't allow dogs, so instead I got a cat. I have had this cat for years, I have never taken any precautions against heartworm! I will be sure to get right on that.

  2. I would take your cat in if you suspect that they have heartworm disease. We had to take out cat in the animal hospital the other day because we found that she stopped eating food and was losing a lot of weight. We are still waiting to figure out what the problem is, but we are hoping that everything is going to be fine.

  3. My dream has always been to work in a animal hospital taking care of animals. I'm in the process of going to school to make this happen one day, but there is so much that goes into it. Articles like this motivate me to work hard and to make my dream become a reality.

  4. A lot of people do not realize that cats too can get heartworms just like dogs can. That is just another reason as to why it is important for you to take your pets to animal hospitals for checkups. You need to make sure that they are as healthy as they should be and do not have troubles with their health.

  5. It's good to know that heartworm is a big issue with cats like it is with dogs. I've never seen any animals that have it, so I'm glad the article mentioned some of the symptoms. It sounds like a pretty nasty disease worth preventing. Thanks for the tips on how to prevent heartworms!

  6. My cat has been acting weird lately and I think she may have heartworms. She has been showing some of the symptoms you talked about like breathing difficulties, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Should I take her to a pet hospital? pet hospitals

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