Heartworm is a disease that is easy to prevent and yet can be fatal if contracted. Heartworm is real and it is out there, it is contracted by a mosquito bite. Not all mosquitoes are infected, only some, but all it takes is for one bite from that one infected mosquito! When heartworms are contracted they live in the heart, lungs, and certain blood vessels.
Both cats and dogs,as well as many other animals, can contract heartworm. However, heartworm disease differs between the dog and the cat. Dogs are considered the "natural host", meaning that the heartworm can live out its life cycle within the dog, maturing from baby to adult and then reproduce.The cat is not considered the natural host. Most worms in the cat do not survive and make it to the adult stage. Some worms however can make it to the adult stage.Typically the cat can only host 1-3 adult worms, unlike the dog which can host hundreds!
Unfortunately, dogs often do not show any clinical symptoms.This is why it's so important to test them yearly to make sure that there is no infection present. If they are symptomatic you'll notice things like coughing, lethargy, decreased appetite, and weight loss. Cats experience all of the same symptoms as described for the dog, or extremes such as fluid building up in the abdomen or seizures.Sadly, sometimes the first and only sign can be sudden collapse or death. Cats are nothing if not dramatic!!
Heartworm is prevalent in the Northeast due to many of the animals that we rescue and save from the south. The mosquitoes bite the infected animal and pick up the microfilariae (baby worms) that are circulating in the blood stream.The microfilariae then mature inside the mosquito and develop into what is considered the "infective/larval stage". This takes about 14 days to complete. At that point when the infected mosquito bites another animal the larvae crawl into the mosquito's bite wound and can then infect the animal.
It takes up to six months to be able to detect heartworm, which is why we don't usually begin testing puppies until they are a year old. It is very important to keep them on heartworm preventative year round. Nothing is full proof so even if your animal is on the pill every month testing is still necessary and recommended. If your dog has tested positive for heartworm there is an available treatment.
There are heartworm preventative medications for cats just like there are for dogs. You will need to test your cat before putting them on one of these medications to make sure there is no infection present. Unfortunately,there is no treatment for cats that are infected. Due to the fact that the worms can't always mature into adults and reproduce, like they do in the dog, this infection can clear up on its own in a cat.
If your dog has not been on heartworm medications, in honor of national heartworm awareness monthmake an appointment with your veterinarian and have them tested to make sure they are not infected. Once tested start giving the monthly heartworm preventative. The mosquitoes will be out soon!
If you have anymore questions or would like to research this disease click on the link and it will take you to the American Heartworm Society's page: https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/heartworm-basics