April is National Heartworm Awareness Month. Heartworm disease is a disease that is very concerning and can possibly be fatal in pets. It can affect both cats and dogs. The disease itself involves foot long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of infected pets, that may cause heart failure and damage to other organs in your pet’s body.
The disease is primarily carried by wild species that live in suburban areas such as coyotes. However, the mosquito plays a huge role in the heartworm life cycle. Mature female heartworms living inside of an infected pet or wild animal, produce tiny babies called microfilaria that live in the bloodstream. When a mosquito bites an infected animal or pet, it picks up these microfilaria which mature and become infective. When the infected mosquito then bites another animal, the infected microfilaria are deposited onto the animal’s skin and enter the animal through the mosquito’s bite wound. This cycle results in heartworm being difficult to control.
Heartworm Disease in Dogs
Dogs are common hosts for heartworms. Heartworms can live inside a dog long enough to mature and create their own offspring. This easily allows several hundred worms inside a dog’s body. If the disease is left untreated, the numbers of heart worms may increase inside a dog’s body creating damage to the heart, lungs, and arteries.
Symptoms of heartworm disease include a mild cough, fatigue, lessened appetite, and weight loss. As the disease evolves in a dog, a dog may experience heart failure.
Heartworm Disease in Cats
Heartworm disease in cats varies greatly from dogs. Cats are not typical hosts for heartworms, but the presence of heartworms may still exist causing great damage if left untreated. Most worms in cats do not survive as the cat matures. However, a few may remain causing a condition known as heartworm associate respiratory disease (HARD).
Symptoms of Heartworm Disease in cats includes coughing, attacks mimicking asthma attacks, vomiting, decreased appetite, or weight loss. Heartworms in cats can possibly migrate to other parts of the body such as the eyes or brain. The symptoms of heartworm disease in cats are much harder to detect than dogs. This means testing is crucial to not allow a cat to go untreated if affected by heartworms.
Testing and Treatment
The sooner the disease is detected and treated, the better the outcome. Heartworm testing administered annually by your veterinarian will determine whether your pet is infected or not. In addition, heartworm preventative medications are a must.
All dogs should be tested annually for heartworms during routine check-ups for preventative care. Dogs under 7 months old should start a heart worm preventative, but should be tested for heartworms after 6 months to ensure heartworms are not present. Dogs over 7 months old and not previously tested or on a preventative medication must be tested prior to starting heart worm prevention.
Even if your dog is currently on heartworm preventative medication it is crucial they are tested yearly for the disease in the event they have been infected. Missing a dose, or skipping a dose of heart worm preventative medication can leave your dog susceptible to the disease.
In the event your dog is diagnosed with heartworm disease it’s important your dog’s disease is stabilized and treated by their veterinarian.
It’s vital to understand that the medication used to treat heart worm in dogs cannot be used in cats. There is no approved heartworm treatment for cats, therefore early detection in crucial. Having your cat tested yearly for heart worm will make a great difference as well as preventative heartworm medication.
To learn more about heartworm disease, click here.