Before veterinarians had effective medications to prescribe, many animals died from heartworm disease. Today, however, it is virtually 100% preventable, as long as preventive medication is given as directed.
Heartworm disease is transmitted to pets via mosquitoes. Worms develop and lodge in an infected pet’s heart and pulmonary artery, where they can cause illness and even death.
In dogs, the worms live in the heart and large blood vessels around the heart and lungs, where they can damage tissues and lead to heart failure and pulmonary disease. In some cases, the worms can obstruct other large blood vessels, leading to liver failure and kidney disease. Severe cases can be fatal.
In cats, the worms are found in the heart, lungs or a pulmonary artery. While cats are less susceptible to heartworm infection than dogs, their body’s reaction to the worms can be more intense. Feline patients can become severely ill or even die suddenly from just one or two worms.
Signs of heartworms in dogs:
* Deep chest cough
* Labored respiration
* Fatigue and lethargy
* Weight loss
* Abdominal distension or bloating
Signs of heartworms in cats:
* Coughing and/or gagging
* Breathing problems
* Weight loss
* Sudden death
Step # 1: Get your dog and cat tested
A blood test can detect whether or not your pet has been exposed to heartworm infection. Additional radiograph tests may be used to determine the extent of infection
Step # 2: Start them on preventive medicine.
Depending on your individual pet and personal preferences, your veterinarian will recommend either monthly oral or topical heartworm preventive medication. Many of these medications also control other internal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.