The Secret Is Out On Feline Heartworm Disease:New Studies Call For Prevention & Redefinition

One mosquito bite can infect a cat with heartworm, a potentially destructive and insidious disease, which reveals itself as H.A.R.D. (Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease). The American Heartworm Society (AHS) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) are teaming up to get this urgent message out to cat owners through the KNOW Heartworms campaign, an educational program based upon the latest, ongoing research conducted around the world. The newly launched Web site, , is the source for critical, current information on this issue.

The campaign outlines five myths, or misunderstandings, about feline heartworm disease:

  1. Dogs vs. Cats: Heartworm is not just a canine disease, and it affects cats differently than dogs.
  2. Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats: Heartworm disease is mosquito-borne and evidence has shown indoor cats are just as susceptible to it as outdoor animals. In a North Carolina study, 28 percent of the cats diagnosed with heartworm were inside-only cats.
  3. It’s a Heart Disease: “Heartworm disease” is a misnomer; it mostly affects the lungs, not just the heart. The disease frequently is mistaken for asthma and other respiratory diseases.
  4. Adult Heartworms vs. Larvae: New research shows that heartworm larvae at all stages, not just adult worms, can cause serious health problems.
  5. Diagnosis: Accurate diagnosis can be difficult, since negative antigen and antibody tests don’t automatically rule out the presence of heartworms.

According to Tom Nelson, DVM, president of AHS, we have a long way to go in developing awareness about the risks of feline heartworm disease, the signs of which are similar to other respiratory diseases such as feline asthma or allergic bronchitis. While it is a very preventable disease, studies indicate that less than 5 percent of U.S. households with cats regularly administer heartworm prevention, compared to 59 percent of households with dogs.

Ashley Jones, a resident physician in Columbia, S.C., came home one day to find her indoor cat Harley lying motionless on the floor. After rushing to the veterinarian for examination, the doctors determined that Harley had died from heartworm disease.

“My husband and I felt helpless, and wished there was something we could have done to prevent [Harley’s death],” Ashley said. “We now protect our other cat against heartworms and are proud to raise awareness so that other cat lovers do not have to experience such a tragic event.”

Founded during the Heartworm Symposium of 1974, The American Heartworm Society was formed to facilitate and encourage the generation and dissemination of information about heartworm disease and encourages adoption of standardized procedures for its diagnosis, treatment and prevention. For more information, visit

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) is a professional organization of veterinarians dedicated to feline health care. For more information, visit

Pfizer Animal Health, a division of Pfizer Inc, is a world leader in animal health, committed to providing innovative medicines and vaccines for companion animals and livestock. For additional information on Pfizer, visit


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