You and your pets aren’t the only ones itching to bask in the warmth of spring. As the mercury rises and the spring rains collect in puddles, swarms of pesky mosquitoes are sent looking for their next lunch. These buzzing bloodsuckers may be just a nuisance to us humans, but to our pets they can be downright dangerous. In honor of National Heartworm Awareness Month, we shine a light on heartworm disease to help you keep your pet safe. While it’s important to note that heartworm is more common during the spring and summer months, the risk of infection can occur any time of the year in any of the 50 states, leaving none of our pets immune.
What is Heartworm Disease?
Mosquitoes are the carriers of this potentially life-threatening condition that can affect dogs and cats – even ones who live indoors. If there’s a way inside your home, mosquitoes will find it – whether hitching a ride on your clothes or swooping in through an open door. The cycle begins when a female mosquito feeds on an infected pet, ingesting immature heartworm larvae called microfilariae that live in the blood. Once they’ve developed into infective larvae 10 to 14 days later, the mosquito passes on the parasite to another pet. Once the dog or cat is infected, the larvae eat through the skin and connective tissue, reaching the bloodstream. Eventually the larvae travel to the arteries and lungs, where they mature, mate and reproduce, completing the lifecycle. An adult heartworm can grow up to one foot in length!
What are the Consequences of Heartworm Disease?
In dogs, it takes several years to show clinical signs of infection. By this time, the disease has already progressed. Signs may include a persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, decreased appetite and weight loss. Heartworm disease in cats can range from minor symptoms to dramatic, causing asthma-like attacks, vomiting, decreased appetite, seizures, and even sudden collapse or death. What’s important to note is that treatment for dogs is costly, lengthy, and not without risk. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for heartworm disease in cats.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
The good news is that heartworm disease is 100% preventable in cats and dogs. There are several topical and oral preventives available that work by killing the heartworm larvae before maturing into adults. Based on your pet’s needs, we’ll help you determine which product is best.
Consistency is Key!
Heartworm preventives are effective only when given on the proper schedule. Going even a couple of months between doses is long enough for a cat or dog to become infected. All pets should be tested before beginning medication, and regularly thereafter to ensure the product is working. We’ll guide you toward the right methods of prevention for you and your furry friend.