Heartworm disease is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by parasitic worms that can live in the heart and lungs of dogs, cats and other mammals. The good news is that this disease is very preventable by giving your pet medication. Owners must be vigilant with prevention throughout their pet’s life to keep them protected.
The mosquito is the only vector to spread heartworms, so areas with a large mosquito population and stagnant water will have a greater incidence of heartworm disease. As the name suggests, heartworms live in the heart and vessels of the heart and lungs of an infected animal. The adult heartworms produce offspring called microfilariae. When a mosquito bites an infected pet, it sucks out blood containing the microfilariae. After maturation inside the mosquito, these offspring develop into infective larvae. This step must occur for heartworms to spread. When the mosquito bites another pet, the infective larvae are passed on, and the process starts again as the larvae mature into adult heartworms. These heartworms can cause severe damage to the heart and lungs of an infected pet and can cause death.
Protecting Your Pet
The consequences of heartworm infection can be life threatening, which is why it is so important to properly protect your pet from this disease. Fortunately, preventing heartworm disease can be as easy as one injection every twelve months or a chew given once a month. While prevention in dogs is commonplace, this deadly parasite is often viewed as less of a threat for cats. However, cats with heartworm are often asymptomatic and frequently go undiagnosed. There are now flea and tick preventatives that include heartworm prevention for cats as well, so prevention is readily available for cats and dogs. Heartworm infections in Salinas saw a rise in 2019 due to the heavy winter rains. It is recommended by the American Heartworm Society to give year-round prevention. It is important to remember that our coyote population has tested positive for heartworm disease- this wild population is likely to remain a contributing factor to household pets becoming infected.
Start With a Test
Before you begin administering a heartworm preventive, talk to your veterinarian about having a heartworm test done to make sure he does not already have heartworms. If the test comes back positive, your veterinarian will discuss next steps and treatment options. This test is recommended to be done once a year to confirm your pet’s prevention is effective. Even pets who spend most of their lives indoors need protection from heartworms. Unfortunately, although antigen testing may be sufficient for dogs, detecting heartworms in cats can be a bit more complicated. If heartworm infection is suspected based on symptoms, additional tests, such as an antibody test, a cardiac ultrasound study, or X-rays may be used to determine if the cat has heartworms.
Prevention Is the Best Medicine
Faithfully administering a heartworm preventive is essential for keeping your pet protected against heartworms. The key to protecting your pet from heartworm disease is awareness. Although heartworm disease is treatable in dogs, the procedure involves many steps, is quite expensive and your pet may need to be hospitalized. There is no treatment for heartworm in cats, so using medication to control the disease signs is often recommended. Heartworms are preventable. Make heartworm prevention a regular part of caring for your pet — it is easy to do, and your furry companion will be glad you did.