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Understanding Heartworms

A serious condition that could potentially kill your pet? Heartworm disease! It can affect dogs, cats, and ferrets. This disease gets its name because it is caused by foot-long worms that live in the hearts of the affected animals. These worms can also be found in the lungs and associated blood vessels of these pets. This condition leads to even more serious health problems! These include lung diseases, heart failure, and organ damage. Understanding heartworms is key for prevention. So, 5 Points Animal Hospital would like to share with you some information from the American Heartworm Society (AHS) to help you prevent your pet from suffering from this condition.

According to the AHS, heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. Adult female heartworms produce baby worms that circulate in the bloodstreams of infected animals. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, it picks up those baby worms. Then, over the next two weeks, the baby worms develop into infectious larvae. The next time that mosquito bites another animal, that larvae can infect that animal through the bite wound. Once inside, the larvae can develop into adult heartworms within six months. Adult heartworms can live for five to seven years in dogs and for two to three years in cats.

What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?

For dogs, you may not notice any signs in the early stages of the disease. If your dog is active, heavily infected with heartworms, or has other health issues, he will show more pronounced symptoms. These include a persistent cough, decreased appetite, weight loss, and a lack of desire to exercise. For cats, you may notice coughing, asthma attacks, decrease in appetite, weight loss, or periodic vomiting.

Are heartworms more common in certain areas of the United States?

While heartworms have been found in all 50 states, certain areas do have a higher risk. These areas are the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and along river tributaries. Climate, the species of mosquitoes in the area, and the presence of mosquito breeding areas are all factors that affect the level of risk of heartworm infection.

How can I prevent heartworms for my dog or cat?

Every year, your dog should be tested for heartworm infection, even if he is on a year-round preventive medication program. According to the AHS, heartworm medications are very effective, but infections can still occur. 5 Points Animal Hospital can recommend heartworm prevention medication for your dog and for your cat that will protect them from this parasitic disease.

Prevention is key when it comes to heartworm disease. Contact us at 5 Points Animal Hospital to make an appointment today to have your pet tested for heartworms!

How Dangerous Is Heartworm to Cats and Dogs?

Heartworm disease—caused by foot-long worms that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets—is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets in the U.S. and many other parts of the world. It can cause severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in your pet’s body. This disease has been known to affect dogs, cats and ferrets, but heartworms also live in other mammal species, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, seat lions and—in rare instances—humans. Because wild foxes and coyotes have been known to live in close proximity to many urban areas, they’re considered important carriers of the disease.

Prevent Heartworm In Cats & Dogs - Nashville TN

Heartworms and Your Cat

Basic Information

Cats are what many would call atypical hosts for heartworms, with most worms not even surviving to the adult stage. It’s important to understand that even immature worms can cause real damage in the form of a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Cats with heartworms that actually do survive to the adult stage typically have no more than three (3) worms; many cats affected by heartworms have no adult worms at all. Because of this, heartworm disease in cats often goes undiagnosed. Moreover, the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs can’t be used in cats; as such, prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease.

Warning Signs

The signs of heartworm disease in cats can range from very subtle to very dramatic. Symptoms may include:

  •  Coughing
  • Asthma-like attacks
  • Periodic vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Occasionally an affected feline may have a hard time walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. Unfortunately, the first sing in some cases is a sudden collapse of the cat, or sudden death.

Heartworms and Your Dog

Basic Information

Unlike their feline counterparts, dogs are natural hosts for heartworms, meaning that the heartworms that live inside the dog mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. If left untreated, their numbers can increase dramatically (dogs have been known to harbor several hundred worms in their bodies). Heartworm disease can cause lasting damage to the heart, lungs and arteries, and can affect the dog’s health and quality of life long after these parasites are gone. It is for this very reason that prevention is, by far, the best option, and treatment—when necessary—should be administered as early in the course of the disease as possible.

Warning Signs

In the early stages of the disease, many dogs show few symptoms; some show no symptoms at all. The longer the infection is left untreated, the more likely symptoms will develop. Active dogs, dogs that are heavily infected with heartworms, or those with other health problems often show more advanced and noticeable signs of the disease. Symptoms may include:

  • A mild, persistent cough
  • Reluctance to exercise
  • Fatigue after moderate activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

As the disease progresses, dogs may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen stomach due to the buildup of excess fluid. Dogs with larger numbers of heartworms can develop sudden blood flow blockages within the heart, ultimately leading to cardiovascular collapse (known as caval syndrome). Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.

Heartworm disease is a serious, progressive disease. The earlier it’s detected, the better the chances your pet will recover. There are few, if any, early signs of disease when a dog or cat is infected, so detecting their presence with a heartworm test administered by your vet is of the utmost importance. At 5 Points Animal Hospital, our well-equipped, in-house lab allows us to run a variety of diagnostic tests with results available in less than 30 minutes. This allows us to act quicker if heartworms are a problem for your pet.

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