Many pet owners believe the likelihood of heartworm disease affecting their pet is slim to none. This is a common misconception! Let’s begin with how this parasite infests both dogs, cats, ferrets and a number of wildlife (i.e. wolves, coyotes, foxes and even sea lions). Generally speaking pets acquire heartworms from exposure to a mosquito carrying the heartworm larvae. Heartworm can grow to 12 inches in length, and left untreated, may be fatal. This parasite effects cats and dogs very differently, but its hosts of choice are dogs. Luckily preventative measures are simple.

heartworm org chartDogs are the primary host for heartworm. Symptoms include: mild persistent cough, lethargy, decreased activity and weight loss. The scariest aspect is that many times dogs have no symptoms. Treatment is risky and a small percentage of dogs can die over the course of the three treatments. Even after the treatments a dog must remain calm for months afterward to not cause a heartworm blockage in the heart due to the decaying parasite.

Cats afflicted with heartworm incubate the parasites differently than dogs. The organism will rarely survive to its adult stage however it can lead to Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD). Cats with heartworm are rarely diagnosed, as an adult worm needs to be present in order for an animal to test positive for the parasite. The symptoms include: coughing and asthma attacks. There is no known treatment for heartworm in cats (besides manually extraction) so prevention is the best option.

Prevention of heartworm is always the best answer. This includes a simple blood test done yearly at your pet’s physical exam. Monthly preventatives are available in a chew form for both dogs and cats. Many preventatives also act as a monthly dewormer, which will help rid your pet of parasites. Call your vet today to arrange your pet’s yearly heartworm testing, and pick up a preventative today.