Most pet owners have heard of heartworm disease, and many of us dutifully administer a preventative medication to our pets each month. Thanks to a lack of public information, however, some pet owners don’t give their pets a preventative at all, or they don’t provide doses of the medication on a regular basis. Few pet owners truly understand the dangers of heartworm disease and the risk it poses to their pets.
Little Known Facts About Heartworm Disease
- Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. A mosquito can pick up the parasite during its microscopic stage by feeding on an infected animal, and then pass it on to your pet.
- Heartworms multiply rapidly in the body of an infected animal, taking up residence in the heart, lungs, and accompanying blood vessels, and growing up to 12 inches in length. Once heartworms are mature, they can live for 5-7 years in dogs and up to 2-3 years in cats.
- Although cats are not part of the heartworm life cycle, they can and do become infected. Symptoms of heartworm in cats can be subtle or quite dramatic. Infected cats may experience coughing, difficulty breathing, weight loss, seizures, or develop fluid retention in the abdominal cavity.
- There is currently no treatment for heartworm in cats, and because they cannot tolerate the treatments given to infected dogs, the disease is often fatal. Prevention is the only way to protect cats from heartworm disease.
- Heartworm disease has lasting effects on dogs, even after the infection has been cleared. Adult worms can do significant damage to the heart and lungs, making prevention even more important.
- The tests used to diagnose heartworms can only detect the adult worms, so it may take up to 6 months before a positive result is seen. For this reason, most veterinarians recommend that all pets be tested for heartworms yearly.
- Heartworm preventatives work by eliminating the larval (immature) stages of the heartworm parasite. Both larvae deposited by a mosquito and immature worms that are already present inside a pet can be killed by preventative medication. Giving the medication too late can allow the worms to develop into adults, which may not be able to be treated with a monthly preventative.
- Indoor pets need year-round heartworm preventative medication too! Mosquitoes can easily find their way inside our homes, also putting our indoor-only pets at risk.
- Dogs and cats are not the only species that can be infected by heartworms. Ferrets, coyotes, wolves, foxes, and even sea lions can fall victim to heartworm disease.
- Heartworm disease is present in all 50 states, making the need for year-round protection and annual testing crucial for the health of all pets.