As soon as you decide to bring home a pet, you know you need to provide comprehensive vet care for cats and dogs. This includes routine check-ups and vaccinations to more serious medical procedures, like spaying or neutering. But there’s one potential health threat that you may not be familiar with: heartworm disease.

This article will discuss heartworm disease, its transmission, and what you can do to protect your pets. 

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm is a parasitic infection transmitted to dogs, cats, and ferrets by mosquitoes. The infection occurs when a mosquito bites an infected animal and then feeds on the blood of a healthy animal.

After the mosquito takes a blood meal, it injects microfilariae (heartworm larvae) into the animal’s bloodstream. These larvae mature for several months (6-7 months) and eventually grow into adult heartworms.

Adult heartworms can grow up to 12 inches long and live on the right side of the heart and nearby pulmonary arteries. The worms can cause serious health problems for animals, including heart failure and damage to other organs.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heartworm Disease?

The signs and symptoms of heartworm disease can vary depending on the stage of the disease.

In the early period, you may not notice signs or symptoms at all. As the disease progresses, animals may start to show the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy

In the later stages of the disease, heart failure can occur. Animals with heart failure may collapse, have an irregular heartbeat, and fluid may build up in their abdomen. That’s why it’s crucial to choose a vet in a 24 hour pet hospital in case of an emergency.

How Is Heartworm Disease Diagnosed?

Your veterinarian can perform several tests to diagnose heartworm disease, including a physical examination, x-rays, and blood tests.

A physical examination may reveal signs of heartworm disease, such as a mild cough or an abnormal heartbeat. X-rays may show evidence of heartworms in the heart and lungs. Blood tests can detect the presence of heartworm antibodies, which are produced by the animal’s immune system in response to the infection.

How Is Heartworm Disease Treated?

If your pet is diagnosed with heartworm, treatment is essential to their health and well-being. The goal of treatment is to kill the adult worms and larvae while also managing any symptoms.

Treatment options include:

1. Heartworm Preventive Medication

This medication kills heartworm larvae before they can mature into adults. It is given monthly and is available by prescription from your vet.

2. Surgery

Some cases may require surgery to remove adult worms from the heart or lungs. But bear in mind that surgery may be risky for some animals, so your vet will assess whether it is a good option for your pet.

3. Antibiotics

Antibiotics may be given before and after heartworm treatment to help prevent complications.

4. Pain Relief Medication

Pain relief medication may be given to ease any discomfort caused by the heartworm infection.

5. Hospitalization

During treatment, some animals may need to be hospitalized to receive close monitoring and support.

6. Adulticide Therapy

This treatment kills adult heartworms and is typically given as injections for several weeks.

7. Corticosteroids

These drugs are used to help reduce inflammation caused by heartworms. They may be given orally or injected.

Recovery from Heartworm Disease

The good news is that many animals with heartworm disease recover with treatment and live happy, healthy lives. The recovery process can take several weeks to months, and you must follow your vet’s instructions. Here are additional tips to help them through this process:

  • Provide plenty of rest: Animals with heartworm disease need plenty of rest to allow their body to heal. This means keeping them indoors and limiting their activity.
  • Offer a nutritious diet: A healthy diet will help your pet’s body recover from the infection. Ask your veterinarian about the best type of food for your pet.
  • Give medications as prescribed: Be sure to give your pet any medications prescribed by the vet, such as heartworm preventative medication, antibiotics, or corticosteroids.
  • Monitor for signs of improvement: As your pet feels better, they may have more energy and be more active. Watch for these signs and let your vet know if you see any changes.

How to Prevent Heartworm in Pets

Prevention is always better than cure, especially true for heartworm disease. Several heartworm preventative medications are available that are highly effective at protecting pets from this disease.

These medications are typically given every month, and some require a prescription from your vet. If you’re not sure which product is best for your pet, talk to your vet about the options.

In addition to using a preventive medication, there are also a few other things you can do to help prevent heartworm in your pet:

  • Keep them up-to-date on vaccinations: Vaccinations help boost your pet’s immune system, making them less likely to contract heartworm disease. It would be best to find a vet that provides affordable vaccinations within your area. Go online and try searching for “cat and puppy vaccinations near me” to narrow your search.
  • Have them tested regularly: Have your pet checked for heartworm disease at least once a year, especially if you are in an area where the disease is common.
  • Reduce mosquito exposure: Mosquitoes are the main transmitters of heartworm larvae, so it’s important to reduce your pet’s exposure to them. Keep them indoors during peak mosquito hours, use mosquito nets and repellents, and keep your yard free of standing water where mosquitoes can breed.
  • Talk to your vet about heartworm: The best way to prevent heartworm is to talk to your vet. They can help you choose the proper preventive medication for your pet and answer any disease-related questions.

Key Takeaways

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease that affects dogs, cats, and other animals. Note that early detection and treatment are key to recovery. Several preventive medications are available that are highly effective at protecting pets from this disease.

In addition to using a preventive medication, you can take measures to help prevent heartworm in your pet, such as keeping them up-to-date on vaccinations, having them tested regularly, and reducing mosquito exposure.