During mosquito season, your pets have an increased risk of heartworms and heartworm disease. Actually, heartworms are a year-round problem in many warmer climates including Texas, so we recommend year-round education and prevention.
Here are some simple questions and answers, which we hope will help you understand this devastating disease and what you can do to prevent your pet from being infected:
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal infection of the heart and lungs, which is caused by worms.
How do cats and dogs get this infection?
When an infected mosquito bites a cat or dog, it passes worm larvae into the animal’s blood stream, which results in a heartworm infection. Many people assume that their "indoor" cat is not at risk. Unfortunately, this is not true. Mosquitoes can enter your home anytime a door or window is opened.
How long can the worm survive in the cat or dog?
The adult worms can live for as long as five to seven years, and they can grow to be as long as 14 inches!
What do these worms do inside the cat or dog?
The adult worms live in the heart and in the arteries of the lungs. As the heartworms multiply and grow, they can clog the heart and main blood vessels, leading to damage of other organs. If not diagnosed and treated, heartworms are almost always fatal in dogs. There is no treatment for cats, so they are almost always fatal.
What are the symptoms of an infection?
In dogs, the symptoms include mild, persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, tiredness after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite, and weight loss. The symptoms in cats are more difficult to identify as heartworm disease. They can be mistaken for other common cat illnesses. The symptoms include vomiting, gagging, difficulty breathing or rapid breathing, lethargy and weight loss.
How do I know if my dog or cat has been infected?
It takes up to 7 months for the larvae to mature into adult worms and be detectable by testing. Without testing or treatment, it can take up to two years before an infected pet shows symptoms. We recommend having your vet perform a simple blood test once a year when you bring them in for their annual exam and vaccinations. If you adopt a pet and are not sure of his/her preventative history, you might want to consider having them tested for heartworm disease twice in the first year.
How Can I Prevent Heartworm Disease?
Prevention is safe and inexpensive compared to treating a dog after they are infected! Since there is no treatment for cats, prevention is a must! There are many preventative options available through your vet’s office. Talk to your vet about which option would be best for you and your pet. All of the available options are extremely effective, and when administered correctly, heartworm infection can be completely prevented.