Dog owners are rightly concerned about heartworm infections. Heartworm is common throughout Australia and especially in hot and humid areas. Infection can cause serious illness and death in dogs.
But what about cats?
The same worm (Dirofilaria immitis) that infects dogs can also be transmitted to cats and other animals including foxes and ferrets. Transmission is by mosquito bite so your cat does not need to come into direct contact with an infected animal to catch it.
Fortunately, heartworm infection is much less serious in cats.
Cats’ immune systems seem to be better adapted to defeating heartworm. In most cases the infection will disappear without the cat showing symptoms.
In the rare occurrence that an infection takes hold, the symptoms can include vomiting of blood or food, diarrhoea, coughing and breathing difficulties. It is easy to confuse these symptoms with other serious conditions such as asthma so trip to the vet is called for if they appear.
Unlike dogs, there is no widely accepted treatment for heartworm in infected cats.
So what should you do?
Studies have shown that heartworm In cats is most common in areas that have high rates of infection in dogs. Also global warming is leading to the appearance of increasing numbers of mosquitoes that were previously uncommon in southern states. If you live in such an area it may be worth seeking out a preventative that includes heartworm protection along with that for fleas and intestinal worms.
A number of veterinary practices can also be found via your search engine that will provide facts and advice – and you can always raise the issue with your own vet on your next visit.