a bit about heartworms for dogs and cats
Pets acquire heartworms through mosquitoes that inject heartworm larvae into the bloodstream during their bite.
As many as 80% of unprotected dogs can become infected with heartworms, with the state of Georgia having some of the highest infection rates. Even indoor dogs and cats are susceptible to heartworms as mosquitoes are very aggressive and often find their way into our homes.
Because of the particular life cycle of the heartworm, even a single missed dose of medicine can open the opportunity for heartworm infection.
Most people are unaware that giving a preventative to an infected pet can result in serious consequences. This is why a test must be done every year (and repeated if there has been a lapse) before preventatives are given. A small amount (3 drops) of blood is used for this test.
What is a heartworm?
The heartworm is a large worm, up to 14 inches long, that lives in the heart and pulmonary arteries of an infected animal. Dogs and other canines, such as coyotes, are the natural hosts, but cats can become infected as well.
Can a heartworm infection lead to death?
Yes! Heartworm infection can lead to heart failure or sudden death in canines. Coughing and exercise intolerance are common signs of this disease, but these symptoms often take years to develop as their heart problems slowly and quietly worsen.
Other pets can die very suddenly with no prior evidence of any problems. This disease is mostly avoidable with a monthly heartworm preventative. Unfortunately, we still treat many dogs for heartworms and the numbers are actually rising.
Cats, on the other hand, respond quite differently.
Once infected with heartworms, cats typically have signs of lung disease rather than heart problems, although sudden death and heart disease is seen occasionally.
In fact, it is thought that many cats are incorrectly diagnosed with feline asthma. In our area, the number of heartworm-infected cats is larger than those affected by feline leukemia. So a monthly preventative is just as important for cats!