As veterinarians Raleigh residents depend on to provide the best of care for their pets, we know how important it is for pet parents to understand heartworm disease. From what causes heartworms to how they are treated and why prevention is so important, we’re talking about it all today!
Veterinarians Raleigh Residents Depend On Explain Heartworm
As veterinarians Raleigh residents trust to care for their beloved family pets, we do everything in our power to ensure that pet parents are armed with as much knowledge as possible about providing the best care for their pets at home. One of the most important things that we try to reinforce is the importance of preventative medications like heartworm prevention.
What is Heartworm?
When we talk about “heartworm” we are referring to the worm that is responsible for causing heartworm disease. While they live in the heart of infected mammals, heartworm also lives in the lungs and blood vessels of those organs. Heartworm begin as microfilaria, but within six months they fully mature and can grow to up to a foot long. As adults, heartworm can live for up to seven years depending on the animal they have infected and during that time they do reproduce and increase the “load” of worms inside the infected animal.
How Does an Animal Get Heartworm Disease?
Heartworms are transmitted by the mosquito. A mosquito bites an infected animal and while feeding, they pick up “baby” heartworm or “microfilaria” from the infected blood. Within 10 to 14 days, the microfilaria develop into what we call an “infective” stage.
When the microfilaria have developed into the infective stage we refer to them as larvae. The mosquito carrying the infective larvae are now able to infect other animals. When the mosquito bites another animal, they transmit the infected larvae to that animal’s skin where they enter the body through the mosquito bite.
Once inside the body, the infective heartworm larvae travel through the bloodstream and within six to seven months they have matured into adult worms and lodged in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of those organs.
The Difference Between Heartworm in Cats and Dogs
Inside a dog, mature heartworms mate and produce offspring (microfilaria) which circulate in a dog’s bloodstream. These microfilariae can then be picked up by a mosquito when they feed and the lifecycle of the heartworm continues.
Unlike dogs, cats do not usually have microfilaria circulating in their bloodstream and so it is unlikely that an infected cat will transmit the heartworm infection to a mosquito when bitten. Additionally, when a cat is infected with heartworm, the worms generally do not survive to adulthood and if adult worms are present, there are usually only one or two adult worms.
Why is there such a difference between heartworm in dogs and cats? It all comes down to biology. Biologically, a cat is simply not an ideal host for the heartworm to thrive inside whereas a dog is.
How Does Heartworm Preventative Work?
Monthly heartworm preventative protects your pet from developing heartworm disease, but not in the way most people think.
Heartworm preventative works by killing any heartworm larvae that have been passed to your pet through an infected mosquito bite during the month. This is why it’s so important to keep your pet up to date on their heartworm preventative because it does not prevent infection, rather it prevents heartworm larvae from maturing into adult heartworm.
What Happens If Your Pet Gets Heartworm Disease?
What happens if you don’t administer heartworm preventative and your pet develops heartworm disease? Over time, the number of heartworm in your pet’s system will increase and as it does, you will notice symptoms related to heartworm infection beginning to show.
Symptoms you may notice include:
Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen. Dogs with large numbers of heartworms can develop a sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse. This is called caval syndrome, and is marked by a sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-colored urine. Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.
Treatment of Heartworm Disease
If your pet develops heartworm disease there are multiple treatment approaches depending on the individual pet. In some cases, a “slow kill” approach may be recommended which means slowly killing off the heartworm using Ivermectin and in other cases, an adulticide treatment may be recommended. Adulticide treatment is a more radical approach to killing heartworm however, it is more effective treatment than the slow kill method, however, it is not always the best approach to treatment depending on the individual pet.
Once treatment has begun, it’s crucial to keep your pet’s activity controlled and follow your vet’s recommendations to a tee since heartworm treatment in itself can be dangerous.
Are You In Search of Veterinarians Raleigh Residents Trust?
Are you in search of veterinarians Raleigh residents trust to provide top quality veterinary care for your family pets? If so, we’d love for you to drop by and consider joining our family here at Leesville Animal Hospital! You can visit our facility at 9309 Leesville Rd, Raleigh, NC 27613 or give us a call at (919)870-7000!