Tag Archives: heartworm disease

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworms & How to Protect Your Pet

heartworm prevention

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is a very serious disease found in ferrets, cats, and most commonly dogs. If untreated, it can result in severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and in some cases it may be fatal.

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis, which spreads through a mosquito’s bite. The mosquito serves as the intermediate host, meaning the worms live inside the mosquito only for a short period while becoming infective and able to transmit heartworm disease. The next time this mosquito bites an animal, it will transfer the larvae into its bloodstream. The animal will then serve as the definitive host, which means the worms mature into adults, mate, and even produce offspring while living inside the animal. 

These worms often nestle into the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of the infected animal, hence the name “heartworm” disease.

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

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworms in Dogs?

In the early stages, many dogs will show only few symptoms (if any at all) and the severity depends on several things: 1) how many worms are residing inside of the dog (worm burden), 2) how long it has been infected, and 3) how its body is responding to the presence of the worms. The dog’s activity levels also play a role in the severity of heartworm disease and when the symptoms are first noticed. 

Inactive dogs, recently infected dogs, or those that have low worm burdens may not show obvious signs, whereas dogs with heavier worm burdens, active dogs, or those that have been infected for a long time will often show more obvious symptoms.

Some signs of heartworm disease can include:

  • Mild, persistent cough
  • Lethargy/avoids exertion
  • Fatigue after mild to moderate activity
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Periodic vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

As the disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and/or a swollen tummy as excess fluid builds up in the abdomen. Dogs can also develop sudden blockages of blood flow in the heart, leading to cardiovascular collapse. This is marked by the sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark, bloody or coffee-colored urine usually requiring prompt surgical intervention.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworms in Cats?

While most heartworms do not survive to the adult stage in cats, it is possible. Both outdoor and indoor cats are at risk, and the signs can be either very subtle or very dramatic. 

Some symptoms displayed by infected cats may include:

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

Occasionally, an infected cat may have difficulty walking, experience seizures or fainting, or suffer from fluid build-up in the abdomen similar to that in dogs.

How to Prevent Heartworms in Your Pets

The best treatment is prevention, and fortunately, there are many FDA-approved preventative products available today. However, all of them require a veterinarian’s prescription so scheduling an appointment is the first step toward preventing heartworm disease. 

The most common products are given on a monthly basis either orally or as a topical liquid applied to the skin by the pet owner. Another option is an injectable product, administered just under the skin every 6 or 12 months by a veterinarian. Additionally, some preventative medications also contain effective ingredients against certain intestinal parasites (hookworms and roundworms).

Year-round prevention is the best option to help ensure the safety of your pet. Contact us at AZPetVet to schedule a preventative care exam and we can help you decide which options are best suited for your pet!

Disclaimer: Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.

Cats May Be at Risk for Heartworm Disease

There’s a common misconception that cats are not affected by heartworm disease; we’re here to tell you that is false! So, if felines can get heartworm disease, is it the same as canine heartworms? Is it preventable? Let us help fill you in on the important facts surrounding how heartworm disease can affect our feline family members.

Feline and canine heartworm disease are the same in that they both are caused by a bite from an infected mosquito and can be potentially fatal. The difference is in the nature of the disease, and how it’s detected and diagnosed.

Heartworm Disease in Felines

Unlike dogs, cats are not a natural host for heartworms – which means the larvae will likely have a shorter lifespan. Fortunately, this makes it more difficult for heartworms to affect the larger organs, but can create significant heart, pulmonary artery, and respiratory problems. While it is less likely cats will get heartworm, this doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Studies indicate that a solid approximation would be 10%; so, for every 100 dogs that are heartworm positive, there will be 10 positive cases of feline heartworm.

In the cases feline heartworm, many cats will not show symptoms ultimately making it a difficult disease to detect. Often times, the symptoms – including coughing, vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, and even weight loss – mimic those of other common diseases. If your cat is showing any of these symptoms, please contact us immediately.

Here is an incredibly important fact: There are both oral and topical prescriptions that can help PREVENT heartworm disease from occurring; however, there are currently no approved drugs for TREATING heartworm in cats. So, if your cat becomes infected, any treatments to kill adult heartworms can cause incredible health complications for your pet. As the adult worms die and pass through the arteries to the lungs of your cat when attempting heartworm treatment, it can cause failure in the lungs and sudden death of your beloved feline companion.

Talk with us at your next appointment to review the risks for your cat, and to discuss prevention opportunities that may work best for your individual pet. As your trusted partners in pet healthcare, we want to help you ensure that your pet leads the healthiest and happiest life possible!

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.