When it comes to heartworm disease, there’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that heartworms can cause fatalities in dogs, cats, and ferrets. The good news is that you can use heartworm prevention medicine to protect your pet from getting heartworm disease in the first place.
How do Pets get Heartworms?
The answer is through the bite of an infected mosquito. A Mosquito picks up heartworm microfilariae (the microscopic beginnings of adult heartworms) when it bites an already infected animal. These microfilariae will then be transmitted to a pet through the infected mosquito’s bite. Once in a pet’s tissues, they will evolve and move until eventually the heartworm larvae enter the bloodstream and migrate to the heart and surrounding vessels. This lifecycle means that when heartworms reach maturity, they have been in a pet’s system for up to four months. And, they can grow up to twelve inches in length.
Can Heartworm Disease be Transmitted to Another Pet? – The answer is no, so if one pet has heartworm disease, your other pets will not become infected unless they also are bitten by an infected mosquito.
What are the Symptoms of Heartworm Disease?
In the early stages, dogs often show few symptoms. Long-term infestations may eventually manifest as a mild cough, lethargy, and loss of appetite. As the disease progresses a swollen belly, caused by accumulating fluids, may be noticed. Heartworm disease in cats tends to present either with very subtle or very dramatic signs. Some cats show no evidence of distress, while others will have difficulty walking, asthma-like attacks, seizures or fainting spells. And, unfortunately, the first sign of distress may be sudden collapse or death
Year-Round Heartworm Prevention
There are several FDA approved heartworm prevention medications for dogs and cats, but only one for ferrets. All of them target heartworm larvae, not adult heartworms, which is why pets should receive them all year long. If you stop giving medication during the winter because you think that mosquitos are gone, your pet may still become infected. Then, when you resume without testing by your vet, the medication may kill so many microfilariae at once that it could shock the pet’s system, with potentially fatal results.
What if my Cat or Ferret Never Goes Outdoors?
Even if your pet rarely or never goes outside, mosquitoes do get inside homes. Heartworms don’t survive as well in cats as in dogs, but cats are still at risk. Plus, diagnosing heartworms in cats and ferrets is not as easy as it is for dogs. Although there is an FDA-approved treatment for killing adult heartworms in dogs, there is nothing similar for cats or ferrets, so prevention is the best course of action.
Heartworm Prevention is the Best Way
Once infected with heartworms, treatment is complex and expensive and can be hard on pets. Dogs with major infestations may suddenly develop blockages within the heart (caval syndrome). Symptoms of caval syndrome include sudden breathing difficulties, pale gums, and dark urine which may contain blood. Surgical intervention is required for survival when these symptoms present. If this happens to your dog, he needs emergency treatment, so if you are in the Columbia South Carolina area, don’t hesitate to bring him to CVETS.