The following article is courtesy of our partner, Banfield Pet Hospital. Used with permission.
Untreated Heartworm Disease Can Be Fatal
A tiny bite from just one mosquito is all it takes for the parasite to enter your pet’s body and bloodstream. Over time, heartworm larvae can grow into long worms that live in the heart and major vessels surrounding the heart. The heart muscles get weakened and the pet’s lungs slowly get obstructed. If left undetected or untreated, the worms can even cause sudden death.
This is why heartworm preventives are important and should be administered year-round. Tablet or topical treatments are available for you to administer once a month, or the veterinarian can give your pet a preventive injection every six months. A yearly heartworm test and preventives are crucial for minimizing your pet’s risk of contracting this serious disease.
Banfield’s Applied Research and Knowledge (BARK) team reports that heartworm disease is most prevalent for dogs in Mississippi (6.7%), Arkansas (6.3%), Louisiana (5.0%), Alabama (2.9%) and Texas (2.6%). According to BARK, dogs living in the south central region are almost 30 times as likely to test positive for heartworms than dogs living in the northwest region.
But it doesn’t matter where you live because heartworm disease is present in all 50 states and has been diagnosed during every month of the year and in every state where there is a Banfield hospital. Although heartworm disease can affect both dogs and cats, it is not as common in cats.
In the early stages of the disease, your pet might not show any symptoms. In fact, in most cases, a pet will show no initial signs of having the disease. But the development of a persistent cough, a reluctance to exercise, fatigue after light exercise and a decrease in appetite and weight can be indications that the disease is present. Cats’ symptoms of heartworm disease can include vomiting, rapid breathing and weight loss.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Following a heartworm test, your veterinarian will perform a complete blood count and urinalysis if your dog is diagnosed with the disease. The medication for treatment (immiticide) is used to kill adult heartworms and stop them from reproducing and involves multiple special injections by a veterinarian and strict exercise restriction. You will be instructed to limit your dog’s activity during treatment and keep its blood pressure and heartbeat low. Too many worms in the lungs can clog blood vessels and potentially cause death. In addition, routine blood work will be done by your veterinarian to monitor the progress. After treatment, year-round heartworm preventives will be recommended to prevent re-infection.
There is no approved treatment in the United States for heartworm disease in cats and so prevention of the disease is particularly crucial.