Lets discuss exactly what heartworms are and why they are important. Most people that have dogs have probably heard their vet’s office talking about them, but they may not know much basic information or understand why they really need to care. Many people also don’t realize that heartworms are also a real problem for cats too.
Heartworms are a parasitic worm that lives off its host. The name heartworm is technically often inaccurate. In dogs, the worms actually normally don’t live in the heart unless the infection is quite severe. They prefer to live in the big vessels called the pulmonary arteries that surround the heart. Since they only live inside the body, you won’t be able to see them on your pet or even know he/she has them unless your vet checks a small blood sample. Your vet’s office probably recommends testing for them at least once a year because they are quite dangerous and fatal if left untreated. Cats are also susceptible to getting heartworms. With cats it just takes a couple of adult worms to be deadly. Most experts feel this is a result of cats having smaller hearts and vessels surrounding the heart. Cats also often tend to get a lot of inflammation within the vessels from the worm from essentially an allergic reaction to them.
Your pet can get heartworms from a simple mosquito bite. It just takes one mosquito that is infected to transmit them. That is why even animals that spend nearly their whole lives indoors can still get heartworms. If you live in the southeast part of the country you have to be even more careful because that region has the highest incidence of heartworm disease. However, heartworms can occur nearly anywhere. It has been reported in all 50 states and is now a problem that has spread to many other countries.
Once a dog has been bitten by an infected mosquito it takes 6 months for the worms to mature into adults and nearly 7 months for the standard tests to catch an infected animal. Typically there are no symptoms or signs of illness for several years. It is not until the worm population really begins to increase or your dog becomes quite active that early signs may start to show up. These signs can be quite mild at first and just be a light cough after exercise or early exhaustion from exercise. As time progresses, signs will often worsen and can vary from severe weight loss, fainting, coughing, and eventually it will progress to heart failure.
For cats the signs of heartworm infection are even more non-specific, mimicking many other feline diseases. Early symptoms are often mistaken for feline asthma or allergic bronchitis. Chronic signs can include vomiting, gagging, difficulty breathing, lethargy or weight loss. Sometimes there are no preceding signs and cats will die unexpectedly. In those cases the real culprit is not determined unless an autopsy is performed.
We hope this article helped give you some foundation information about heartworms. The good news is that there are things you can do to help your pet from getting infected.
Heartguard Plus for heartworms.