Taking steps to prevent heartworm disease in pets

Taking steps to prevent heartworm disease in pets - Vetster

Has your dog developed a strange cough? Or have you noticed a general fatigue in your cat that wasn’t there before? When your pet is ill, it isn’t always easy to know or understand what’s got them feeling upset. As the guardian of your pet, you are their voice and even seemingly small symptoms like a drop in appetite can be indicative of a bigger issue - something like heartworm.

What is heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease, or ‘heartworm’ is a serious disease caused by a rather grotesque parasitic worm called Dirofilaria Immitis. This pest takes up residence in your pet’s heart chambers and surrounding vessels, and despite its romantic-sounding name, we can assure you there is nothing lovely about it. If left untreated, heartworm infections can lead to serious health issues like heart failure, or worse death. When it comes to heartworm, prevention is imperative for dogs, cats and ferrets.

How does my pet get heartworm?

This is a great question and the lifecycle of heartworm is complex. Put simply, if an animal is infected by heartworm, the worm will produce millions of offspring called microfilaria which travel in the blood. Gross! Then, when mosquitoes bite the infected animal, these micofilaria will travel by mosquito to the next animal it bites - your pet. If you needed another reason to be annoyed by mosquitoes, this is it! Mosquitoes are largely responsible for the way heartworm spreads among animals.

What are some signs to look out for?

Any of the following symptoms in your pet may be indicative of heartworm disease:

  • A persistent cough
  • An unwillingness to exercise or lack of energy
  • Decreased appetite
  • A sudden drop in weight

A diagnosis of heartworm often requires blood work to be done. And for some pets - notably cats and ferrets - an x-ray may be needed to confirm a heartworm diagnosis.

Is there a treatment for heartworm?

The best way to treat heartworm is to prevent it! To understand your prevention options, speak to a Vetster Veterinarian about a heartworm prevention protocol. These FDA-approved preventatives require a prescription and are your best first-line of defense. Often administered monthly for oral medications and every 6 or 12 months for injections, these medications work to eliminate any immature stages of heartworm before they take up residence in the heart.

If your pet does become infected with heartworm, treatment options are unfortunately limited - particularly for cats and ferrets. It’s another reason why prevention of heartworm is absolutely critical. Currently there are no medications once a cat or ferret becomes infected that rids them of heartworm. For dogs that are diagnosed with heartworm, medication can be administered in a series of (very harsh) injections which kill the adult heartworm.

You’re now familiar with heartworm disease and the potential harm this can cause your pet. If you spot any symptoms that you’re not sure about, reach out to our team of licensed veterinary professionals who can help you understand your pet and their symptoms. And remember, prevention is key!

The Vetster Editorial Team is comprised of seasoned writers and communicators dedicated to elevating stories about Vetster, pets and their owners.

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