Preventing Heartworm Disease in Dogs and Cats

It only takes one mosquito bite to allow the Heartworm parasite to enter your dog or cat’s body, eventually maturing into long, thin worms that live and grow in your pet’s heart and surrounding blood vessels. Untreated, the disease leads to significant and deadly damage to the pet’s heart and lungs. The kidneys and liver can also be affected in some cases.

Heartworm Disease Prevalence

Although heartworm disease is present in all 50 states, Banfield’s Applied Research and Knowledge (BARK) team reports that heartworm disease is most prevalent for dogs in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and South Carolina. In cats, heartworm is not as common, but the consequences can be very serious since the disease is much more difficult to treat in cats than in dogs.

BARK reports that dogs living in the South Central region of the United States (specifically, Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) are nearly thirty times more likely to test positive for heartworms than dogs living in the Northwest region (specifically, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana).

Signs of Heartworm Disease

While heartworm disease might not cause your pet to exhibit signs in the early stages, if left undetected and untreated, it can cause sudden and unannounced death. In most cases, a pet will show almost no initial signs of having the disease.

Signs of heartworm disease can include the development of a persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after light activity, and a decrease in both appetite and weight. Cats’ symptoms of heartworm disease can include vomiting, rapid breathing, and weight loss. There is no approved treatment of adult heartworms in cats so prevention of the disease is particularly crucial for your feline friends.

Heartworm Diagnosis and Treatment

If your dog is diagnosed with heartworm disease, your local veterinarian will perform lab tests, such as a complete blood count and a urinalysis. He or she will then begin treatment, which typically includes a host of medications designed to end the lifecycle of the heartworms.

During the treatment process—which can vary in length, but usually lasts for a few months—your veterinarian will continue to perform routine blood work to monitor the progress of the treatment. He or she will instruct you to limit your dog’s activity. After treatment, heartworm preventives will generally be recommended to prevent re-infection.

Heartworm Disease Prevention

Heartworm is incredibly easy to transmit—in fact, heartworm can be passed through the bite of just one mosquito. Implementing a year-round heartworm preventive, as well as a yearly heartworm test, is crucial for minimizing your pet’s risk of contracting heartworm disease.

Need More Information?

If you have questions about this or any medical topic, please contact your local veterinarian today, or visit our dedicated Parasite page for more parasite prevention tips. For any other questions you may have about your pet’s health, feel free to browse through our Pet Health Resource Library, or check out some of the links provided below.