Most responsible pet owners know that dogs and puppies over six weeks of age need medication to prevent heartworms, but very few know just how important it is to protect cats, as well. Cats can be infected with heartworms just like dogs can, and the prognosis when it happens tends to be grim. There is no effective heartworm treatment for cats, so, in almost all cases, this tiny mosquito-transmitted parasite kills the animal. That’s why an ounce of prevention is so important! However, not all cats need a heartworm preventative. Here are five signs that your cat needs heartworm medicine.
1. You live in a relatively warm area.
For heartworms to thrive and transmit between animals, it has to be fairly warm. That’s why dogs and cats in Louisiana may need heartworm prevention all year, while dogs and cats in Minnesota could need it for just a month or two out of the year. If you live in an area that remains cool year-round, you may not need to worry much about heartworms, but if your region is warm or subtropical, heartworm prevention for cats may be a necessity.
2. Your cats roam outdoors.
Cats should not be “outside” pets. They belong in the house, where they’re protected from traffic, disease, dogs, and wild animals. The ASPCA recommends keeping all cats indoors so they can have the happiest and healthiest lives. But, if you absolutely insist on letting your cats roam outside, they are at a very high risk of contracting heartworms and will need a monthly preventative. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, and, while mosquitoes can enter people’s homes, they are much more plentiful and active outdoors. Your cat needs heartworm medicine if he ever goes outside.
3. There have been cases of heartworms in cats in your area.
Talk to your vet about what the heartworm situation looks like in your area. In some areas, heartworms in cats are rare or entirely unheard-of, so vets don’t worry about recommending heartworm prevention for cats. But, in other regions, particularly densely populated cities in the Southeastern U.S., heartworms in cats are actually very common. Call your veterinarian to find out how rare or common heartworms are for cats in your region.
4. Your cat is older or weaker than average.
When a cat contracts heartworms, one of two things will happen: his immune system will defeat the little pests quickly with no problem, or the infection will spread and he will die. There are no effective treatments for heartworms in cats, so you need to depend on your pet’s strong immune system to keep him safe. However, if your cat is a senior or has an immune-compromising virus like feline leukemia or FIV, it’s not enough to depend on his immune system to protect him.
5. You simply want to be extra cautious.
Perhaps your cat isn’t at a high risk of contracting heartworms, but if you’re an especially attentive or concerned pet parent, you might choose to give him heartworm prevention just to err on the side of caution. Even though your vet may not consider it strictly necessary, you might give it monthly just as a matter of personal preference. Bear in mind that, although all heartworm preventatives for cats have been tested for safety and efficacy, all medicines can cause side effects, so you’ll want to check with your vet to make sure that the benefits are worth the low risks, even for cats who aren’t at all likely to catch heartworms. Always defer to your vet’s guidance when it comes to protecting your pets’ health.
For more information about heartworms in cats, visit the feline guidelines from the American Heartworm Society.