It all starts when an infected mosquito bites your cat. The larvae (known as microfilariae) travel through the cat's tissue and to the bloodstream. Eventually they end up in the heart and lungs where they may grow to adult worms. Heartworms only have a lifespan of about 3 years in a cat's body. While this is much shorter than their lifespan in a dog, heartworms can still do a lot of damage to a cat's respiratory system - even if they never grow to the adult stage.
Heartworm associated respiratory disease (aka HARD) is the result of feline heartworm disease. A lot of times, the symptoms of HARD are misdiagnosed as asthma or tracheal bronchitis. Chronic symptoms of HARD include coughing, increased respiratory effort, vomiting, lethargy, and weight loss. Sometimes, feline heartworm disease goes undetected and the cat can become ill very quickly without warning. The acute symptoms of feline heartworm disease include blindness, vomitting, diarrhea, increased respiratory rate, convulsions, collapse, and death.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for the feline heartworm disease. Many cats are able to fight off heartworm infections on their own. Veterinarians can prescribe anti-inflammatories or antibiotics to help the cat fight off the infection faster. Routine vet visits and tests may also be recommended to check the progress of the infection on a regular basis.
How can feline heartworm disease be prevented? The best option is to use a once a month heartworm prevention for your cat. There are currently four options available on the market today. Many people think that because their cat stays strictly indoors, they are not at risk for heartworms. This is false. It is still possible for indoor cats to get feline heartworm disease, although their chances are lowered. This is another way you can help prevent your cat from getting feline heartworm disease - keep them indoors. And of course, you can minimize mosquito infestations around the home by removing any sources of stagnant water.