Heartworm disease is a life-threatening parasitic infection that affects more than a million dogs and cats in the United States every year. Fortunately, the condition is entirely preventable, and you can take steps to keep your pet safe. Our team at Dove Mountain Veterinary shares six reasons why every pet should receive year-round veterinarian-prescribed heartworm prevention.
#1: Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states
There really is nowhere to hide from heartworm disease. The potentially deadly parasitic infection is transmitted from animal to animal by infected mosquitoes. When mosquitoes bite and feed on a pet dog or wild canid infected with heartworm disease, they ingest the larval stage of Dirofilaria immitis—a blood-borne parasite. After maturing inside the mosquito, the infective larvae are transferred through a bite wound to another animal.
#2: Heartworm disease can be fatal in pets
When an infected mosquito bites a pet, heartworm larvae enter through the bite wound. Over the next several months, the larvae migrate to the pet’s large lung and heart vessels, where they mature into adults that can grow 6 to 12 inches long. When the adult worms lodge in a pet’s heart and pulmonary arteries, inflammation and blockage occur, leading to heart failure, and, in some cases, death.
#3: Pets are at risk all year long
Although mosquito season peaks in the summer when temperatures and humidity are highest, the season never completely ends. Parasites are a constant threat to pets, especially in warm climates where temperatures seldom drop to freezing. Monthly medication can easily prevent heartworm infection and disease, as long as the preventives are given year-round, since even a two- or three-month lapse will allow infection to take hold.
#4: Cats and dogs are susceptible to heartworm disease
Cats are fortunate—they are not the preferred blood meal for some mosquitoes, and they are not an ideal host for heartworms. However, they can be infected, and indoor and outdoor cats are at risk. Heartworm disease in cats looks different than it does in dogs. They generally develop fewer mature adult worms. However, because cats have a small body size, having only a few heartworms is still dangerous. It is also harder to detect heartworm infections in cats than in dogs, and not all cats show signs. In cats that show signs of heartworm disease, respiratory issues are the most obvious because of the heartworm-induced lung damage. Unfortunately, no safe treatment is available for cats, and many heartworm-positive cats succumb to complications—making prevention the only safe and healthy choice in the fight against the disease.
#5: Heartworm disease treatment can be expensive and challenging
If heartworm disease is suspected, the veterinarian will evaluate a pet’s blood for circulating microfilariae and the presence of adult female heartworms (i.e., antigen test). Additional imaging, such as chest X-rays and a cardiac ultrasound, may be recommended to evaluate heartworm-related changes and determine the stage of the disease. Annual heartworm testing is strongly recommended for all dogs and cats, indoor and outdoor, to identify early infection and minimize long-term damage.
Treating heartworm disease can be expensive and challenging, and the earlier a pet is diagnosed and begins treatment, the better their prognosis is. Heartworm treatment, which is available only for dogs, involves a series of deep intramuscular injections to kill the circulating adult heartworms. If a dog is clinically ill, they first will be stabilized to ensure they are healthy enough for treatment. Dogs must have their activity restricted before and during treatment—which typically takes several months—to prevent excessive damage to their heart and lungs. The restriction is especially important during the treatment phase when the dead and dying worms can form a life-threatening blockage.
#6: Heartworm disease is a preventable disease
Heartworm prevention prescribed by your pet’s veterinarian is the best way to ensure their protection against this potentially deadly disease—and for cats, the only way. Prevention is available in monthly oral or topical treatment for dogs and cats, and 6- or 12-month injections for dogs. At Dove Mountain Veterinary, we recommend Heartgard Plus for many of our patients, but our veterinarians can make specific recommendations that will suit your pet’s age, breed, and individual preferences.
Spare your pet from this devastating disease by ensuring they receive monthly heartworm preventives and annual heartworm testing. Contact our Dove Mountain Veterinary team to schedule an appointment.