What is Heartworm?
Heartworm is a parasitic disease that can affect any dog regardless of age, sex or habitat. Spread by mosquitoes, it is found in virtually all parts of the United States and many parts of Canada.
Heartworms live in the blood of a dog’s heart and adjacent blood vessels, grow from four to twelve inches in length, reach maturation one year after infection and live for five to seven years. Adult heartworms living in the heart produce offspring, known as microfilariae, which circulate in the animal’s blood. When a female mosquito bites an infected animal, it sucks out the blood containing the microfilariae. When the mosquito bites another pet, the infected larvae are transmitted and the cycle begins again.
It only takes the bite of one mosquito to transmit heartworm disease to dogs and cats. Therefore, it is vital that owners protect their pets from this potentially fatal disease.
Symptoms & Testing
In the early stages of the disease, many dogs show few symptoms or no symptoms at all. The longer the infection persists, the more likely symptoms will develop. Active dogs, dogs heavily infected with heartworms, or those with other health problems often show pronounced clinical signs.
Signs of heartworm disease in dogs may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen. Dogs with large numbers of heartworms can develop a sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse. This is called caval syndrome, and is marked by a sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-colored urine. Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.
Heartworm disease in cats is very different from heartworm disease in dogs. The cat is an atypical host for heartworms, and most worms in cats do not survive to the adult stage. Cats with adult heartworms typically have just one to three worms, and many cats affected by heartworms have no adult worms. While this means heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats, it’s important to understand that even immature worms cause real damage in the form of a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Moreover, the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used in cats, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease.
Signs of heartworm disease in cats can be very subtle or very dramatic. Symptoms may include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss. Occasionally an affected cat may have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Unfortunately, the first sign in some cases is sudden collapse of the cat, or sudden death.Keep in mind that heartworm in Cats in the Idaho area is rare. How is heartworm tested? Talk to your Veterinarian about the simple blood test.
We recommend to have your pet on year round prevention. We offer Pro Heart, TriHeart Plus and Sentinel. For more information, please give us a call and we'll be more than happy to help.
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