Whether you have a cat or dog (or both), it is essential for good health to stay on schedule with a heartworm preventive. Once a pet is infected with heartworms, there is little that can be done to stop the infection, which can cause serious illness or even death.
Heartworms are actually worms that live inside your pet’s body. They are transmitted when a mosquito bites an infected animal — often another dog, fox or coyote — and then bites again, leaving behind microscopic worms that then travel through the bloodstream. These tiny worms eventually mature into adult heartworms, causing their host a host of problems. Besides triggering lasting damage to the heart, lungs and arteries, a pet infected with many heartworms can experience sudden heart failure and die from the infection.
Dogs are natural incubators for the worms, meaning the heartworm can thrive and reproduce easily inside a canine. Cats, however, are not as hospitable a host, and heartworms have a hard time reaching maturity. This doesn’t mean that cats aren’t susceptible to the disease or don’t require the same attention when it comes to heartworms. There is no approved treatment for heartworm in cats, plus cats often will not show symptoms of infection, but instead could become suddenly and severely ill and die without warning. Heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD) can also develop in cats with heartworm.
Dogs will typically exhibit a persistent cough, tire easily after moderate exercise, have a decrease in appetite and lose weight in the early stages of infection. A blood test can confirm a suspected infection in a dog, while cats often require x-rays and an antibody test.
There are only a few treatments approved for heartworm infection in dogs, but they are costly and may not even terminate the disease completely. Preventive medications are available by prescription in pill, topical and injectable forms. These medications all work the same way, by killing the parasites at the larval stage. Because the larvae become mature in as little as 51 days, it is essential to stay on schedule; just one missed or late dose leaves your pet at risk. Be diligent about preventive measures in order to avoid the heartache of heartworm.