Cat lying down

Q. A co-worker told me her cat is on heartworm pills, just like her dog. Is this necessary? Do cats get heartworm like dogs do?

A. We all tend to think of heartworm as a dog’s problem. One of the reasons is that it’s easier to diagnose heartworm in dogs than it is in cats, so we hear a lot more about it. In recent years, though, veterinarians have increasingly discovered heartworm disease in cats who were diagnosed with other maladies, such as asthma and bronchial infections.

Heartworm disease plays out differently in cats than it does in dogs because cats are not good hosts for the parasite; in some cases, cats will rid themselves of the pests on their own. Heartworms can do damage before that happens, however, which is why in parts of the country where the parasites are more prevalent (typically warmer, more humid areas), your veterinarian may recommend putting your cat on preventive medication.

Keeping your cat indoors will not protect your pet. Mosquitoes are the carriers for this disease, and we all know how good they are at getting inside the house. Medication that prevents infestation is the only protection, so talk with your veterinarian about your options.