The Silent Danger of Heartworms

Heartworm Story

Read a personal story of preventable loss by Dr. Diana Lafer, urging vigilance in cat health.

A lady petting a cat

The Reality of Heartworm Disease in Cats

Below is the personal story of preventable loss due to heartworm disease in cats, as shared by Dr. Diana Lafer.

Cats Limited Veterinary Hospital veterinarian, Dr. Diana Lafer, shares her personal story of preventable loss.

Feline Heartworm Disease:


This is the true story of my wonderful cat, Pumpkin, and how I lost him so unnecessarily. He was a happy, healthy cat gone at such a young age. I know now I should have tried harder to prevent the disease that ultimately took his life, and this is why I’m sharing my personal story with you. As a veterinarian, it pains me most knowing he died of a completely preventable disease. Unfortunately, this happens to cats every year. My hope is that by sharing our sad story, others can avoid the same fate and painful loss.

Pumpkin’s Story

Pumpkin came to Cats Limited Veterinary Hospital through our hospital’s adoption program. He was a healthy little kitten in need of a good home. Although we aren’t supposed to have favorites, I admit he was mine. He quickly grew to be a small, fluffy orange tiger with a sweet, outgoing, and gentle nature. His one challenge, though, was that he refused to eat his monthly chewable heartworm preventive, Heartgard. At the time, topical preventives were not available, and there was still much we didn’t know about feline heartworm disease. Although my other cat would gladly eat the whole box if I let him, I could not get Pumpkin to take the medication easily, so I was lax with forcing him to take it.

Then, when Pumpkin was just four years old, I came home from a quick run to the store to find him lying on the floor, taking his last breath. I ran to him, trying to resuscitate him, but it was too late. He was already gone. I thought, “How could this be? He was fine a half-hour ago!” He was young and healthy and in the house with no sign of trauma. There he was, still so cute and sweet, but gone. In shock, we sadly said our goodbyes.

I brought him to the University of Connecticut to be examined. I had to know what happened and if my other cat was in danger. After an extensive examination, my university colleagues found an adult heartworm. It was small but certainly enough to kill Pumpkin. That was it.

Did You Know?

Feline Heartworm disease is much different from heartworm disease in dogs. It is often difficult to detect and almost impossible to treat safely, and the symptoms of the disease vary greatly. While some cats infected with heartworm may experience frequent coughing or vomiting, others will show no symptoms at all. In fact, one of the more common signs is sudden death. Heartworm has been diagnosed in all 50 states, and indoor cats are not immune to the disease. In one study, almost one-third of cats with heartworm disease were indoor-only cats.

Heartworm disease is almost 100% preventable with safe monthly medication. As pet owners, we determine the level of care our pets receive and what risks we are and are not comfortable living with. As a feline-dedicated veterinarian, my job is to educate others on what dangers their cats face and how to avoid them. Luckily, when it comes to preventing heartworm disease, we now have several options, including safe and effective topical medication for finicky cats like Pumpkin. I urge all cat owners to make heartworm disease an unacceptable risk. Losing a beloved pet is difficult, but knowing the death was preventable is simply heartbreaking.

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