What Every Pet Owner Needs To Know About Heartworm

Every pet owner needs to be aware of the dangers of heartworm disease, a parasitic problem that can cause serious health issues in cats and dogs. Heartworms are spread through mosquito bites and can affect any pet regardless of age, size, or breed. Fortunately, preventative treatments are available to help keep your furry friends safe from this dangerous disease.

What are Heartworms?

Heartworms are parasites called Dirofilaria immitis. They live in the hearts of cats and dogs. Heartworms spread through mosquitoes that carry small larvae of this parasite from one host to another. Once inside the body, these worms can grow up to 12 inches in length and live in the pulmonary artery, heart, and associated blood vessels of infected animals. While cats are less commonly affected than dogs, they can still contract the disease and suffer severe health consequences.

When animals are infected by this parasite, they won't show early signs. Sometimes, detection comes too late. This is precisely why it is so important for pet owners to be aware of the signs of heartworm disease and to get their pets tested regularly.

Heartworm Disease Symptoms

Up to a year after the larvae spread, pets with heartworms may not exhibit any symptoms. Because of this, it is difficult to diagnose and cure heartworm infection in its early stages. Some canines will exhibit signs like the following.

  • Anemia
  • Coughing
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting of worms
  • Coughing up blood
  • Exercise resistance
  • Congestive heart failure

In cats, heartworm signs may also appear as feline asthma or another bronchial disease, with vomiting (blood as well as food), diarrhea, coughing and gagging, lethargy, and weight loss.

Are Heartworms Contagious?

Heartworms can be acquired indirectly from an infected dog. The affected dog must be bitten by a mosquito carrying the heartworm larvae for the infection to spread. The heartworm larvae can grow and become a dangerous heartworm infection when they find a new host. If a mosquito carrying the larvae attacks a cat, the cat may get heartworms as well.

What is the Treatment for Heartworms?

If you think your pet may have been exposed to heartworms, don't panic! Treatment is available. Heartworm therapy in dogs will include medicine that will kill the worms. However, surgery may be required if the infection has progressed and the dog's heart and pulmonary artery are significantly damaged.

While there is no approved drug to treat heartworm disease in cats, medications can help manage symptoms.

Heartworms Prevention

The best way to protect your pet from heartworm is simply to be aware of its existence and take proactive steps to prevent it from taking hold in the first place. There are preventative medications that can be used monthly or less often. And some of these medication manufacturers, like Simparica Trio, guarantee full reimbursement when you use their product year-round and test your dog for heartworm disease every six months if they experience breakthrough disease.

If you believe a mosquito has bitten your pet, take precautions and schedule routine veterinarian exams, especially if you are aware of any heartworm-infected cats or dogs in your neighborhood. Additionally, keep an eye out for any signs or symptoms of heartworm disease, such as coughing or difficulty breathing, fatigue after exercise, or weight loss despite eating normally.

Heartworm disease poses a serious threat to our beloved pets, but with awareness comes prevention! Every pet owner needs to be aware of heartworm so they can take proactive steps to protect their pets from this dangerous parasite. Regular checkups with your vet will go a long way toward ensuring that your furry friend remains healthy and happy for years to come.

If you think your pet may have been exposed to this parasite, contact Onalaska Animal Hospital right away for a proper diagnosis and treatment options.