The Importance of Heartworm Prevention in Pets


16-PP-1402-SOCIAL-BlogBanners-Heartworms Veterinary Technician Molly Bonacci gave us the inside scoop on heartworms.

Summer is upon us, and with summer comes those pesky mosquitos! What many people don’t realize is that those tiny little bugs can transmit heartworms: foot-long worms that affect the heart, lungs, and blood vessels in pets. When mosquitos bite an infected animal, they carry infected blood to an uninfected animal, and deposit larvae into the surface of the skin. Over the course of 6 months, these larvae grow into adult-sized heartworms.  Heartworm disease is a very serious condition that can be fatal if not treated, and prevention is key in keeping dogs and cats healthy. Some pets even collapse and die without showing any symptoms.

Signs of Heartworm

Heartworms can easily go undetected in pets due to their long lifespan: up to 7 years in dogs, and up to 3 years in cats. The longer the disease is there, the more likely a pet is to display signs of the disease. In dogs, common signs are:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Loss in appetite

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Heartworms may also cause Caval Syndrome, where the heartworms enter the tricuspid valve in the heart and block blood flow. This issue is life threatening, and signs include pale gums and labored breathing. Dogs should have a blood test yearly to catch heartworm early.

Heartworm disease in cats isn’t as easy to catch, though there are some side effects to look for, including:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Vomiting
  • Asthma attacks
  • Weight loss.

An exam by a veterinarian may also reveal a heart murmur. Heartworm disease is more common in outdoor cats than indoor cats, and the disease is found more often in dogs.

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Prevention

Working in veterinary medicine, I hear many different reasons as to why their dog doesn’t need heartworm prevention, such as “my dog isn’t around other dogs,” or “my dog never goes outside.” Any dog or cat can get heartworms, and it is much cheaper and safer to prevent than it is to treat.

Cats: For our feline friends, there are different prevention medications, such as Heartgard or Revolution. Revolution is easier to use because it is a topical medication (a liquid applied directly to the body—usually on the back), and most cats are not fond of taking pills. You also get more for your money as it prevents heartworms and fleas, and controls hookworms, roundworms, and ear mites.

Dogs: For dogs, there are many different prevention medications on the market. The most common heartworm prevention is Heartgard Plus, which is a tasty, chewable treat that you give your dog once every 30 days.  Depending where you live, most veterinarians recommend giving this pill year-round. If you live where heartworms are not as common and you have many winter months, some people may take a few months off. However, it is recommended to give Heartgard year-round because it not only prevents heartworms, but it controls hookworms and roundworms, which are two common intestinal parasites. Heartgard Plus usually costs around $6-$15 dollars per month depending on your dog’s weight, whereas the treatment if your dog were to get heartworms can cost thousands of dollars.

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Treatment

Currently, there is no available heartworm treatment for cats. If a cat does not display any symptoms of being infected with heartworms, you may not know until the cat collapses suddenly. Treatment is available for dogs.  Treatment begins with a series of three injections of Immiticide that are spaced out over a  period of time directed by your veterinarian, as well as antibiotics, pain medication, and the Heartgard pill. Not only will you be paying for all of these steps, but your dog may need radiographs and possibly hospitalization if they are not tolerating the injections well. You will need to keep your dog calm until the heartworms are dead. This is not only a long, stressful process on you and your dog, but it is costly and your dog may not survive it. In the end, a cheap medication that your dog considers a treat is the best idea.

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Learn more from Molly Bonacci, Veterinary Technician:

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One Comment

  1. Posted August 21, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

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