How to Protect Your Pet from Heartworm Disease
February 8, 2010 -
Did you know that all dogs are at risk for heartworm disease? Regardless of breed, age, indoor or outdoor living quarters, etc., all dogs can get heartworm disease. While in some areas of the country, pets are at a higher risk of contracting heartworm disease, it is certainly present in most areas of the country.
Also, did you also know that heartworm disease can infect cats as well? While the disease has a few differences, cats (even those that live completely indoors) can also be infected with heartworms.
Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal infection caused when mosquitoes transfer the immature heartworm larvae from an infected pet to a non-infected pet. Larvae get into the bloodstream and make their way toward the heart and lungs where they mature into worms. The presence of the worms in the heart and lungs can be fatal if left untreated.
How do you know if your pet has heartworm disease? Some pets may not show any signs of heartworm disease until the condition is advanced. More commonly, dogs may have a cough, difficulty breathing, act lethargic and/or show exercise intolerance. Symptoms in cats are similar and can also range in severity from mild to life threatening but usually mimic signs of a respiratory infection including not eating, lethargy, coughing or wheezing. Pets that are showing any of these signs or pets that are not on any form of heartworm prevention (even if not showing signs) should be tested for the condition by their veterinarian prior to starting any preventative medication. Even pets that are on a preventative should have periodic testing done to ensure they have not contracted heartworms. Heartworm disease is more difficult to detect in cats although your veterinarian will run some tests to help determine if your cat may have heartworm disease. Unfortunately with cats, there is no medication available for the safe treatment in cats where as in dogs, there are treatment options available. The treatment even for dogs though is very involved and can be quite expensive and is not successful in all cases.
Regardless of whether you have a dog or a cat, the best way to keep your pet safe from heartworm disease is to have them on a preventative medication. By partnering with your vet, they can help you determine which kind of prevention is best. Heartworm preventatives may have other benefits as well such as the treatment of some common intestinal parasites so it is a win–win combination for you and your pet.