10 Things You Didn't Know About Heartworm Disease

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Most pet owners have heard a lot about heartworms from their veterinarian, friends, or commercials. Since we have seen a rise in heartworm disease in our area this summer, we would like to teach you 10 things that you didn’t know about heartworms.

1. Heartworms have long lasting effects even after the infection has been cleared. Dogs are the natural host for heartworms, which means that they live inside the dog, mature to adults, mate, and produce offspring. Dogs can carry several hundred worms in their heart, lungs, and arteries, which significantly impacts the dog’s health and quality of life even after the parasites are gone! Long lasting effects of heartworm disease is why it is so important to prevent heartworm disease rather than treat it after the infection has started.

Heartworms in a heart specimen. Multiple worms are shown in the right ventricle and pulmonary artery

Numerous heartworms in a dog’s heart and arteries

2. Cats cannot undergo heartworm treatment like dogs, so prevention is the only means of protecting them from this potentially fatal disease. Cats cannot handle the heartworm treatment that is administered to dogs. Cat heartworm disease is very different than in dogs, because cats are an atypical host and most worms do not survive to the adult stage.

 

Diagram showing feline heartworm facts, signs of disease and prevention

3. Cats typically just have 1 to 3 immature worms, which means that heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats. Heartworms in cats can cause significant damage, even though there is a smaller worm burden. Our feline friends experience what is called heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Cats also have very small hearts, which means even 1 to 3 worms can cause significant damage.

Cats can die from heartworm disease even though they usually only get a couple of worms

4. Clinical signs of heartworm disease in cats can be very subtle or very dramatic. Cats infected with heartworm disease may experience coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss. On more rare occasions cats may have difficulty walking, faint, have seizures, or develop fluid accumulation in the abdomen.

5. Infected mosquitoes carry teeny- tiny baby heartworms called microfilaria, which are transmitted to our pets when the mosquito takes a blood meal from them. Once the microfilaria is inside the host it takes approximately 6 months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms.

Heartworm microfilaria are the immature larval stage (baby worm) produced by an adult heartworm

6. Veterinary tests used to diagnose heartworms only detects the adult worms, which means it can be up to 6 months before you see a positive test. This is one reason why all dogs should be tested annually for heartworm disease.

7. Once heartworms are mature they can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats! Since heartworms can live for extended periods of time, each time our pets are bit by an infected mosquito this can lead to an increasing number of worms.

8. Dogs and cats aren’t the only species that can be infected by heartworms. Ferrets, sea lions, wolves, coyotes, foxes, and in rare instances, humans can also become infected with heart worms. Since wild life, such as foxes and coyotes, live close to urban areas they are considered important carriers of disease.
Ferrets can get heartworm disease too

Ferrets can get heartworm disease too!

9. Heartworm disease is in all 50 states and most pets that are infected are mostly indoor pets! This is why prevention and annually testing for heartworm disease is so important.

 

Map showing the incidence of heartworm cases in the United States by state

10. Heartworm preventatives work by eliminating the immature (larval) stages of the heartworm parasite. This includes the infective larvae deposited by the mosquito as well as the following larval stages that develop inside our pets. Giving heartworm prevention late can allow immature larvae to become adults, which is poorly treated by monthly preventatives.

For more information about heartworm disease be sure to ask your veterinarian here at Dupont Veterinary Clinic or visit the American Heartworm Society’s website at www.heartwormsociety.org.  Also, for special offers on heartworm preventive, visit our homepage and click on “Special Offers”.

 

The life cycle of heartworms in dogs and cats is shown in this diagram. It is important to prevent the disease.

By Ashley Dawes, DVM

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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Heartworm Disease

Most pet owners have heard a lot about heartworms from their veterinarian, friends, or commercials. Since we have seen a rise in heartworm disease in our area this summer, we would like to teach you 10 things that you didn’t know about heartworms.

1. Heartworms have long lasting effects even after the infection has been cleared. Dogs are the natural host for heartworms, which means that they live inside the dog, mature to adults, mate, and produce offspring. Dogs can carry several hundred worms in their heart, lungs, and arteries, which significantly impacts the dog’s health and quality of life even after the parasites are gone! Long lasting effects of heartworm disease is why it is so important to prevent heartworm disease rather than treat it after the infection has started.

Heartworms in a heart specimen. Multiple worms are shown in the right ventricle and pulmonary artery

Numerous heartworms in a dog’s heart and arteries

2. Cats cannot undergo heartworm treatment like dogs, so prevention is the only means of protecting them from this potentially fatal disease. Cats cannot handle the heartworm treatment that is administered to dogs. Cat heartworm disease is very different than in dogs, because cats are an atypical host and most worms do not survive to the adult stage.

 

Diagram showing feline heartworm facts, signs of disease and prevention

3. Cats typically just have 1 to 3 immature worms, which means that heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats. Heartworms in cats can cause significant damage, even though there is a smaller worm burden. Our feline friends experience what is called heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Cats also have very small hearts, which means even 1 to 3 worms can cause significant damage.

