Protect your pets against heartworm!

Posted on: July 31, 2013
Tags: heartworm

Many dog owners know that their dog needs a blood test for heartworm every year, and is supposed to take a monthly pill for prevention.  Often, cat owners don’t realize that this is also an important disease in cats.  But how much do you know about heartworm itself?

What is heartworm disease?  It all starts with mosquitoes.  A mosquito will feed off an animal infected with heartworm (often times a dog, wolf, or fox), and heartworm larvae are contained in their meal.  The larvae are then passed on to another animal when the mosquito bites another victim.  Once inside the host, the larvae will mature and migrate through the body until they reach the large artery between the heart and lungs.  The worms can cause massive inflammation and damage to the artery, heart, and lungs.  Treatment of dogs after infection with heartworm includes an arsenic-derivative injection, along with several other mediations.  Treatment is expensive, takes 2-3 months on average, and can cause serious side effects.  In cats, we cannot use the same treatment because it can be too harmful to our patient.  We must rely on anti-inflammatories and other supportive care.  Heartworm disease can be fatal! 

The best care practice to prevent heartworm is a preventative every month, even through the winter, for cats and dogs, and a blood test every year for dogs to ensure that no break-through infections have occurred.  When cats are infected, they usually only develop 1 or 2 adult worms, which will not show up on our normal screening test.  We do have specialized tests for feline heartworm in sick kitties, but do not do annual testing in healthy ones.

Over 1 million dogs are diagnosed with heartworm disease in the U.S. each year.  One third of all cats infected are indoor only!  Just the few mosquitoes that make it through open doors or windows can be enough to drastically affect their health.  We can do so much by a pill or topical preventative every month and once-yearly testing for dogs.  Please help us protect your pets!