Hearts and Flowers

February. Hearts and flowers, flowers and hearts. It’s even American Heart Month focusing on heart health for humans. While we’re thinking of all things heart and health, let’s talk about preventing heartworm in your pets.

What Is Heartworm?

Heartworm is, quite literally, exactly what it sounds like. It’s caused by worms that can grow to be up to a foot long. These parasites live in your pet’s heart, lungs, and the blood vessels within them, causing severe heart and lung damage, as well as damage to other organs. It is very serious and can be fatal. Although it is most frequently seen in dogs, cats and ferrets are susceptible to heartworms, too.

Heartworm is a parasite that’s transmitted by mosquitoes that bite an infected animal (usually a fox, wolf, or coyote) and then bite your pet, transferring the infection from one animal to the other. Dogs, as members of the canid family, are particularly vulnerable to heartworm; they’re natural hosts for it. Ferrets contract heartworms quite easily. Cats don’t because cats aren’t natural hosts for heartworm. Heartworm larvae deposited on your pet’s skin go from being a “baby” larva to an adult heartworm in about six months. Adult worms can live inside your dog for between five and seven years, while they survive in cats for two to three years.

Symptoms of Heartworm

Heartworm symptoms aren’t always obvious, and the disease looks slightly different for each species. While dogs can have innumerable heartworms, cats usually only have between one and three. Ferrets are extremely at risk of contracting them, but have fewer heartworms, too. In dogs, heartworm symptoms include:

  • Mild cough that progresses to a persistent cough
  • Mild exercise intolerance that progresses to more marked intolerance
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fainting
  • Abdominal swelling

In very early cases, heartworm may not have any symptoms at all, while in advanced cases, your dog may have pale gums, very dark urine, and labored breathing.

Cats may:

  • Lose their appetite
  • Vomit
  • Lose weight
  • Have asthma-like symptoms
  • Cough

Ferrets develop symptoms very quickly. They can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Coughing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Pale blue gums

All three – dogs, cats, and ferrets – are at risk of dying from heartworms. Treatments are available, but they’re costly and complicated. The easiest way to ensure that your pet doesn’t contract heartworms is to prevent them.

An Ounce of Prevention

In the case of heartworms, prevention is worth far more than a pound of cure. Before a preventive can be prescribed, your pet should have a heartworm test. They can – and should – be tested when they have their annual well visit with their veterinarian. If that test comes back negative, your veterinarian will prescribe a preventive medication. Preventive medications come in several different forms, including:

  • A topical medication applied on the skin monthly
  • A monthly dose of an oral medication
  • An injectable medication given every six or twelve months by your veterinarian

Homey Gnome Veterinary Clinic

Homey Gnome Veterinary Clinic in Oakdale, MN recommends preventative treatment for heartworms as well as other pet-related illnesses. Contact us today so we can help keep your pet healthy. 

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