Heartworm Disease and the Importance of Preventative

There’s no nice way to explain heartworm disease. The condition is exactly as it sounds. Affected pets have worms living in their hearts. Cats and ferrets can become infected as well but the disease is most common and more serious in dogs. The Food and Drug Administration determined that heartworm disease occurs most frequently in areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. They’ve also tracked it to locations along the Mississippi River and in areas of every state. If you live in Hebron, CT, your pet is susceptible to heartworm infestations. It’s important to take proper precautions to protect your pet from infestation and treat any existing conditions before they cause serious harm.

How Your Pet Becomes Infected

Mosquitoes are heartworm carriers. They cannot become infected themselves but they’re a necessary part of the heartworm lifecycle. Mosquito hosts provide the conditions that allow parasitic larvae (microfilariae) to mature enough to infect your pet. When a carrier mosquito bites your pet, they introduce worms into their bloodstream. The worms travel to your pet’s heart where they grow to adulthood. They mate, reproduce and introduce larvae into your pet’s bloodstream. When an uninfected mosquito bites an infected dog, it becomes a carrier and continues the cycle.

Heartworm Disease Differs According to Your Pet

The disease varies in dogs, cats, and ferrets. Your pet’s activity, length of time infected and the number of worms in the infestation (worm burden) also affect how your pet reacts to heartworm disease.

Dogs With Heartworm Disease

Heartworms can live from 5 to 7 years inside a dog. They grow up to 12 inches long. The disease is classified as stages 1 through 4 depending on the severity. They include these and other symptoms.
  1. no symptoms or mild symptoms which may include a cough
  2. occasional coughing and tiredness
  3. persistent coughing, tiredness, trouble breathing
  4. caval syndrome, heavy worm burden blocks blood flow to the heart
Your veterinarian will conduct blood tests to determine if your dog is infected. The antigen test identifies a female worm’s protein. Another blood test identifies microfilariae in the blood.

Cats With Heartworm Disease

Cats also get heartworm disease but their bodies resist the infestation. Some cats can eliminate worms without showing symptoms. Others die from the disease without noticeable symptoms. Cats may have respiratory issues when worms reach their hearts or when worms die and release poisonous substances. Vets use a combination of tests to verify an infection in cats as they are more difficult to detect.

Ferrets With Heartworm Disease

Ferrets usually have fewer adult worms and lower microfilariae levels than dogs. Worms may cause coughing, weakness, breathing difficulties, and heart failure. Ferrets have few preventive and treatment options and the disease is often difficult to detect.

Managing Your Pet’s Heartworm Disease

Prevention is the best way to reduce your pet’s heartworm risk. Regular veterinary wellness visits ensure early diagnose and treatment before a condition becomes overwhelming.
  • Testing: Your Veterinarian will recommend a testing schedule for your pet. This often depends on your pet’s age, location, residential changes, and existing treatment plans.
  • Heartworm Prevention: Your veterinarian may prescribe oral, topical, or injected treatments, usually monthly.
  • Treatment: Treatment options for dogs vary depending on your pet and the extent of the infection. Veterinarians may recommend an injection schedule or surgery for serious infestations. Cat and ferret treatment options are limited to prevention and condition management. There are no FDA-approved treatments.

Heartworm Disease Care in Hebron, CT

At Hebron Veterinary Hospital, we want to help you protect your pet from heartworm disease. Contact us to discuss the best preventative and treatment options.