Heartworm is a very real problem for many dogs and cats and has been for many years — canine heartworms were first discovered in 1856. It’s also, however, 100 percent preventable. Here’s everything you need to know about heartworm in your dog or cat.
Heartworm disease is caused by a worm that’s carried by mosquitoes. Your dog or cat can become infected with heartworm when a mosquito carrying the worm bites your pet and sucks its blood. The worm then travels to your pet’s pulmonary vessels and lungs.
Mosquitos are the only way your pet can get heartworm. Even if just one infected mosquito bites your pet, your pet will become infected, too. And since there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is infected, prevention becomes even more important. Heartworms are expensive to treat in dogs and impossible to treat in cats, but they’re easy to prevent.
Heartworm disease has been found in all 50 states, even in areas where vets used to think it wasn’t an issue. According to PetMed Express, heartworm disease tends to be most common in the eastern United States, the southern United States, and near Midwestern river valleys such as the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
Pets that live outdoors, PetMed Express continues, logically have a higher risk for heartworm disease. But that doesn’t mean indoor pets are completely safe. Mosquitoes can easily get inside your house and target your pets; remember, it just takes one bite.
(If you’re concerned that you might be at risk, too, don’t worry. The heartworm parasite only affects mammals such as dogs and cats.)
Preventative treatment options range from monthly pills to monthly ointments to six-month injections. The American Heartworm Society advises pet owners to get their pets tested for heartworms every 12 months and give them heartworm preventative each month of the year.
Heartworm disease doesn’t present symptoms at first. In time, however, you may notice your dog beginning to cough and becoming very short of breath when running. A decreased appetite and weight loss might also be possible.
Heartworm disease in dogs is treatable (although expensive). Sadly, there are no approved treatment options available for cats; however, cats tend to have less worms in their body than dogs, and their symptoms from heartworm disease can be treated.
Vets can use a blood test to check for heartworm disease. The treatment for heartworm in dogs can be a series of injections that require several tests prior to the shots. Because of the tests needed, heartworm treatment can get expensive — according to PetCareRx, the cost of treating a dog with heartworm can range from $400 to $1,000.
During treatment, dogs have to be kept quiet, calm, and still. The worms start to die after the treatment, and if your dog is too active, the dead worms might block its pulmonary vessels.
Many shelter animals have heartworm. If you adopt a dog with heartworm, be prepared to give it the treatment it needs.