April is National Heartworm Awareness Month, and for a good reason. Warmer weather is frequently the start of many heartworm problems in pets. Many animals are susceptible to becoming hosts for heartworms, but most commonly they are found in cats and dogs. Responsible pet owners should have their animals tested as soon as possible. Heartworm prevention for cats and dogs along with early intervention are essential to the animal’s survival.
Facts About Heartworm
Mosquitoes spread heartworms. Infections are widespread over the United States, and the distribution pattern is almost the same for both dogs and cats. Diseases are more prevalent in the Southeastern states due to warmer temperatures and frequent rain showers. Such conditions provide the perfect breeding ground the mosquito. Once infected with heartworms, these parasites can live inside dogs for five to seven years. Cat infestations are less common as the larvae are less likely to survive in the feline host. Symptoms do not appear in either until the larvae have matured.
Heartworm in Dogs
Canine infections typically do not manifest symptoms until the infection becomes heavier, thus affecting both lung and heart function. Early signs include a cough and rapid exhaustion, especially on exercise. In the most advanced cases where many adult worms have built up in the heart without treatment, signs progress to severe weight loss, fainting, coughing up blood, and finally, congestive heart failure. Diagnosis of a heartworm infestation in canines is usually made by microscopic examination or by a blood test. Treatments can be initiated once a dog is determined to have adequate kidney, heart, and lung tests. After medications to kill the worms, the dog must have adequate rest to allow the body to absorb the dead worms and prevent deadly complications.
Heartworm in Cats
Feline infections are rare due to being an atypical host. Larvae typically do not survive, so the number of heartworms stays relatively low. Signs and symptoms of infestation in cats can include shock, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, and sudden death. Chronic infection can cause loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, exercise intolerance, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Cats are harder to diagnose using the blood test because if male worms are present, the test will be negative, therefore causing symptoms to be present long before clinical confirmation. Due to lack of clinical studies and safe medications, there are no drugs approved for use in feline heartworm infestations at this time.
Heartworm Prevention Methods for Cats and Dogs
Prevention is the best method for avoiding heartworms in both cats and dogs. Many forms come in a chewable tablet making it easier for monthly dosing. This is a most common choice as it is both cost effect and easy to administer. Injectable medications are also available in both six and twelve months sustained release doses. Preventative drugs are highly effective if used as prescribed and owners should have their pets tested annually if they are sticking to a minimum prevention regimen.
Take the time to have your pet tested today, and get them on a treatment plan to help ensure that your furry friend lives a long, healthy life.
See Also – 18 Rare Dog Disease