Monday, August 5, 2013

Monday Medical: Heartworm Treatment for Cats

As we mentioned last week, two summers ago we had quite a scare: Allie developed a croupy, dry cough and when examined, our veterinarian advised us to get her tested for heartworms. It was the first we'd ever heard that a cat might be susceptible to this parasite.

Allie gave us quote a scare a few years ago!
In last week's Medical Monday, Dr. Sara Huber of Leawood Plaza Animal Hospital talked to us about what heartworm disease in cats is and what symptoms you might see if your cat is infected.

Today, we continue our discussion with her, as she discusses treatment, possible complications, and the good news - it's completely preventable.

Click here to read
Heartworm in Cats, Part 1

Dr. Sara Huber of
Leawood Plaza Animal Hospital
A Tonk's Tale: So we learned one very scary statistic last week: there are more incidents of heartworm in cats than there are cats infected with FIV and FeLV. That was shocking to us - and made us even more determined to get the word out about it.

What can you tell us about heartworm treatment in cats?

Dr. Sara Huber:  To be honest, treatment for the disease can be frustrating. Studies suggest that 10-20% of infected cats die secondary to the death of the worm. Treatment to kill the adult worms is also, in and of itself, risky.

Infected cats are usually managed with supportive care for the pulmonary disease secondary to the infection (with drugs such as steroids, bronchodilators, ivermectin, etc.).

To make things even more confusing, heartworms can be infected with a bacteria called Wolbachia. Cats have a strong immune response to this bacteria and it is thought that the bacteria could play a role in the strong inflammatory response to infection.

ATT: So if the shock to a cat's system when the worm dies isn't enough, now we have to worry about a more pronounced reaction in our cats, because the heartworms may have this bacteria as well?

Dr. Huber: Yes. And for this reason, veterinarians will frequently treat infected cats with an antibiotic called Doxycycline.  Now I need to point something out here real quick: the use of Doxycyline tablets in cats has been associated with esophageal stricture - a narrowing or tightening of the esophagus which causes swallowing difficulties - and for this reason, the medication should be compounded to a liquid.

(Note: If you haven't read about the positive impact a compound pharmacy can have on your pet's health - and the danger we're in of losing this vital resource here in the U.S. please click here and add your voice to the petition!)

ATT: So what can we as cat owners do?

Dr. Huber: Prevention is key! It is very important for cats living in heartworm endemic areas to be on a preventative year round.

My favorite product (and I am in no way affiliated with the company that makes it, nor do I profit from recommending it!) is Revolution topical. In addition to preventing heartworm infection, it prevents several intestinal parasites, can treat ear mites, and prevents and treats fleas. It is a small volume of liquid that goes between the shoulder blades. Very easy to administer and based on what we previously talked about, worlds easier and safer than managing an infection.

Take a look at this map of the 2010 prevalence of heartworm infection in the US.

Keep in mind, this is only reported cases. I am confident that a number of cases go unreported every year. Also bear in mind, this is an older map. The mosquitoes that carry the disease are beginning to show up in many areas previously thought to be a low risk area.

As I said before...prevention is key!!!
We thank Dr. Huber for helping us spread the word about the very preventable dangers of heartworm infection in cats. For more information, you can visit the American Heartworm Society at


  1. Prevention is definitely the key. Have a marvellous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Thank you and Dr. Huber for passing along this really important information about heartworms in cats. It's encouraging to know it is preventable, though.

    We are glad the beautiful Miss Allie survived her scare!

  3. That was good info, but scary. Hey, I love your new look and I hope Allie is okay.

  4. That is very good information and I have used the Revolution on some cats a while back but don't now and I know I should. I think it is good stuff and does so many things.

  5. Thanks for this super informative post. Until a few years ago I didn't even know cats could get heartworms, as you only really heard about it for dogs. I am thankful I live in a state that is mostly white on the map -- still, it pays to be diligent and aware.

  6. Mommy uses Frontline (rarely) on us but she may have to consider Revolution since that can prevent heartworms too. She doesn't know the statistics with regards to heartworms in cats over here.

    But since it is mosquito season year round due to our kind of weather, and there are incidences of heartworm in dogs, it's pretty probable that there are cats with heartworms too?

  7. Ooooooo!! Thanks for some great information! Those heartworms do not sound nice at all!!!
    Purrs Tillie and Georgia,
    Treasure,Tiger,JJ and Julie

  8. Wow, that's scary! Great information that our humans will discuss with our V-E-T! Purrs...

  9. Whoa! That's some serious stuff.

  10. That's important for peeps to know so they can keep us safe.

  11. Revolution is also what our VET recommends. We hadn't heard of it until she told us about it in April. Thanks for Part 2 on this subject. Purrs and hugs, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

  12. The Vet gave Katie some big old edible things and she refused them. She is strictly indoor and that is my only saving grace. xoxox

  13. We knew kitties could get heartworm, but we didn't know it was so widespread or carried all the complications. Thanks for all the great info! Another good reason to keep kitties indoors.

  14. Great information guys! I thought there was no treatment for heartworms in cats though? I always thought you just give them supportive care to help out. New things are always happening in the animal world so it's great to learn new stuff.

  15. Thanks for the info....was not aware heartworm was so prevalent among cats....VERY happy that Allie did not in fact have that problem.

    Pam (and Sam)

  16. Our sister, Angel Cerise, was a heartworm survivor. Back in the 1990's when not much was known about it. An ultrasound confirmed seeing at least 5 worms on her heart. Our vet put her on steroids and antibiotics. She was known as their miracle kitty. After that all mom's kitties were on Heartguard. Angel Cerise was an indoor only kitty too. Mosquitoes get inside, so you can't be too careful.

  17. We found about about heart worms in cats through our breeder. We're on Revolution.

  18. Hoo Cat very very impawtent info there. We will run and tell Dad!

  19. Glad to read that there are things you can use prevently :)


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