Anyone who has visited the veterinarian knows that heartworm preventives are an important element of your pet’s regular wellness care. Besides the need to give your pet this preventive each month, how much do you really know about heartworm and pets? Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital is here to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about heartworm in pets so you can keep your dogs and cats healthy throughout the year:
What Is a Heartworm?
Heartworm is caused by an actual parasitic worm, or a Dirofilaria immitis, that takes up residence inside a pet’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Heartworm larvae lay dormant inside a dog for about six months before causing any health issues and can survive up to seven years inside the animal. These worms are spaghetti-like in nature and Heartworms are very prevalent along the Atlantic coast, and we see plenty of cases here in New Jersey. Moreover, many animal rescue groups and transfer partners bring pets from southern states, whose incidence of Heartworm is more prevalent and often less mitigated, to be adopted across the country. So even if mosquitos are not prevalent in your home, pets from other places or pets who travel unprotected are absolutely at risk.
How Do Pets Get Heartworm?
Heartworm can only infect pets through mosquito bites. The mosquito serves as an intermediate host for heartworm. Once an infected mosquito bites an animal, the animal becomes the definitive host, and the heartworm not only matures fully, but also mates, and produces offspring inside of the animal. Infected animals cannot transfer the heartworm to other animals. The only way for an animal to be infected is to be bitten by an infected mosquito and larvae can take over 6 months to even mature, making consistent protection (either with monthly preventatives or bi-annual injections) crucial in mitigating infections.
How Can You Treat Heartworm?
Unfortunately, heartworm can be very hard to treat once it has infected an animal but treatment options are available. Treatment can be expensive and often requires a period of antibiotics first, often followed by a series of monthly injections for a few months. Having your pet remain calm & rested during this treatment period is critical, as high heart rate can cause the worms to burst through the internal organs. Treatment uses a strong medication that is injected directly into the back muscles to kill heartworms but can sometimes cause side effects. While treatment is often effective, there are some dogs who may need a second full-round of treatment to eliminate infection. Pets who have had heartworm are still susceptible to subsequent infections in their lifetime if they remain unprotected. The absolute best way to treat heartworm is to prevent it.
Can Cats Get Heartworm?
Although it is most common in dogs, cats can also get heartworm. Feline infections are usually milder than in dogs because it is harder for heartworms to reach maturity inside of cats. While cats are usually only likely to have one-three heartworms (as opposed to an average of fifteen in dogs), these parasites can still cause heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD). The medication used to treat dogs with heartworm cannot be used in cats, so prevention is key to keeping them healthy. Currently there is no way to treat heartworm in cats.
How Do Monthly Preventives Help?
Preventives are your best bet at avoiding this potentially fatal issue for your animals. Heartworm preventives actually kill larvae that have infected dogs and cats within the last thirty days so they cannot mature or procreate and will not cause any health issues for your furry friends.
If you are ready to get your cat and dog on heartworm prevention, Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital can help. Call (732) 531‑1212 today to schedule an appointment for your pet.