Understanding & Preventing Heartworm Disease
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal illness caused by a blood-borne parasite. This disease can cause severe lung problems, heart failure and other organ damage in dogs, cats and ferrets.
The American Heartworm Society (AHS) estimates that more than 1 million dogs were heartworm positive in 2016. Although the incidence is highest in the southeastern states, no region is immune – heartworm infection is a nationwide problem.
The heartworm life cycle begins when a mosquito feeds on an infected dog, fox, coyote, or wolf and ingests microscopic worms – called microfilariae. The microfilariae develop within the mosquito for 10 to 14 days, after which they are considered infective larvae. When an infected mosquito bites a dog, the larvae are deposited into the new host. They enter the bloodstream and travel to the right pulmonary artery. There they mature, mate and begin reproducing. Left untreated, heartworms can multiply dramatically over time. Mature heartworms range from 6 to 14 inches in length and can live as long as 7 years.
Heartworm infection is slightly different in cats. Most worms in a cat’s body do not survive to the adult stage. This does not mean cats are immune to the dangers of infection. Just 1 or 2 worms can prove fatal to your cat. Heartworms can live up to 3 years in cats.
In most cases, cats and dogs will not show any signs of heartworm infection until several months after becoming infected. Common signs of heartworm disease include decreased appetite, difficulty breathing, fainting, fatigue after moderate activity, lethargy, coughing or weight loss.
Your pets should be tested for heartworms annually, even if they are on preventatives. Heartworm preventatives are highly effective but do not guarantee 100% protection. Missing just one dose or administering even a few days’ late leaves your pet unprotected.
Heartworm preventatives, which eliminate the worm’s immature stages, are available in pill, chewable, topical or injectable form can be prescribed by your veterinarian. Many heartworm preventatives also thwart infection by other types of parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, fleas and ticks. It is necessary to administer the preventatives year-round. Even indoor cats are at risk because mosquitoes do make their way into your home.
Call us today to schedule your pets’ heartworm test and to pickup heartworm, flea and tick preventatives. We care about your pets!
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