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Apr 05 2017

No Love for Heartworms

Heartworms can cause serious and even life-threatening disease in your furry companion. The heartworm parasite is carried by mosquitoes, and just one infected bite can afflict your pet. Like other worms, they live off your furry friend at your pet’s expense. But unlike other worms that do damage in the intestines, heartworms live in your pet’s heart, lungs and the surrounding blood vessels, where they cause serious harm. Even inside pets are at risk of infection, and heartworms have been found in every state of the U.S. Know the symptoms of heartworm disease and protect your pet with year-round prevention so your pet never has to suffer from this devastating disease or its effects.

The first thing you should know is that heartworm disease is different in dogs than it is in cats. While it is the same parasite (Dirofilaria immitis) and dogs and cats are infected with heartworms in the same way, the disease develops differently and damages the body differently in dogs and cats, mainly due to differences between the species’ systems.

Both dogs and cats become afflicted with heartworms through the bite of an infected mosquito. The infected mosquito carries the larvae of heartworms after it has bitten and drawn a blood meal from an animal that has a heartworm infection (dogs, cats and other mammals are all potential sources of infection). When the mosquito bites and withdraws a blood meal from your pet, the larvae it carries are passed through the bite wound into the tissues and blood vessels. Once in your pet’s body, the larvae migrate throughout your pet’s system and begin to develop into adult heartworms. This is where the infection begins to differ in dogs and cats.

In dogs, the larvae develop into slender, threadlike adult worms that can be almost a foot long. The adult worms live in the blood-filled chambers of the heart and in the surrounding major blood vessels. The worms cause damage to the lining of the heart and vessels. And since a dog can have many adult heartworms (up to a few hundred), the worms reduce the normal volume of blood flow through the heart and vessels. The worms can become so numerous that they can even cause blockage of the heart and blood vessels. Most of the symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs are related to the damage caused to the heart and vessels, including:
– coughing, which may be mild and persistent
– difficulty breathing
– decreased appetite
– weight loss
– exercise intolerance
– irregular heartbeat
– fluid-filled, swollen belly
– pale gums and sudden collapse if blockage occurs
While dogs can be treated for heartworms, the treatment is expensive, can be risky for your pet and does not fully reverse the damage caused by the heartworm infection.

Cat adult heartworms are similar to those found in dogs, but are shorter in length, normally around 8 inches long. Unlike dogs, many of the worms die during development from larvae to adults, but still cause widespread damage. A cat will typically have only one to three adult heartworms, and much of the damage to your pet’s body is actually attributable to the larvae instead of the adult heartworms. Another difference is that heartworms in cats cause more damage in the lungs than in the heart, and the lung tissue, blood vessels and airways suffer the most damage. Symptoms in cats are related more to the death of the developing worms and effects on the respiratory system. The respiratory syndrome experienced by our feline friends is called HARD (Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease). Heartworm disease is particularly dangerous for cats because they may have no symptoms at all and may just suddenly collapse and die. And many of the symptoms mimic other common diseases, like feline asthma. If your cat does show symptoms of heartworm disease, the most common ones are:
– cough
– difficulty breathing
– wheezing
– decreased appetite
– vomiting
– weight loss
– sudden collapse
– sudden death
There is no treatment for heartworms in cats.

Heartworm disease can be devastating for your furry friend. Regardless of whether you are looking out for the health of a cat or dog, indoor or outdoor, and wherever you live, year-round prevention is the best protection for your pet. Prevention can save your pet from suffering from this devastating disease or its effects and save yourself the anxiety and expense of trying to treat it. Ask us about heartworm preventive medication and prevent the heartbreak of heartworm disease!


msundgren | Uncategorized

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