Tag Archives: heartworm disease

Heartworm 101

Heartworm preventionAs residents of Arizona, it once seemed that heartworm disease was not a big problem for our furry family members. It was easy for us to assume our furry family members are protected from heartworm disease since mosquitos are typically found in wet climates. However, the fact is that heartworm cases have increased exponentially over the last several years, having been documented in all 50 states – including a record of 397 positive cases right here in Maricopa County in 2018. With this in mind, we wanted to share some information about heartworm disease in order to help you make informed decisions on these important areas that impact the health and wellness of your pet.

What exactly is heartworm disease? Heartworm is a serious parasitic disease found primarily in dogs and cats. In reality, we are talking about actual worms, and potentially many of them (up to several hundred!). The worms can be up to a foot-long and live directly within the heart or the neighboring large blood vessels for years. As heartworm disease advances, it can result in a myriad of health complications for our pets including severe lung disease, heart failure, damage to other organs, and can even be fatal.

How does a pet get heartworm? All it takes is a bite from a mosquito that is carrying the disease. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is a carrier of the disease, which is why prevention is the best protection we can give to our pets.

What are the symptoms of heartworm disease? Although there are minimal symptoms in the beginning stages, the longer the infection is present the more likely symptoms will arise. The most common symptoms are coughing, fatigue and decreased appetite. Because symptoms are usually well hidden in the early stages, prevention is key to help avoid the life-long impact that heartworm disease can have on our pets.

How do we prevent heartworm disease? Heartworm prevention is as easy as a monthly oral or topical medication that you can pick up at your next appointment. Heartworm medications cannot prevent infection from occurring but instead treats the disease by clearing out any existing heartworm larvae that were transmitted since their last monthly treatment. We also recommend an annual blood test to help ensure that the preventative is working as expected. With an annual test at our hospital combined with your commitment to providing the monthly preventatives at home, we have the best shot of protecting your pet from this preventable disease.

Why you should incorporate a heartworm preventative into your pet’s wellness plan:
We understand that adding a heartworm preventative can feel like a big step, adding a little bit of expense and time each month. However,
prevention is incredibly easy in comparison to the alternative – once your pet is infected with heartworms, treatment is costly and difficult for both you, and especially, your pet. Treatment includes antibiotics, steroids, preventatives, and monthly injections to kill the adult worms, as well as hospitalization for your pet, and ongoing treatment and testing.

Talk with us at your next appointment for more information on the preventative options for your pet. As always, we’re here to be your trusted partner to help ensure that your pet’s healthcare plan provides them with a happy and healthy life by your side! Find an AZPetVet location near you.

How to Prevent Heartworms in Dogs

prevent heartworms in dogsWhat are Heartworms and how can I prevent them in my dog? 

Heartworms are every bit as disgusting and horrifying as the name suggests – they live inside the heart, lungs, and arteries of affected animals. A single worm can grow up to a foot long. Think about that for a minute.

Adult female heartworms also produce tiny baby worms called microfilaria that circulate through the bloodstream. Baby worms. Swimming in the bloodstream. It’s the stuff of horror movies. Only you and your vet can help prevent it.

How is Heartworm Disease Spread? 

Mosquitos are nature’s vampires and they spread heartworms. When an infected animal is bitten by a mosquito, it not only ingests the blood, but also the microfilaria contained in the host’s blood. Over the next 10-14 days, the microfilaria mature into infectious larvae.

The mosquito is now highly infective, primed and ready to transmit the larvae the next time it bites an animal. It will take about six months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms in the host animal, and from there, the cycle begins all over again.

  • Mature heart worms can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats.
  • Each mosquito season put animals at risk for developing the disease or growing numbers of worms in already infected animals.

Signs of Heartworm Disease in Dogs 

In the early stages, many dogs will show few symptoms or worse, no symptoms at all. The longer the infection is present, the more likely symptoms will develop. Get your dog tested, and onto a course of preventive treatment if your vet recommends it. Signs of heartworm disease may include:

  • Mild persistent cough
  • Lethargy/avoids exertion
  • Fatigue after moderate activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

Signs of Heartworm Disease in Cats 

While most heartworms do not survive to adult stage in cats, it can happen. The signs can be very subtle or very dramatic. Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing or asthma-like attacks
  • Periodic vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss

Treatment of Heartworm Disease 

Prevention, prevention, prevention. Effective treatments for heartworms in dogs do exist, but they are expensive and painful for your pet. There is no treatment for heartworms in cats. 

How to Protect Your Pets From Heartworm Disease

heartworm preventionHeartworm disease is most commonly found in dogs, cats and ferrets, as well as foxes, wolves, and coyotes. Humans may also be at risk, although in rare instances. It’s serious and potentially fatal for pets. With the increase in mosquitos in our state, it’s important to be aware of the risk of heartworms, and take appropriate precautions for your pets.

Untreated, heartworms can cause severe lung disease and heart failure, as well as damage other vital body organs.

What are Heartworms? Heartworms are just as disgusting and horrifying as the name suggests – they’re up to a foot long, and they live inside the heart, lungs, and arteries.

Adult female heartworms also produce tiny baby worms called microfilaria that circulate through the bloodstream of affected animals. Baby. Worms. Think about that…

How is Heartworm Disease Transmitted? Mosquitos are nature’s vampires. Basically, little flying monsters that suck blood when they bite, and leave you itching like mad. When an infected animal is bitten by a mosquito, it not only ingests the blood, but also the microfilaria contained in the host’s blood. Over the next 10-14 days, the microfilaria mature into infectious larvae.

The mosquito is now highly infective, primed and ready to transmit the larvae the next time it bites an animal. It will take about six months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms, and from there, the cycle begins all over again.

  • Mature heart worms can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats.
  • Each mosquito season put animals at risk for developing the disease or growing numbers of worms in already infected animals.

Signs of Heartworm Disease in Dogs In the early stages, many dogs will show few symptoms or worse, no symptoms at all. The longer the infection is present, the more likely symptoms will develop. Get your dog tested, and onto a course of preventive treatment if your vet recommends it. Signs of heartworm disease may include:

  • Mild persistent cough
  • Lethargy/avoids exertion
  • Fatigue after moderate activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

As the disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and a swollen belly as excess fluid builds up in the abdomen. Dogs can also develop a sudden blockages of blood flow in the heart, leading cardiovascular collapse. This is marked by the sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark, bloody or coffee-colored urine. Without prompt surgical removal of the blockage, few dogs survive.

Signs of Heartworm Disease in Cats While most heartworms do not survive to adult stage in cats, it can happen. The signs can be very subtle or very dramatic. Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing or asthma-like attacks
  • Periodic vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss

Occasionally an affected cat may have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid build-up in the abdomen. Sadly, the first sign in some is only the sudden collapse or death of the cat. There is no medication for treating heartworm infections in cats, so prevention is the only option.