April is National Heartworm Awareness Month, which is why we wanted to share answers to these FAQs about Heartworm!
What are Heartworms?
Heartworms are foot-long worms that infest the heart, blood vessels and lungs of our pets. They can cause severe damage to major organ systems, including lung disease and heart failure.
Where do they come from?
Heartworms are transmitted as larvae from mammal to mammal by mosquitoes, so they’re more prevalent in warmer season and climates. Heartworms mature into full-grown adults in about six months, and they can live up to 5-7 years in dogs and 2-3 years in cats.
What are the symptoms?
Some pets never show signs of heartworm, which is why annual heartworm tests are so important. As the disease progresses, signs may include coughing, fatigue, lack of appetite and weight loss.
How do you prevent them?
Administering monthly oral or topical heartworm preventative medication year-round is your pet’s best defense against heartworm, and annual heartworm tests verify that the medication is working. There are many different types of heartworm preventatives available, and your HEAL veterinarian can help you decide which one is best for your pet.
The medications used to treat heartworm do not work for cats, which makes prevention even more important for our feline friends. To further protect your pet, avoid heavily mosquito-infested areas.
How is heartworm different in dogs and cats?
Heartworm in Dogs: When an infected mosquito bites a dog, the mosquito spreads the larvae of heartworms to the dog through the bite wound. For the now newly infected dog, it usually takes about six or seven months for the larvae to develop into adult heartworms, which then mate, causing the female to release their offspring into the dog’s bloodstream. Heartworm disease is not contagious and is only spread through the bite of a mosquito. Once inside a dog, a heartworm’s lifespan is five to seven years.
Heartworm in Cats: Cats can get heartworm after being bitten by an infected mosquito; however, they are not as susceptible to it as dogs are—the worms don’t thrive as well inside a cat’s body. Both indoor and outdoor cats are at risk for heartworm disease. Heartworms don’t live as long or grow as long in cats as they do in dogs, and fewer of the worms mature into adults. Cats with heartworm disease may have symptoms that resemble other feline diseases—these include vomiting, loss of appetite and activity and weight loss.
If you’d like to learn more about heartworm disease and how you can prevent it, schedule an appointment with us by calling 929-359-9297.