As April comes to a close, the topic of discussion for this blog is heartworm disease. Heartworm disease can be contracted by both dogs and cats, so we will talk about the disease process, prevention, and treatment for both species in this article.
Both canine and feline heartworm disease are contracted with the bite of a mosquito. The mosquito will inject larvae into the bloodstream, where they mature into adults. Adult worms will then take up residence in the heart and lungs. Inflammation begins to build in these tissues, leading to the signs that tend to arise from heartworm infections. These include coughing, exercise intolerance, and on exam your pet may even develop a heart murmur.
The most concerning aspect of heartworm disease is that it can become fatal without much warning. The worms, in addition to causing intense inflammation and possible anaphylactic reactions, can also break into pieces and get stuck in smaller vessels. This has a similar effect to that of a clot forming in a vessel. Much like the disease itself, the treatment of canine heartworm disease can have similar adverse effects on the body. Definitive treatment of the disease, however, is a more desirable option than allowing the infection to persist if appropriate protocols and safety measures are followed.
Although heartworm disease is less prevalent in cats, it can lead to the same issues as heartworm disease in dogs. The difference between feline and canine heartworm disease is that there is no treatment approved for use in cats. The disease has to run its course until the worms die naturally, which can take 3 to 5 years. In that time, the effects on the heart and lungs may become permanent. Monthly prevention is recommend in both indoor and outdoor cats due to the high prevalence of mosquitos in Florida- we just can’t keep them out of the houses!
Due to the fact that the disease and the treatment have such negative effects on the body, monthly prevention of the disease is highly recommended. In Florida and other gulf coast states, heartworm disease has a much higher prevalence. It is very important that the prevention is given every month and on time to ensure that your pet has the highest level of protection. This is paired with a yearly heartworm test to ensure that your pet is still negative for the disease! If your pet has not been on prevention for an extended period of time, the test should be repeated in 6 months to ensure he or she is truly negative. Our test only identifies the presence of adult heartworms, which take 6 months to mature!
If you have questions about monthly heartworm prevention, please be sure to ask your vet at your next appointment!
-Dr. Molly Jette