To learn more about heartworm, check out this video from the American Veterinary Medical Association; and read the information below.
For those who may be new to pet parenthood, or perhaps just need a refresher, heartworm disease is caused by parasitic worms living in the arteries of the lungs and occasionally in the right side of the heart of dogs, cats and other species of mammals. Heartworms are transmitted from animal to animal by mosquitoes. The good news is that this disease is almost completely preventable as long as you take the steps to protect your pet.
Can heartworm be treated?
According to the American Heartworm Society, there are a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection in both dogs and cats. These include daily and monthly tablets and chewables, monthly topicals and a six-month injectable product available only for dogs. Most of these options are inexpensive, and all are available with a vet’s prescription. When administered properly on a timely schedule, heartworm infection can be prevented.
According to the ASPCA, general symptoms of heartworm in dogs can include labored breathing, coughing, vomiting, weight loss and listlessness, and fatigue after only moderate exercise. However, some dogs exhibit no symptoms until they are in the late stages of infection. Cats may exhibit a persistent cough, breathing difficulties (panting, wheezing, rapid or open-mouthed breathing), depression, loss of appetite, weight loss, sporadic vomiting or lethargy. If you notice that your pet’s energy has decreased, he seems ill, or is exhibiting any of the general symptoms described above, please contact your veterinarian immediately.
What are the treatment options for heartworm?
If your pet does end up having heartworm, you can opt to put him through treatment. Usually, all but the most advanced cases of heartworm disease can be successfully treated in dogs. Currently, there are no products in the United States approved for the treatment of heartworm infection in cats, according to the American Heartworm Society. The ASPCA indicates that many heartworm-infected cats are able to fight the infection themselves, and can be monitored with radiographs every few months, while waiting out the worms’ lifespan. If an infected cat shows symptoms of lung disease, the cat can be given a cortisone-like medication as needed. Medication can also be given to help control coughing and vomiting.
The most common course of treatment for dogs is a series of injections of drugs called adulticides into the dogs’ muscle. This cure has a high success rate and usually requires hospitalization. However, all treatment protocols require several weeks of exercise restriction after treatment and are not without risk. After treatment, your dog should be placed on a preventative medication to reduce the risk of infection.
How is heartworm prevented?
Prevention is a safer and much less expensive option. Just so you know, heartworm prevention begins in May for Wyoming residents and ends in November; however, the American Heartworm Society recommends year-round protection. Be sure to contact your vet to see what they recommend.
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