Is Your Pet Protected Against Heartworm Disease?
Heartworms, which are transmitted by mosquitoes, pose a risk to dogs, cats, and ferrets in and around Fredericksburg year-round. Here’s what you need to know to make sure your pet is protected.
Heartworm Disease Is Preventable!
When a mosquito infected with heartworm larvae (baby heartworms) bites a dog, cat, or ferret, the larvae enter the pet through the bite wound. Over the next few months, these tiny worms make their way inside the pet to the heart and lungs, maturing into adult heartworms and causing serious damage to these organs and associated blood vessels.
Your pet can get heartworms from just a single mosquito bite!
Although we can’t prevent a pet from getting heartworms, we can stop these worms from developing into adults and harming your pet. There’s a brief window (about 2 months or so after infection) when these baby worms can be killed off. If a heartworm disease preventive is administered during this crucial time, your pet will be protected against heartworm disease.
What If You Miss That Crucial Prevention Window?
If the immature worms are allowed to continue developing inside your pet, they will become resistant to heartworm disease preventives. At that point, treatment will be required to kill the adult worms. But treatment is only available for dogs, and it can be difficult, costly, and even deadly. No treatment has been approved for cats or ferrets with heartworm disease.
Untreated, heartworms can grow up to a foot or more in length. And even if they are treated successfully, heartworms can cause lasting damage to a pet’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
The best way to protect your pet against heartworm disease is by giving a heartworm disease preventive regularly.
What Are the Signs of Heartworm Disease?
In dogs, cats, and ferrets, heartworm disease can cause:
- Coughing or gagging
- Difficulty or rapid breathing
- Reluctance to exercise or exercise intolerance
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Weight or appetite loss
- Sudden collapse or death
Heartworms may cause no symptoms, especially in the early stages.
Dogs with a lot of worms can develop what is called “caval syndrome,” in which the worms block blood flow through the heart, eventually resulting in heart failure. Ferrets can also suffer from this syndrome.
Cats with heartworms may also show other signs, such as vomiting or diarrhea, trouble walking, fainting, or seizures. Early signs of heartworm disease in cats may resemble those of asthma, when in fact, they’re symptoms of what’s referred to as “heartworm-associated respiratory disease” or HARD. Even just 1 or 2 heartworms in cats or ferrets can cause severe symptoms and be life-threatening.
Why Do We Test for Heartworm Disease?
Annual testing for heartworm disease is essential for all dogs. Even for a dog on year-round preventives, if a dose was accidentally missed or the pet vomited or spit out the medication unnoticed, for instance, the dog might not be protected against heartworm disease. If a preventive is given to a dog who has adult heartworms, it can be deadly.
What Do We Recommend to Prevent Heartworm Disease?
Protecting our patients against heartworm disease is a top priority for us at St. Francis. Although heartworm disease can be deadly, it is preventable. It’s also much easier and less stressful (for you and your pet) to prevent than to treat.
Because the temperature in Northern Virginia never stays all that cold for very long and it’s difficult to predict when mosquitoes will be active and feeding, we recommend that all our patients stay on a heartworm disease preventive year-round. That way, you don’t need to guess when your pet might be susceptible to heartworm infection.