According to the American Heartworm Society, the cost for the treatment of a heartworm-positive pet is close to 15 times the cost of a year’s worth of heartworm preventive prescriptions. Most pet owners have heard of heartworms and most know that we need to guard against them. However, we often get questions from pet owners about what heartworm disease is and how it’s contracted.
Heartworm disease is very common in the U.S. and is one of the most life threatening infectious diseases affecting pets. Luckily, this disease can be prevented by pet owners that partner with their veterinarians to provide their pets with routine care and testing.
To make sure that pet owners are aware of the severity of heartworm, we’ve answered a few common questions for you!
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworms are a parasitic roundworm that certainly do not belong inside our pets. Pets may show no clinical signs in the beginning stages, however, they will become more obviously ill as it progresses. Pets may begin to show decreased appetite, weight loss, and eventually breathing problems and heart failure.
How is heartworm disease spread?
The short answer is mosquitoes. Not all mosquitoes carry heartworm, but once a mosquito has bitten a heartworm positive animal, it can spread to the animal that it feeds on. Many times, a mosquito may feed on the blood of a coyote, feral cat, or other wildlife. Which is why our pets need continuous preventatives, as carrier mosquitoes could increase at any time.
The good news is that our pets don’t directly spread heartworms to one another. However, if one of your pets has heartworms, it could be a carrier and potential source of infection to other pets in the house. That said, it’s important to have all pets tested and covered by routine care.
Are dogs and cats both susceptible to heartworm disease?
Yes, both cats and dogs can be infected by heartworm.
What are the signs of heartworm in dogs?
In the early stages, many dogs may have no symptoms. However, the longer the infection persists, the more likely you’ll see your pup develop symptoms. Here are some of those symptoms:
- Mild cough
- Reluctance to exercise
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
What are the signs of heartworm in cats?
Much like with dogs, symptoms for heartworm in cats can be severe or nearly noticeable. Here are a few things to watch for:
- Asthma attacks
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
How is heartworm disease diagnosed?
There are a few ways that heartworms can be detected and diagnosed.
The first way to diagnose heartworm is through blood testing. This is the most common way, as the blood test is a simple evaluation for a toxin (heartworm antigen) that stimulates an immune response.
Sometimes an infection with only a few heartworms will not produce a positive blood test because the infection isn’t producing a significant amount of antigen. Ultimately, the blood test could take many more steps, such as CBC, thyroid, and other testing to produce an accurate result.
Other forms of testing include radiographs (x-rays), or echocardiograms.
How can pet owners protect our dogs and cats from heartworm?
The short answer: PREVENTION! PREVENTION! PREVENTION!
There are a few things that you can do to keep mosquitoes away from your pets, such as using screens or keeping windows and doors closed or limiting any stagnant water, the most effective option is keeping up to date on preventative.
Once your pet has been tested and proven negative, you can start your pet on either monthly medication or for even easier prevention with dogs, consider getting a PH-12 injection for 12 months of coverage.
Are humans susceptible to heartworm disease?
No, heartworms do not have the ability to live in humans. People can still be infected with heartworm through the bite of an infected mosquito, but the parasite is not able to survive in the human bloodstream.
If you have further questions or would like to get your pet on heartworm medication, set up appointment below: