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Heartworm Disease

March 26, 2012

Many of us have enjoyed our past mild winter. We are not the only ones to appreciate the warmer weather though. Many insects such as mosquitoes may be getting an early start as well. While mosquitoes can carry a variety of diseases that affect humans and other animals, one of the main concerns for our animal friends is heartworm disease.

While many think of heartworm disease affecting only dogs, it can affect other animals as well, including cats. According to the American Heartworm Society though there are some differences in infections between the two species. Dogs are much more likely to become infected if exposed to infective larvae than cats are; the lifespan of worms in infected dogs is up to twice as long as it is in cats; dogs usually tend to carry a larger number of worms and are much more likely to have microfilaria or ‘baby worms’ circulating in their blood streams.

How can you tell if your pet has heartworm disease? Early in the infection there are often no signs. Later, signs can vary in dogs and cats and will also depend on the amount of worms present. As the worms start to grow they can cause blockages of blood vessels. Dogs can develop a persistent cough. They may have a hard time exercising due to damage to the lungs. Blood clots and aneurysms are also possible and animals can eventually develop heart failure. As with many other diseases, there may be loss of appetite and weight loss. Cats often have non-specific signs: coughing, weight loss, lethargy and vomiting. Sometimes cats can have symptoms similar to feline asthma.

Blood tests are usually run to positively identify heartworm infection. Radiographs can also help with diagnosing how severe the infection is and what damage may have already occurred to the lungs or heart. Your vet will work with you to set up a treatment plan for your pet.

Heartworms, however, are much easier to prevent than treat. There are a number of products available, most given monthly that can be used to prevent your pet from ever getting a heartworm infection. Your veterinarian can help you decide which one is best for you and your pet. So get out there and enjoy the nice weather and make sure your pets are protected from heartworms so they can enjoy it as well.