Heartworm disease in pets, as the name suggests, involves the infestation of the heart and pulmonary arteries by parasitic worms.
Mosquitoes serve as the carriers responsible for transmitting this disease. It’s a sobering fact that no dog or cat is immune to heartworm disease, and infections have been documented in all 50 states. While mosquitoes tend to be more prevalent during the spring and summer, the risk of heartworm infection lingers throughout the year. Remarkably, it takes just a single mosquito bite from an infected carrier to transmit this perilous ailment to your pet. Although heartworm disease primarily affects dogs, its consequences are much more dire for feline companions. Heartworm disease can incite illness and, in severe cases, result in fatality.
The heartening news is that this disease is nearly 100% preventable!
In dogs, heartworms take residence within the heart and its adjacent blood vessels, causing tissue damage that culminates in heart failure and pulmonary issues. In certain instances, these worms can obstruct significant blood vessels, leading to complications in other organs. Untreated, severe cases of heartworm disease can prove fatal. Signs of heartworm disease in dogs manifest as persistent coughing, fatigue, lethargy, labored breathing, weight loss, and abdominal distention.
While cats are less susceptible to heartworm infection, their systems exhibit heightened sensitivity to the disease. Even a minor infection can trigger severe illness or death. Cats afflicted by heartworm disease may display symptoms like coughing, gagging, respiratory distress, lethargy, weight loss, and, in some cases, sudden death.
Prompt veterinary attention is imperative if you notice any of these signs in your pet. However, it’s worth noting that heartworm disease can often progress without any observable clinical symptoms, underscoring the critical role of prevention and regular screening.
While heartworm disease is a formidable adversary, safeguarding your pet from it entails two straightforward steps:
Step 1: Pet Testing
Commence the defense against heartworm disease by subjecting your pet to testing. A simple blood test can determine whether your pet has been exposed to heartworm infection. If the test returns a positive result, your veterinarian may recommend further diagnostics, such as radiographs or ultrasound, to assess the extent of the disease.
Step 2: Administer Preventative Medication
The next phase of protection against heartworm disease involves the administration of preventative medication. Your veterinarian will customize the most suitable oral, topical, or injectable preventative for your pet. Many of these medications also offer protection against intestinal parasites. In most instances, year-round medication is advisable to ensure comprehensive protection.
What happens if your pet tests positive for heartworm infection?
Unfortunately, no safe cure exists for infected cats due to the severe side effects, such as blood clots, associated with treatment. Cats, in such cases, typically receive supportive care involving cage rest, oxygen therapy, and steroids. However, some instances of feline heartworm disease may naturally resolve.
For dogs, recent years have seen the emergence of safer and more effective products to combat heartworm infection. Nevertheless, the treatment process can provoke side effects, emphasizing the importance of follow-up veterinary visits and close monitoring.