What Is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal disease in both cats and dogs. It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of the affected pets. Heartworms can cause severe lung disease, heart failure, damage to other organs in the body, and even death. It affects both dogs and cats, but also other mammals which can be carriers as well.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitos and studies have shown that "indoor" pets are just as susceptible to infection as those who spend more time outdoors. This is especially true in climates such as ours. Once a pet is bitten by an infected mosquito, it will take 6 months for heartworm larvae to mature into adults that are detectable by current testing methods.
Dogs are considered to be a natural host for heartworms. Heartworms will progress to adults and can live up to 7 years in the heart and lungs, causing damage to these organs the entire time. Cats are considered to be an atypical host, so heartworms do not usually develop to maturity. Instead, the larvae can induce a severe immune response that can leave the lungs of infected cats just as damaged as those of an infected dog.
What are symptoms of heartworm disease?
Signs of heartworm disease may include:
Signs of heartworm disease in cats can be very subtle or very dramatic. Symptoms may include:
If I give my pet their monthly heartworm preventative, is it still necessary to get them tested yearly for heartworms?
Although heartworm preventative is incredibly effective, no medication is 100% effective in preventing heartworms or parasites from developing. Getting your pet tested yearly can help catch unwanted parasites early on. Puppies should start their monthly preventative medicine right away and should be tested yearly during their annual examination appointment.
Prevention is CRITICAL for cats because, sadly, there is no approved treatment for heartworm infection in cats. Heartworm infection in cats is harder to detect than in dogs because cats are much less likely than dogs to have adult heartworms.
Follow the American Heartworm Association recommendation: Give your pet's their preventative medicine 12 months out of the year and get them tested for heartworms every 12 months!
To schedule your pet's annual heartworm test at one of our animal clinics in The Woodlands, click here.
To order your pet's monthly heartworm preventative medication, click here.