Did you know that when mosquitoes are active, they can cause more than just itchy bites? Heartworms, which are transmitted by mosquitoes, pose a year-round risk to dogs and cats around Mt. Shasta and in Siskiyou County. Here’s what you need to know to make sure your pet is protected.
Heartworm disease is preventable!
When a mosquito infected with heartworm larvae (immature heartworms) bites a dog or cat, the larvae enter the pet through the bite wound. Over the next few months, these tiny worms make their way inside the pet to the heart and lungs, maturing into adult heartworms and causing serious damage to these organs and associated blood vessels.
Your pet can get heartworms from just a single mosquito bite!
Although we can’t prevent a pet from becoming infected with heartworm larvae, we can stop these worms from developing into adults and harming your pet. There’s a brief window (about two months or so after infection) when these immature worms can be killed off. If a heartworm disease preventive is administered during this crucial time, your pet will be protected against heartworm disease.
What if i miss that crucial prevention window?
If immature worms are allowed to develop inside your pet, the worms will become resistant to heartworm disease preventive medication. At that point, treatment will be required to kill the adult worms. But treatment is only available for dogs, and it can be difficult and costly. No treatment has been approved for cats with heartworm disease.
Untreated, heartworms can grow up to a foot or more in length. And even if they are treated successfully, heartworms can cause lasting damage to a pet’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
The best—and most affordable—way to protect your pet against heartworm disease is by giving them a heartworm disease preventive regularly.
What are the signs of heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease in pets can cause:
- Coughing or gagging
- Difficulty or rapid breathing
- Fatigue or weakness
- Reluctance or inability to exercise
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Weight or appetite loss
- Sudden collapse or death
Heartworms may also cause no symptoms, especially in the early stages.
Dogs with a lot of worms can develop caval syndrome, in which the worms block blood flow through the heart, eventually resulting in heart failure.
Cats with heartworms may have other signs, such as vomiting or diarrhea, trouble walking, fainting, or seizures. Early signs of heartworm disease in cats may resemble those of asthma, when they are in fact signs of “heartworm-associated respiratory disease” or HARD.
Even just one or two immature heartworms in cats can cause severe symptoms and be life-threatening.
Why do we test for heartworm disease?
Annual testing for heartworm disease is essential for all dogs even for those on year-round preventives. If a dose was accidentally missed or the dog vomited or spit out the medication unnoticed, they might not be protected against heartworm disease. If a preventive is given to a dog who has adult heartworms, it can be deadly.
Prevent heartworm disease with regular preventives
Protecting our patients against heartworm disease is a top priority for us at Mt. Shasta Animal Hospital (MSAH). Although heartworm disease can be deadly, it is preventable. It’s also much easier and less expensive to prevent it than to treat it.
Being proactive is the best way to help keep your pet safe from these parasites, which can cause serious, potentially lasting illness in pets. That’s why we recommend year-round heartworm disease prevention for all our patients at MSAH.