Cats can die from heartworm disease even though they usually only get a couple of worms

4. Clinical signs of heartworm disease in cats can be very subtle or very dramatic. Cats infected with heartworm disease may experience coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss. On more rare occasions cats may have difficulty walking, faint, have seizures, or develop fluid accumulation in the abdomen.

5. Infected mosquitoes carry teeny- tiny baby heartworms called microfilaria, which are transmitted to our pets when the mosquito takes a blood meal from them. Once the microfilaria is inside the host it takes approximately 6 months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms.

Heartworm microfilaria are the immature larval stage (baby worm) produced by an adult heartworm

6. Veterinary tests used to diagnose heartworms only detects the adult worms, which means it can be up to 6 months before you see a positive test. This is one reason why all dogs should be tested annually for heartworm disease.

7. Once heartworms are mature they can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats! Since heartworms can live for extended periods of time, each time our pets are bit by an infected mosquito this can lead to an increasing number of worms.

8. Dogs and cats aren’t the only species that can be infected by heartworms. Ferrets, sea lions, wolves, coyotes, foxes, and in rare instances, humans can also become infected with heart worms. Since wild life, such as foxes and coyotes, live close to urban areas they are considered important carriers of disease.
Ferrets can get heartworm disease too

Ferrets can get heartworm disease too!

9. Heartworm disease is in all 50 states and most pets that are infected are mostly indoor pets! This is why prevention and annually testing for heartworm disease is so important.

 

Map showing the incidence of heartworm cases in the United States by state

10. Heartworm preventatives work by eliminating the immature (larval) stages of the heartworm parasite. This includes the infective larvae deposited by the mosquito as well as the following larval stages that develop inside our pets. Giving heartworm prevention late can allow immature larvae to become adults, which is poorly treated by monthly preventatives.

For more information about heartworm disease be sure to ask your veterinarian here at Dupont Veterinary Clinic or visit the American Heartworm Society’s website at www.heartwormsociety.org.  Also, for special offers on heartworm preventive, visit our homepage and click on “Special Offers”.

 

The life cycle of heartworms in dogs and cats is shown in this diagram. It is important to prevent the disease.

By Ashley Dawes, DVM

Keeping Cool – In A Fur Suit!

bulldog on ice    

When the sun starts shining and the air gets warmer we are all eager to take our activities outdoors. Often times this means taking our best friends and companions along with us. While fur coats are great for the winter time and subzero temperatures, they are not built for heat and humidity. Our pets keep cool by panting, which allows them to remove excess heat from their body and regulate their internal temperature. Dogs that already have compromised respiratory tracts, such as the “smooshed-nose” breeds (Pugs, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Boxers, etc.), or those with weak or collapsing airways (such as tracheal collapse or laryngeal paralysis) often have a harder time regulating their temperature. Senior pets are also ones that need to be looked after during the heat of the summer. While Buster may have been able to run around outside in the heat all day during his prime, he may not be able to during his golden years. Pets are also able to sweat through their paw pads; however, this is not a major source of cooling for them. Here are some tips for how to keep your pet cool this summer.

dog in fridge

 

If your pet is blessed with long flowing locks, it may be time to consider a summer haircut. Talk with your groomer about a summer shave down to remove excess fur that is trapping heat close to your pet’s body. Shorter haircuts are also great for dogs that love to swim, as there is less grooming that needs to be done after your pet’s long soak. (And less water to shake off after they climb out of the pool!) Allowing your dog to swim in pools or lakes is a great way to keep them cool; however, some dogs are not big fans of swimming. If your pet prefers to lounge at the side of the pool, pouring cool water along their back or between their paw pads helps to evaporate off some of the heat. Purchasing a cooling vest, such as the KONG Cooling Dog Coat, that is designed to keep dogs cool over extended periods of time may also be beneficial. While outdoors with your furry companion, especially our golden oldies, it is important to find shade for them. Dog houses do provide shade, but remember that it does stay hot inside. Senior pets often have a harder time regulating their temperature, so give them more time in the comforts of the air conditioning; after all, they deserve it!

 

pit with floaties

Keep their drinks cool by adding ice to their water bowel. This not only keeps your pet cooler but also hydrates them so they can regulate their temperature better. Collapsible dog water bowels are easy to travel with and can be found at any pet store. Giving your dog ice cubes to chew on can also be refreshing and a fun game. Making your own “pup-sicles” by freezing treats, veggies, or fruit in a small water-filled Tupperware container can also be an exciting summer time activity for your pet.

 

If you are planning an activity with your pets outdoors, try to schedule the activity during the early morning or later evening hours as these times are often much cooler. While traveling remember to pack plenty of water for you and your pet, bring a water dish for your pet to drink from, find shade, and try to plan activities during the cool times of the day. Here at Dupont Veterinary Clinic we hope you and your whole fur family have a safe and happy summer!

By Ashley Dawes, DVMlab underwater