April - Heartworm Disease Prevention

Heartworm Can't Be Cured,
But It Can Be Prevented

HeartwormAwareness.pngVeterinarians in Springfield, Missouri  see heartworm disease cases in pets from who live in the surrounding Ozarks region, both in town and in the country. Dogs and cats can all get heartworm disease, although it is more common in dogs.

And these Springfield vets will tell you that heartworm is serious and potentially fatal, and caused by the foot-long heartworms that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets. In dogs, The worms cause severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to others organs in the body.

Coyotes and foxes, which live close to human habitation, carry the disease and are a danger to pets because mosquitoes can transmit the disease from the wild animals to your household friends.

Once inside an infected dog, heartworms mature, mate and produce offspring —untreated dogs can harbor several hundred worms. And the damage they cause can continue to affect your dog’s health and quality of life long after the worms are gone.

Cats experience the disease differently, and most worms do not survive to the adult stage. Cats generally have only one to three worms, and because the worms die before reaching adult stage, the disease may go undiagnosed. Even immature worms can cause heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD) in cats. Because the medication used to treat heartworms in dogs cannot be used in cats, prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm.

Heartworm Disease is Spread by Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes spread the disease by taking a blood meal from an infected animal. During the meal the mosquito Heartworm-Mosquito.jpgpicks up microscopic baby worms floating in the bloodstream. The worm matures to infective stage in 10-14 days, and when the infected mosquito feeds on a cat or dog, the baby worms are deposited on the animal’s skin and find their way into the bite wound. After 6 months inside your pet, the baby worms are now mature adult heartworms capable of living 5-7 years in dogs and 2-3 years in cats. If unprotected, your dog or cat may continue be reinfected in other mosquito seasons.

Signs in Dogs:

heart-with-worms.jpgNone in the early stages, greater signs as the disease progresses. Dogs who are active, heavily infected or burdened with other health issues often show pronounced signs of the disease. Signs include a mild but persistent cough, unwillingness to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite and weight loss. Heart failure may develop as the disease progresses, and excess fluid in the abdomen will cause a swollen belly. When there are large numbers of heartworms, cardiovascular collapse may occur due to a blockage of blood flow with the heart. Unless prompt surgical intervention removes the mass of heartworms, the dog will die. 

Signs in Cats

Symptoms may include coughing, asthma-like attacks, vomiting, lack of appetite or weight loss.  Some cats may have trouble walking, may faint or have seizures, or display fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Sudden collapse or even death may, unfortunately, be the first indicator that your cat has HARD.

Heartworm Testing

A small blood sample is all that is needed to determine if your dog is infected. Because it is harder to tell if cats are infected, different tests are used, and may include xray or ultrasound. If your dog tests positive, treatment needs to start right away. It is expensive and complex, but without it, your dog will suffer a great deal and ultimately die. For cats, there is no approved drug therapy, but we can can stabilize the cat and determine a long-term management plan.

Ultimately, the best care is prevention. Bring your cat or dog into our Springfield veterinary hospital for a heartworm test, and then get your healthy pet on preventative heartworm medicine. 

Learn more about heartworms and other worms that trouble your pets.