With warmer weather on the horizon, mosquito season is on its way! Mosquitoes can cause serious illnesses in humans, but also in our pets, in the form of heartworm disease. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of false and misleading information out there, and some people may not realize just how serious heartworm disease can be.
It’s important that we debunk a few of these myths, and the team at Paws, Purrs and Exotics Animal Hospital thinks that just before mosquito season hits is the perfect time to do so!
Heartworm Myths Debunked
- Heartworm prevention isn’t necessary year round. In colder climates, many veterinary professionals used to believe that heartworm prevention wasn’t necessary in the winter, since mosquitoes are not active then. However, mosquito season seems to be lengthening in many parts of the country, due to warmer climates. Mosquitoes have also been known to survive the winter indoors!
Instead of trying to guess when mosquitos will invade, the American Heartworm Society recommends year-round heartworm prevention for all dogs and cats.
- Cats can’t get heartworms. Cats can, in fact, get heartworms. Studies show that up to 15% of shelter cats in the U.S. test positive for the disease. It’s true that cats are resistant hosts for heartworm disease, so they are harder to diagnose. This is why many believed that cats did not get the disease. Now, the veterinary community has realized that heartworms in cats is more prevalent than we once thought. Since there is no approved treatment for heartworm in cats, prevention is crucial.
- Heartworm testing is not needed if your pet is on preventives. This is a scary untruth. All heartworm preventives kill only the heartworm microfilariae, or baby heartworms. None of them kill the adult worms. It takes about 51 days for heartworms to mature into adulthood, so preventives must be given on a strict schedule to kill the microfilariae before they develop into adults. Therefore, heartworm tests are important every year so that we can make sure there are no breakthrough infections, even when the pet is taking preventives.
- Treating heartworm disease is no problem. Treating heartworms is not as simple as giving your pet a few pills. If your dog gets heartworm, there are a series of injections that must be given. As the medication kills the worms, fragments may drift into the pulmonary arteries, causing a respiratory emergency and even death. For this reason, dogs undergoing heartworm treatment normally stay in the hospital for observation, and once discharged, must be on exercise restriction for the duration of their treatment (possibly several weeks). We mentioned before that there is no approved treatment for cats. Cats who have heartworm disease might outlive the worms, but the cat’s own reaction to young worms in the lungs and/or dead and dying worms could cause complications, or even sudden death.
- It’s easy to tell if a pet has heartworm disease. The signs of heartworm are also signs for many other diseases, and some pets may not have any signs at all (another reason why yearly testing is so vital).
Some signs of heartworm disease may be sudden, onset coughing, weakness or lethargy, wheezing or difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath and fatigue while exercising. If you notice any of these signs in your pet, don’t wait to have them seen.
Safe Passage: Heartworm Testing and Prevention
Monthly preventives are safe, easy, and effective, and much less expensive than diagnosis and treatment of heartworm disease. Talk to us about what’s best for your pet’s particular lifestyle so we can come up with the right preventive..
Annual heartworm testing helps us see that we are staying on track and provide an early diagnosis if there is a breakthrough infection.
Hopefully, you’ve learned a bit more about heartworm disease and the role you can play in preventing it. Let us know if you have any questions. We’re here to help!