What is Heartworm Disease and How do I prevent it?
Heartworm in DOGS:
- The only way to contract heartworm disease is from infected mosquitos. Unprotected dogs, foxes & coyotes are the reservoirs, and only about 45% of dogs are protected on heartworm prevention.
- Heartworms develop in the body and can be 10-12 inches long. They make their home in the right side of the heart and lung arteries. Heartworms can live for 5-7 years.
- Heartworm testing tests for a protein that an adult female heartworm produces. False negatives often occur due to a small number of female worms (0-5), or if they have not reached maturity.
- There are 5 life stages from mosquito bite to adult female. This maturation process takes 4-6 months.
- Heartworm disease will worsen without treatment due to reproduction and link of life. This disease can adversely affect heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
- Our region of North Carolina is a high area of infectivity. Two of every three unprotected dogs in our area will become heartworm positive.
- It may take years to see clinical signs of disease. Symptoms may include cough, shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, listlessness, swollen belly, and eventual death.
- Heartworm prevention is much safer and more affordable than treatment. This is especially important right now, since treatment medications are in short supply!
Positive effects of Heartworm Prevention:
- Kills microfilariae (heartworm larvae)
- Prevents new infection
- Sterilizes female heartworms so they can no longer reproduce
Heartworm in CATS:
- The disease process is a little different- usually there are only 1-3 worms and they do not reproduce
- Like dogs, it is contracted by mosquito bite
- Testing must be done by an outpatient laboratory, with increased cost
- Prevention is especially important because treatment for cats in unavailable
- Also, female heartworms can grow to be 12 inches long. This can cause irreversible damage in a small cat
- Clinical signs can be coughing, rapid breathing, weight loss, vomiting, or sudden death.
- Oral and topical forms of prevention are available
- Many university studies have shown that up to 15% of all cats, both indoor and outdoor, have been exposed to feline heartworm disease.
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