Fall Pet Health Tips: Heartworm

Pet Risks
Heartworms are parasitic worms that live in susceptible host bodies (cats, dogs, ferrets and even sea lions and rarely humans) and are transmitted in a complicated life cycle via mosquito bites. After infection, these worms live in the arteries of the lungs and in the heart, cause inflammation, tissue destruction, and severe health complications that can have fatal outcomes.


Heartworm Lifecycle

The typical symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs can range from no clinical signs to:

  • Mild or moderate coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Weight loss
  • Severe respiratory distress
  • Sudden death

Cats tend to be more resistant to heartworms but can also exhibit signs such as vomiting, trouble breathing, weight loss and decreased appetite.
Heartworm disease is usually detected in dogs via a blood test searching for the presence of adult female heartworms, which is detectable between six and seven months after the initial infection.

Blood testing for heartworm disease in cats detects previous exposure and the presence of antibodies to heartworms that the immune system produces.

Evaluating the stage and severity of the heartworm disease may include other diagnostics such as a microfilaria test to check for the presence of baby heartworms, chest X-rays, and possibly a cardiac ultrasound to evaluate secondary changes to the heart and lungs from chronic disease.

Like most ailments, the prevention of heartworm is greatly preferred, safer, and more affordable than treating the disease after an animal becomes infected. Preventatives need to be given on a regular basis to minimize the window of opportunity that the transmitted heartworm larvae have of maturing to adult heartworms. Prevention of heartworm disease is usually accomplished with oral, topical or injectable medications that can range from daily, monthly to semi-annual (only available for dogs) intervals.

Treatment of heartworm disease in dogs consists of an injectable medication that kills the adult heartworms, preventing reinfection by young larval heartworms, managing side effects from worm deaths using steroids and antibiotics, and limiting activity during the treatment period. Currently there is no approved medication to kill adult heartworms in cats and treatment is aimed at limiting clinical signs, although some cats may clear the infection naturally.

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With dedicated doctors trained at the best veterinary schools, please contact us immediately if you believe your pet might be infected with heartworm or any other ailment.

Kirkwood Veterinarians
Kirkwood Staff
The entire team at Kirkwood Animal Hospital is wholly dedicated to maintaining the health and wellness of your pet — keeping the entire family happy.