What is Heartworm Disease?
What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a serious, debilitating, and potentially deadly condition caused by parasitic worms that inhabit the right side of the heart and occasionally the vessels of the lungs of dogs, cats and other susceptible species.
How are Heartworms spread?
Initially, adult female heartworms in an already infected animal release their young, known as “microfilaria”, into the animal’s bloodstream. Next, mosquitoes ingest the microfilaria while feeding on the infected animal. Inside the mosquito, the microfilaria matures into an infective larval stage and the infective larvae are then transmitted to another susceptible animal (i.e. cat or dog) when the mosquito feeds again. In about six months, the infective larvae develop into adult worms within the animal. The life span of an adult worm in dogs can be up to seven years. It is a common misconception that indoor only pets and pets living in areas with minimal exposure to mosquitoes do not need protection against heartworm disease. Heartworm positive animals have been diagnosed in all 50 states. Remember this: If you can receive a mosquito bite within your home, then so can your pet(s).
Signs of Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease not only causes damage to the lungs and heart, but can also cause liver and kidney damage as well. Clinical signs in dogs can include a moderate, persistent cough, exercise intolerance, decreased appetite and weight loss. Signs in cats often involve respiratory difficulty which can mimic other feline diseases, such as feline asthma, and chronic clinical signs include vomiting, gagging, lethargy and weight loss.
Prevention: The Best Protection
Although treatment for heartworm disease is successful in most dogs, treatment can be expensive for the owner and stressful and taxing for the pet. Because it is safer and more economical by far, prevention is always the preferred choice. Since effective treatment for heartworm positive cats is poor, heartworm prevention is very critical. There is a wide selection of heartworm preventatives available for both dogs and cats with various methods of administration. These include daily and monthly tablets and chewables and monthly topical applications. These methods are very effective and can help to prevent heartworm infection when given as directed. Prior to any preventative program, animals should first be tested for heartworms by your veterinarian and then tested annually thereafter to ensure a heartworm free status is maintained.
In pets diagnosed with heartworm disease, advanced treatment can be implemented to clear the infection. While this treatment can be performed on an outpatient basis, it is recommended that your pet be hospitalized for a period of time. During the recovery period, your dog’s exercise should be strictly limited to short leash walks. This reduces the chances of partial or complete blockage of blood flow through the lungs by dead or dying worms.