What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a serious and sometimes fatal disease in pets. Normally found in dogs, it can also be seen in cats, ferrets, wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions, and on rare occasions, humans. Heartworm disease is caused by foot-long worms that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels. This disease can cause heart failure, lung disease and create damage to other organs as well.
What are the symptoms?
For canines, symptoms may not be as noticeable at first. Active dogs, dogs with health issues or those in the later stages of the disease will show more pronounced symptoms. The American Heartworm Society states, “Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen.” Later progression of the disease may result in pale gums, labored breathing and dark colored blood in the stool.
For felines, symptoms could vary from subtle to dramatically noticeable. The American Heartworm Society say this about signs and symptoms in a cat: “Symptoms may include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss. Occasionally an affected cat may have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Unfortunately, the first sign in some cases is sudden collapse of the cat, or sudden death.” What is the life cycle of the Heartworm and how does my pet pick it up?
Heartworm disease starts off in a mosquito that has ingested the blood of an infected animal. After the first-stage larvae progresses through two more stages within the mosquito, typically 10-14 days, the mosquito can then carry that infection over to your pet. This is now called the “infective stage”. When a mosquito, that has been infected, bites your pet, it leaves a path for the larvae to travel to your furry friend. The next stage takes 6 months for the larvae to develop into sexually mature adult heartworms and can live in your dog for 5-7 years and in your cat for 2-3 years.
Heartworms cannot be transferred from pet to pet without the mosquito as the carrier, and the disease is not based on location, but rather, mosquito population. Therefore, the increase in heartworm count within your pet can increase each mosquito season. This means that each state can be affected, whether you live in the north or south, though warmer climates are most susceptible. What can I do to help prevent against infection in my pet?
The first step to prevention is with oral, injectable or topical prevention recommended for both canines and felines. The best route of care for canines is either oral or injectable prevention. For felines, we like to recommend our topical prevention, Revolution Plus (more information below). Oral and topical heartworm prevention often include prevention against intestinal parasites as well. Combinations for heartworm and flea prevention can also be found. At Deep Roots Animal Clinic, we offer multiple preventions both in clinic and in our online store (myvetstoreonline.com).
Here are some heartworm prevention options we offer and what they help prevent against:
Heartgard Plus (monthly oral prevention for your canine companion 6 weeks of age and older):
- other ascarids (types of intestinal parasites)
Proheart Injection (6 or 12 months of prevention for your canine companion 6 months of age and older):
- treats preexisting infections with common hookworms (Ancylostoma caninum and Uncinaria stenocephala)
Revolution Plus (monthly topical prevention – recommended for your feline friends 8 weeks of age and older):
- ear mites
Heartworm and flea combination prevention:
Simparica Trio (monthly oral prevention for your canine companion 8 weeks of age and older):
- 5 types of ticks
Annual testing for heartworms is the second step in prevention. If your pet misses just one month of prevention, or even on the off chance a heartworm wiggles its way in, catching it early can help with information and early treatment options.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Even though his quote was in reference to fire safety, it is so true in many other areas of life as well, especially in the area of health for your pet. Contact your local veterinarian today to know how you can start your pet on the road to prevention and let’s keep those hearts healthy!