Spring is officially upon us (hooray!), and with spring comes heartworm season. The weather is warming up, mosquitoes are multiplying, and the chances of your canine or feline (ferrets, too) contracting the disease become greater. So, it is time to be aware and to take the appropriate preventative steps to keep your beloved pet healthy and heartworm-free!
Heartworm is a serious and deadly disease that is carried by mosquitoes. It is brought on by parasitic worms living in the arteries of the lungs and sometimes in the right side of the heart of dogs, cats, wolves, foxes, ferrets, and in rare cases, humans. Heartworms are one of many species of roundworms, and dogs and cats of any age or breed are susceptible to being infected by them.
This is an issue that hits very close to home for us, as one of our dogs — Sango — came to us heartworm positive. Knowing the condition could be potentially fatal, we were very worried for Sango and his health. But we remained vigilant with him, took the proper steps to care for him, and through veterinary-prescribed treatment he eventually tested negative for heartworm! Yay Sango!! 🙂
Animals carrying adult worms are recognized as the reservoir of heartworm infection since the disease is spread by mosquitoes that become infected with microfilariae while taking a blood meal from an infected animal. The microfilariae then mature into the infective larval stage within the mosquito, and when the mosquito bites another susceptible animal, the larvae are deposited on the skin and actively migrate into their new host.
Many pet owners make the mistake of thinking they can ignore the threat of heartworm because their geographical region does not see large populations of mosquitoes. But heartworm has been reported in all 50 states! Here is a helpful map, courtesy of the American Heartworm Society, that shows particularly endemic areas for heartworm infection based on the number of cases reported by clinics.
Dogs can suffer severe heart and lung damage from heartworm disease. Cats typically have fewer worms that survive to adulthood. Therefore, cats exhibit minimal changes in the heart. A cat’s primary response to heartworm disease occurs in the lungs.
Be aware that in both dogs and cats, clinical signs of heartworm infection may not be recognized in the early stages. Recently infected dogs often exhibit no sign of the disease. Heavily infected dogs may eventually shows signs such as a mild, persistent cough, a reluctance to move or exercise, fatigue after moderate exercise, diminished appetite, and weight loss. Cats may show signs that are very non-specific or that mimic other feline diseases. Chronic clinical signs include vomiting, gagging, difficulty or rapid breathing, lethargy, and weight loss.
To detect heartworm infection in an apparently healthy animal, you will need to have your veterinarian perform a blood test. Be advised, however, that the test is not consistently positive until approximately seven months after infection has occurred.
Again with spring here, NOW is the time to talk to your veterinarian about how to best prevent your pets from contracting the disease. This is especially imperative for cats, as no effective treatment exists for heartworm disease in cats.
Heartworm prevention is safe, easy, and inexpensive. Most heartworm prevention medications are administered by an easy once-per-month chewable tablet that is yummy for dogs and cats just like a treat! These medications interrupt heartworm development before adult worms reach the lungs and cause disease. They usually cost about $5 – $10 per month, depending on the size/weight of the animal. This method is extremely effective, and when administered properly and on a timely schedule, heartworm disease can be completely prevented! Just remember: It is your responsibility to faithfully maintain the prevention program you have selected in consultation with your veterinarian.
Thank you all for reading this very important post! And for much more in-depth information regarding heartworm disease and prevention please visit the American Heartworm Society at http://www.heartwormsociety.org/
HAPPY SPRING!!! 🙂
And remember you can always reach us by phone at (505) 410-7954 or email at email@example.com for ALL your pet sitting and house sitting needs!
~Duck & Turtle
P.S. Say “hello” and leave us your thoughts in the comments!