Heartworm Testing & Prevention
Heartworm disease is present in all 50 states and is a fatal disease if left untreated. The dog is the natural host for heartworms, but cats and ferrets can be infected with 1-3 adult worms. The adult worms reside in the heart and it’s associated blood vessels, leading to heart and lung disease. In dogs symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, weightloss, and vomiting. In cats symptoms can include wheezing, difficulty breathing, seizures, or abdominal fluid accumulation.
The disease is spread by mosquitoes that pick up the heartworm larvae from the blood of an infected animal (dog, coyote, fox, wolf). They deposit this larvae on the skin of a dog or cat that they bite and the larva enters the body through the mosquito bite wound. Since mosquitoes can enter a home, cats and dogs that stay strictly indoors are still at risk
The American Heartworm Society recommends that all dogs and cats remain on heartworm prevention year round. Kittens and Puppies can start the prevention at 8 weeks of age. This consists of a monthly pill or topical liquid that the owner can give on the same day each month.
As with many diseases, heartworm disease is much easier and safer to treat in the early stages of disease. However, many animals that are newly infected, will not show symptoms of disease. Testing your dog, by obtaining a small blood sample, annually is critical for early disease detection. Although preventives are very effective, it is still crucial to be sure your prevention program is working by testing annually. Cats should be tested for heartworm disease if exposure rates are high, or if the veterinarian feels they may have symptoms related to disease.
If your dog tests positive for heartworm disease, the diagnosis will be confirmed and then additional bloodowork and radiographs will be taken to help determine the severity of the disease. A treatment plan will then be determined by your veterinarian. This will include a combination of injectable medication, oral medication, and strict rest. Heartworm disease can be fatal, especially in the later stages. Treatment is costly and requires a lengthy recovery period. Heartworm disease is much easier to prevent than to treat!
There is no approved therapy for heartworm disease in the cat. Medications are aimed at controlling symptoms. Cats may experience spontaneous clearing of the worms, but the damage they cause is often permanent. In a few cases the cat can be referred for surgery to remove the worms. Again, prevention is the best approach to heartworm disease in cats!