You might not hear about heartworm as often as fleas and ticks, but they pose a very serious threat to the wellbeing of both cats and dogs and are just as important to prevent.
How Do Pets Get Heartworm?
Pets become infected with the spaghetti-like parasite through the bite of an infected mosquito. When bitten by an infected mosquito, heartworm larvae enter a pet through the bite wound. Over the next six months, the larvae travel through the infected pet’s soft tissues and eventually enter the bloodstream. They take up residence in a pet’s heart and lungs where they reach maturity, growing up to a foot in length.
What Are the Symptoms and Risks of Heartworm?
In dogs, heartworm usually presents no early signs or symptoms. Eventually, infected dogs might develop a cough, weight loss, or seem unable to handle much exercise. Left unaddressed, heartworm can be fatal, causing heart failure, cardiovascular collapse, or severe lung disease. Even when treated, heartworm can cause permanent damage to a dog’s heart, lungs, eyes, kidneys, circulation, and nervous system.
Although cats are not a typical heartworm host, they can become infected with the parasite. Typically, only a few larvae will reach maturity in a cat. Nevertheless, heartworm can cause severe respiratory problems in cats. Signs and symptoms include coughing, vomiting, lethargy, and weight loss.
Heartworm Treatment in Dogs and Cats
There are procedures available to treat heartworm in infected dogs. Treatment, however, can be risky, depending on the individual pet and his specific case of heartworm. Treatment involves a lengthy process that is not without complications.
Unfortunately, no safe procedures exist to treat heartworm in cats.
Heartworm Prevention Is Key
Due to the severity of heartworm complications and the risky nature of treatments, we highly recommend placing pets on a heartworm preventative.
Schedule Your Pet’s Heartworm and Parasite Prevention Appointment Today
If your pet has not had a wellness appointment recently, we encourage you to schedule one to ensure vaccinations and parasite prevention are up to date. It’s important to have your pet screened for heartworm before administering heartworm preventatives, as giving these medications to a pet who already has heartworm can be life-threatening. At Companion Animal Health & Rehabilitation Center, we test our patients for heartworm using our in-house diagnostic lab, providing you with speedy results and your pet with immediate prevention or treatment.