Heartworms are long, spaghetti-like parasites that live in the heart or pulmonary arteries. These worms cause disease by clogging the heart and major blood vessels, resulting in reduced blood supply to other organs, such as the liver, kidney and lungs.
But how do they get into the heart? When an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat, it deposits heartworm larvae into the body. The larvae migrate for several months before arriving in the heart or pulmonary arteries. Once the larvae mature, they begin to release immature heartworms, known as microfilaria. Microfilaria live in the pet’s blood for about one month and may, in turn, be ingested by mosquitos feeding on the pet.
Because of this life cycle, it is necessary for a dog or cat to be bitten by a mosquito to be infected with heartworms. Heartworms cannot be transmitted directly from one pet to another.
2. Heartworms are everywhere.
Heartworm infection in pets occurs all over the world, particularly in areas where mosquitos are prevalent. In the United States, this disease was once limited to the South and Southeast regions; however, it is now found in most areas around the U.S.
Indoor pets can get heartworms, too. While pets who go outdoors are more likely to be exposed to heartworm disease, keep in mind that indoor pets are not immune. In fact, about 25 percent of cats diagnosed with heartworms are reported by their owners to be indoor-only!
The best way to protect your pet—whether he/she spends time outdoors or not—is to use monthly heartworm prevention.
3. Heartworms are 100 percent preventable.
Heartworm infection is a serious and potentially fatal disease. Treatment is possible in dogs, but can carry some degree of risk, depending on the severity of the infection. There is no approved treatment available for cats. Fortunately, this disease can be easily avoided.
In addition, we recommend annual heartworm testing for all dogs. A simple blood test will ensure your dog is not infected. This is especially important before starting or restarting monthly heartworm medication.
For heartworm prevention in cats, we recommend Revolution. In addition to heartworms, this topical medication also protects against fleas and intestinal parasites. Unfortunately, oral heartworm prevention for cats is not available at this time.
Remember, it is much easier to prevent heartworm disease than it is to treat it! For more information about heartworm disease in dogs and cats, contact us today!