What is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm is a potentially fatal disease most commonly found in dogs. It is occasionally found in cats and ferrets and rarely found in humans. It is caused by worms that live in the heart and lungs causing heart failure and lung disease. They can also travel throughout the body, via the blood vessels, causing damage to other organs.

How is Heartworm Disease Transmitted?

heartworm-diagram-dogHeartworm disease is spread by mosquitos. When an animal infected with Heartworm is bitten by a mosquito, the mosquito picks up immature Heartworms (called microfilaria) in its blood meal. Once these microfilaria mature into larvae (over 10-14 days in the mosquito), they are transferred through the bite wound to the animal the mosquito bites for its next meal. These larvae then take approximately six months to mature into adult Heartworms.

What Are the Signs of Heartworm Disease in Dogs?

  • A persistent cough
  • Unwillingness to exercise
  • Fatigue after physical activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

A dog infected with Heartworm may show some all or none of the symptoms listed above. Depending on how long the dog has been infected and their activity level can also play a role in the signs and severity of their symptoms.

What Are the Signs of Heartworm Disease in Cats?

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing (asthma-like attacks)
  • Occasional vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

Like dogs, a cat infected with Heartworm may show some, all or none of the symptoms listed above. Cats are extremely good at hiding when they are sick or not feeling well and so occasionally, a cat infected with Heartworm goes undiagnosed, eventually resulting in unexpected sudden death.

Important Facts to Know About Heartworm Testing & Prevention:

  • The earlier the disease is detected, the better the chance the pet can be treated successfully.
  • The test can be run in the hospital during your pet’s appointment. It only requires three drops of your pet’s blood and results are obtained within 10 minutes.
  • Dogs should be tested annually according to the following age requirements:
    • Puppies six months of age or younger do not need to be tested before starting a Heartworm preventative.
    • Dogs over seven months of age need to be tested prior to starting Heartworm prevention.
    • All adult dogs should be tested annually whether on Heartworm prevention or not.
  • Annual testing is necessary, even when on Heartworm prevention, to ensure that the prevention is working.
  • Although the Heartworm prevention medications listed below are highly effective, nothing is every 100%. Missing one dose or giving a dose late can cause a lapse in protection thus leaving a time frame where your pet may be unprotected. Also, your pet may spit out or vomit an oral preventative or rub off topical preventative before it is completely absorbed.
  • There are many different forms and brands of preventative. The following are ones we recommend and carry:
    • Interceptor Plus ® (oral chew)
    • Heartgard ® (oral chew)
    • Revolution ® (topical)

For questions, or to get your pet tested for Heartworm, please call us at (413) 663-5365 at any time.