You may have heard our LaGrange Veterinary Hospital team mention heartworm disease during your pet’s wellness visit, but there’s a lot of information to cover about this particular parasitic condition. Here, we list 10 facts every pet owner needs to know about this potentially deadly disease.
#1: Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states
No state is safe from heartworm disease, including the colder locales. New York’s frigid winter temperatures don’t make much of a dent in the mosquito population, so your pet is at risk all year long.
#2: Mosquitoes can infect dogs and cats with heartworms
Many people think of dogs when they hear about heartworm disease, but cats can also be infected. In fact, any mammal can contract heartworm disease, although dogs and wild canines are the heartworms’ preferred hosts, and they thrive in your canine companion. The disease in cats is relatively rare, and often difficult to diagnose.
#3: Indoor pets are not safe from heartworm disease
Have you ever noticed a fly buzzing around inside your home? Or a spider scurrying across the floor? No home is completely insect-proof, and open doors and torn window screens can let in mosquitoes. So, your pet may rarely or never stick a whisker outside, but they are still at risk for contracting heartworm disease.
#4: Heartworm disease signs can take months to develop in dogs
Heartworms have a lengthy life cycle, and can live up to seven years in dogs. When a mosquito infects a pet with heartworms, the immature larvae (i.e., microfilariae) take about six months to reach adulthood after transmission. As the tiny microfilariae develop and grow—up to 12 inches in length—they slowly migrate from the bite site to your pet’s blood vessels surrounding their heart and lungs, where they cause the most damage. Because of this extended life cycle, heartworm disease signs can take months, and sometimes years, to develop in an infected dog.
Heartworm disease signs in dogs include:
- A mild cough that becomes progressively worse, turning into a dry, hacking cough
- Increasing exercise intolerance, fatigue, and lethargy
- Abdominal distension from fluid accumulation caused by heart failure in late disease stages
#5: Cats can suddenly die from heartworm disease
Since cats are not the ideal heartworm hosts, they display disease signs differently than dogs. Cats can have asthma-like signs, known as heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD), that appear as coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. The inflammation caused by heartworms creates not only this respiratory response, but can also cause vomiting, seizures, ataxia, and collapse. In rare cases, cats suddenly die without showing any signs of illness.
#6: No heartworm treatment exists for cats
Cats truly get the short end of the stick with heartworm disease—this parasitic condition can be abruptly fatal, and also no heartworm treatment is approved for cats. Additionally, there is no truly accurate means to diagnose the condition in cats. Treatment for dogs is a lengthy, uncomfortable protocol associated with serious potential side effects, but cats do not have that option. The only treatment plan for cats with heartworm disease is nursing care until the heartworms hopefully die off.
#7: Annual heartworm tests are recommended for pets
Your pet’s annual wellness visit includes preventive care, such as vaccinations, diagnostic testing, and fecal testing. Dogs should also receive an annual heartworm test to ensure their heartworm prevention is working properly, and was administered on time each month. Without annual testing, your pet can experience severe, permanent scarring in their vasculature system if heartworms are unknowingly lurking.
#8: Testing for heartworms can be challenging
Heartworms are a tricky parasite, in that testing for their presence can be challenging. In-hospital tests check whether adult female heartworms are present, so any test performed less than six months after an infected mosquito’s bite will be negative. And, if the microfilariae develop only into adult males, the test will also be negative. Additionally, too few adult worms can trigger a false-negative result. Since heartworm testing must meet numerous criteria to be accurate, that reinforces the need for pets to be tested annually.
#9: Heartworm disease is much easier to prevent than to treat
Since the heartworm disease treatment process for dogs can be dangerous and requires total exercise restriction, preventing, rather than trying to battle against this condition, is essential. Prevention is significantly easier, and much more economical than treating heartworm disease. A variety of formulations are designed to make preventing disease in your pet a breeze, and many products also protect your furry pal from intestinal parasites.
#10: You can order your pet’s heartworm prevention at home
Our hospital makes heartworm disease prevention in your pet easier, because you can order preventives from the comfort of your own couch and have your order shipped straight to your door. Check out our online pharmacy for great deals on your pet’s prevention products.