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The Importance of Heartworm Prevention for Dogs and Cats
The health and well-being of our pets is a top priority for any pet owner. One of the most critical aspects of maintaining their health is the prevention of heartworms.
Both dogs and cats can be affected by these parasites, and the infection can have severe consequences.
In this blog, we will discuss what heartworms are, how they infect our pets, the effects of the infection, and the treatment and prevention options available.
What are Heartworms?
Heartworms (Dirofilaria immitis) are parasitic worms that can infect dogs, cats, and other mammals. They are transmitted by mosquitoes, and can cause a potentially fatal disease known as heartworm disease.
These worms primarily reside in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of infected animals, where they can grow up to a foot in length and cause significant damage.
How Heartworms Infect Animals
The heartworm life cycle begins when a mosquito bites an infected animal and ingests heartworm larvae, called microfilariae. These larvae mature into infective larvae within the mosquito. When the mosquito bites another animal, it transmits the infective larvae, which then penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream.
Over the next six months, the larvae grow into adult worms, eventually reaching the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Here, they reproduce, releasing microfilariae into the animal's bloodstream, and the cycle begins again.
Effects of Heartworm Infection on Animals
Heartworm disease can have severe consequences for infected animals. In dogs, the disease often leads to heart failure, lung disease, and damage to other organs due to reduced blood flow. Dogs may exhibit symptoms such as coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.
Time passed since being infected, worm burden (the amount of worms living in the body), and the activity level of the dog all play a part in the severity of the disease.
There are four classes of Heartworm disease based on symptoms:
- Class 1: Asymptomatic to mild symptoms; you might notice an occasional cough, if anything.
- Class 2: Mild to moderate symptoms; you might notice your dog being more tired than usual after activities and they may have an occasional cough. At this point, an x-ray may be able to detect changes in the heart and lungs.
- Class 3: Moderate to severe symptoms; cough is likely to be more persistent, your dog might tire out after only a mild amount of activity, and they may look generally unwell.
- Class 4: Caval Syndrome. At this stage, blood cannot flow back to the heart properly due to being blocked by a large number of worms. Most dogs who reach this stage do not survive, though immediate surgery to remove the worms causing the blockage can give them a chance.
Cats are less likely to have adult heartworms, but even a few worms can cause significant damage. Heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD) can occur in cats, leading to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, the disease can be fatal.
If you suspect your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is best to consult your veterinarian right away.
Treatment for heartworm disease can be challenging and expensive, with no guarantee of success.
For dogs, treatment usually involves a series of injections with a drug called melarsomine dihydrochloride, which kills adult heartworms. This type of treatment can be effective for Class 1, 2, and 3 infections.
Treatment is likely to involve multiple hospitalizations, blood tests, and can have significant side effects. The treatment is followed by a period of strict rest to minimize complications.
In some cases, surgical removal of the worms may be necessary. However, dogs reaching the stage where surgical removal is necessary have much lower odds of survival.
For cats, there is no approved drug treatment for heartworm disease. Treatment typically focuses on managing symptoms and preventing further complications. In some cases, surgical removal of the worms may be an option.
Prevention is Key
Given the serious nature of heartworm disease and the difficulties associated with treatment, prevention is crucial.
Several heartworm preventatives are available for both dogs and cats, including oral medications and topical solutions. These medications work by killing the heartworm larvae before they can mature into adult worms.
Some oral medication options include:
- HeartGard Plus Chewables for Dogs: A beefy chew that is given once a month to prevent heartworm disease and treat and control roundworm and hookworm infections in dogs.
- Interceptor Chewables for Dogs and Cats: A chicken-flavored chew given monthly to prevent heartworm disease and to treat and control hookworms and roundworms in dogs and cats, plus whipworms in dogs.
- Interceptor Plus Chewables for Dogs: A monthly chew that prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls hookworm, roundworm, tapeworm and whipworm infections.
- Simparica Trio Chewable Tablets for Dogs: A once-a-month chewable that protects your dog against heartworm disease, fleas, ticks, roundworms, and hookworms.
- Sentinel Flavor Tabs for Dogs: A once-a-month tablet that prevents heartworm disease and flea populations in dogs and puppies. Also controls hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms in dogs.
- Sentinel Spectrum Chewable Tablets for Dogs: A monthly chew for the prevention of heartworm disease, the prevention and control of flea infestations, and for the treatment and control of roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, and tapeworm infections in dogs.
- Trifexis Chewable Tablets for Dogs: A monthly beef-flavored tablet that prevents heartworm disease, kills fleas and prevents flea infestations, and treats and controls hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms.
- Tri-Heart Plus Chewable Tablets for Dogs: A beef-flavored chewable tablet that is given once a month to prevent heartworm disease and treat and control roundworm and hookworm infections in dogs.
Some topical solution options include:
- Revolution Topical Solution for Dogs: Applied monthly to prevent heartworm disease, prevent and control flea infestations, and to treat and control ear mite infestations in dogs.
- Revolution Topical Solution for Cats: Applied monthly to prevent heartworm disease, prevent and control flea infestations, and to treat and control ear mites, roundworms, and hookworms in cats.
- Revolution Plus Topical Solution for Cats: Applied monthly to prevent heartworm disease, kill fleas and ticks and prevent new infestations, and to treat and control ear mites, roundworms, and hookworms.
- Bravecto Plus Topical Solution for Cats: Applied once every TWO months to prevent heartworm disease, kill fleas and ticks and prevent new infestations, and to treat and control roundworms and hookworms.
It is essential to consult with your veterinarian to choose the most appropriate preventative for your pet and ensure that it is administered correctly and consistently. In most cases, your pet needs to be tested for heartworm infection prior to starting preventative treatments. Annual heartworm testing is also recommended to catch any potential infections early and initiate treatment if necessary.
Heartworm prevention is a vital component of responsible pet ownership. By understanding the risks and consequences of heartworm disease, we can take the necessary steps to protect our beloved pets and ensure their health and happiness for years to come.
Talk to your veterinarian today about the best heartworm prevention plan for your furry friend. Then head on over to www.PetRx.com to have the best heartworm prevention medications delivered right to your door.