Heartworm is a major concern that every pet owner should know about. This diagnosis can be expensive, painful, and even fatal for your pets. Fortunately, there is an easy way to protect your pet against heartworm, but you must take action to ensure your pet’s health.
What is Heartworm?
Heartworm is actually a parasitic worm that lives and grows inside the vascular organs in many mammals, including cats, dogs, ferrets, coyotes, wolves, raccoons, and even sometimes humans. It grows to be about a foot long. As it grows, it can cause significant damage to these organs, such as kidney or liver damage, problems with the lungs, and even heart failure.
While many people believe that coyotes, raccoons, and foxes are the carriers of the disease, mosquitoes are actually a way that the condition is spread. When the mosquito bites an infected animal, microscopic heartworms, called microfilaria, are passed through the blood. When that mosquito bites your pet, it can effectively be given heartworm.
Once the heartworm has been transmitted to your pet, it takes another six months for the heartworm to mature to sexual age, where it will begin to reproduce. Heartworms can live for around 5-7 years in a dog, and 2-3 years in a cat.
Pets that are infected are also carriers and can infect your other pets through contact with infected blood.
Of course, the first line of defense against heartworm is prevention. Trying to reduce the mosquito population in your area can help. This means eliminating standing and stagnant water around your property that is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. In addition, you can avoid having your animals outside at peak times for mosquito activity, put a repellent collar on your animals, or using repellent in your outdoor spaces.
For dogs, heartworm prevention should be part of a biannual routine. This means that every six months, they should receive a prescription from the vet for some type of treatment to prohibit them from being infected. Treatment options include chewable or swallowed the medicine or injections that allow the medication to be put directly into the bloodstream.
It is important to note that heartworm medication is only available with a prescription from your veterinarian.
Cats are a different story than dogs. Cats that are diagnosed with heartworm typically do not have any adult stage heartworm present in their system. In addition, while dogs can have hundreds of heartworms in their bodies, cats may only have 2 or 3 that have not reached the adult stage. Even though the number of heartworms is far less in cats than dogs, significant death and damage can still occur. Additionally, the same medication that is used in dogs cannot be used on cats. There is no current medication for cat heartworm. This means that prevention is the best course of action to protect your cat from becoming infected.
Signs of Heartworm
The signs of heartworm in dogs and cats can vary by species and even in how each pet is infected. Some animals continue to be very active and not show any symptoms. Other dogs have difficulty even while resting. Heartworms can often affect the respiratory system, so coughing or fatigue with minimal activity is often an early sign. Decreased appetite, swelling, vomiting, and weight loss are other symptoms of the condition. If you notice any of these signs in your pet, it is important to schedule an appointment right away.
Heartworm is an easily prevented disease for dogs that have the proper medication. Scheduling an appointment with Brekke Veterinary Clinic today can help ensure your dog stays heartworm free for years to come. In addition, we have insight into how to protect your cats in our local environment. Call today to schedule your animal’s visit.