Edited By: Susan VanHemert
APRIL IS 'NATIONAL HEARTWORM AWARENESS MONTH'
When you become a pet parent, you are so excited and filled with love. With that enthusiasm, comes a lot of responsibility.
One thing that probably is not on your mind immediately is Heartworm disease. It only takes one bite from an infected mosquito. Depending on what region you live in, mosquitos are active almost the entire year!
If you have read this far you are probably now thinking, “how can I protect my fur baby?” The good news is that there is a monthly medication that can be given to prevent your animals from being infected.
How Animals get Heartworms
Pets contract heartworms through a bite from a mosquito that has previously bitten an animal infected with heartworms. They do not get heartworms from their mother and the medication is separate from the other deworming medications.
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. If you notice any of these, please consult your veterinarian.
Early Prevention is the key
Puppies and kittens should be taking heartworm prevention medication starting anywhere from 4-6 months of age. They are just as prone to getting infected as older dogs and cats, so the prevention must start as soon as possible. Always check with your vet for guidance on the type of medication to use and the start date. You do need a prescription from a vet to purchase the heartworm medication. But some vet offices offer a promotion if you purchase 6 months or more at the same time.
Heart Worms Don’t Just Affect Dogs
Not many people know that cats are atypical hosts for heartworms, and most worms in cats do not survive to the adult stage. Cats with adult heartworms typically have just one to three worms, and many cats affected by heartworms have no adult worms. While this means heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats, it is important to understand that even immature worms cause real damage in the form of a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD) . When the adult heartworms die, they release toxins into the cat’s bloodstream which cause lung damage, leading to respiratory problems or sudden death. Even the death of one worm can be fatal for a cat.
There is no FDA-approved drug to treat heartworm disease in cats, although symptoms may be managed with medications. Dog medication cannot be used on cats. Signs of heartworm disease in cats can be very subtle or very dramatic. Symptoms may include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss. Occasionally an affected cat may have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid accumulation in the abdomen.
What to expect if your animal has tested positive for Heartworms and needs treatment
If your animal shows signs of infection, you will need to consult a veterinarian immediately. The drug Immiticide is administered in the form of a shot in the lumbar muscles killing the heartworms in 6 weeks. These injections can cause pain and soreness to spread throughout the lower back causing temporary difficulties normal movement because of the muscle soreness. Your animal may experience nausea and lethargy for a few days. Limiting your pets’ activities for the next 6 weeks is advisable to avoid unnecessary complications while the treatment is working on killing those nasty worms. Crate rest and drastically restricted exercise during this period can decrease the chances of complications from treatment, especially within the first 30 days.
Do I have to continue a preventive medication if my animal has had heartworms before?
According to pets.webmd.com, YES. That is why prevention is so important. You should resume your monthly preventative after the treatment and retest in 6 months. The reason for re-testing is that heartworms must be approximately 7 months old before the infection can be diagnosed. The biggest concern with heartworm prevention would be if the dog has adult heartworms. Mark your calendar to give the heartworm and the flea medication at the same time to be consistent.
Even if your dog or cat is strictly an indoor pet, mosquitos come into your home. It only takes one bite. And the most important question is if my dog gets heartworms and is treated for them, can my dog get heartworms again? The answer according to petswebmd.com is YES. That’s why prevention is so important.
The key word is PREVENTION.
Other Sources of info:
Fran Jackson is the Top Leader of the Pack at Pawsitive Supporters. A very beloved animal advocate in the Cobb County area, Fran helps disadvantaged communities get the resources they need to get their pets spayed or neutered to prevent over population of homeless animals. Working closely with Lifeline Animal Project in Atlanta to provide transportation, Fran has helped hundreds of animals. Follow Fran on LinkedIn and support Pawsitive Supporters.
Her organization helps place litters of puppies or kittens into reputable rescue groups. They also provide resource information for medical help and responsible pet ownership information to families in Cobb County, The Village at Six Flags, and Douglas Estates. Visit Pawsitive Supporters on Facebook.