Got a cat? Live in a heartworm-endemic area? Do you even know what I’m talking about?

Heartworm disease is caused by a nasty parasitic infection spread by mosquitoes. And it kills cats. About half of those it infects. Does that get your attention?

It should. Especially if you live in areas specified by the reddest zones in this map:

Cats are as likely to be exposed to a heartworm-carrying mosquito as dogs are. Dogs just happen to be the right “host” for this wormy creature; one that nestles inside canine hearts and wreaks all kinds of havoc on their bodies as a result.

Cats are more likely to reject the larval forms of the parasite spread by mosquitoes. their immune systems are more-finely attuned to clearing these infections. But when they don’t, the disease takes on scarier proportions than it does in dogs.

Sure, heartworms are eventually going to kill your dog — if he lives long enough with them. But dogs have the benefit of an available treatment. Cat’s don’t. When heartworms infect your cat, there’s nothing we can do for her except try and manage her symptoms.

Vomiting, lethargy, coughing, asthma-like signs. They’re all a part of feline heartworm disease. Should we identify the cause of these symptoms (through blood testing, X-rays and sometimes ultrasounds), electing treatment usually kills them. We don’t even try. All we can do is live with the disease and hope the feline immune system manages to eventually bring about the death of the worms...

...which only happens about half of the time. The other 50 percent? They don’t make it. Sudden death is a common result.

That’s why veterinarians strongly recommend that you prevent the disease through the kind of heartworm preventatives available for dogs. It’s easy, really. All you need is a once-a-month chewable or spot-on treatment. And this stuff is considered very safe, to boot. Sure, it’s an extra expense but Revolution, Advantage-multi, Interceptor and Heartgard work. They work really well. And the first two also kill fleas and other parasites. The other two don’t do fleas, but they work against intestinal worms, too.

Why not ask your vet about it? You’d be hiding your head in the sand if you didn’t. So says this heartworm-area veterinarian.

Dr. Patty Khuly