Heartworm disease is one of the most painful, deadly, and costly parasitic infections. Fortunately, it’s also one of the easiest to prevent. In honor of National Heartworm Awareness Month, here are some of the basic facts about heartworm disease:
What are Heartworms?
Mature heartworms look like spaghetti, and heartworm disease most often affects dogs, cats, and ferrets. Heartworms can live for 5 to 7 years in a dog and up to 2 to 3 years in a cat. Dogs are natural hosts for heartworms, providing the ideal environment for heartworms to mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring.
Signs of Heartworms
Dogs can harbor several hundred adult worms in their bodies, but cats affected by the disease often have few, if any, adult worms (although the immature worms still cause significant damage because of a condition called Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease, or HARD). Signs of heartworm disease in dogs include a mild but persistent cough, fatigue (especially after activity), decreased appetite, and weight loss. Signs of heartworm disease in cats include coughing, asthma-like attacks, vomiting, decreased appetite, and weight loss. Often, a cat will show no signs of heartworm until he suddenly collapses and succumbs to the disease.
Can Heartworms be Avoided or Treated?
Prevention is the only way to protect cats from heartworms. Dogs should be tested annually for heartworm, and cats should be tested before being put on preventive medication. Both cats and dogs should be on regular heartworm preventive medication. Heartworm disease causes lasting damage to the heart, lungs, and arteries of dogs. Dogs can be treated for the disease, but the treatment is expensive, difficult, and often comes too late to fully “cure” the animal.
If you have questions or concerns about heartworm disease, contact us! If you think your pet may be suffering from heartworms, schedule an appointment today.