Dangers of Heartworm Disease

A woman hugs a sad dog.

Heartworm disease is a serious condition that can occur in both dogs and cats. The parasitic worms (called Dirofilaria immitis) are spread through mosquito bites and take up residence inside an animal’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels. 

While potentially deadly, heartworm disease is preventable. Our pet experts at Berkeley Veterinary Center take parasite control very seriously, and it is something we will discuss with you at every wellness visit

To understand the dangers of a parasitic infection like heartworms, read on. 

Heartworm in Dogs

When an infected mosquito bites a dog, the heartworm larvae enter the dog’s bloodstream through the wound. It takes between 6 and 7 months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. Once the heartworms reach maturity, they are able to reproduce, sending offspring into the bloodstream and perpetuating the cycle. 

Heartworms can live for about 5 to 7 years inside a dog. Your pet cannot catch heartworm disease from being near another infected pet. Heartworm disease is spread only through bites from infected mosquitos.

Symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs can progress from mild to severe and include the following:

  • A mild cough
  • Tiredness after mild to moderate exercise
  • A persistent cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • An obviously unwell appearance

If left untreated, heartworms will eventually damage a dog’s heart, lungs, and other organs, and eventually lead to the dog’s death. 

Heartworm in Cats

While cats are not natural hosts of heartworms, they are still at risk. And for cats who have contracted heartworms, the prognosis is grim.

Heartworms do not live as long in cats or grow as long as they do in dogs. But because cats have small bodies, it only takes a few worms to cause heavy infection.

Symptoms of heartworm disease in cats include:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite/weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased respiration
  • Coughing

Because the symptoms mimic other cat diseases, heartworm disease can be particularly hard to spot in cats. When an adult heartworm dies inside a cat, toxins are released, which can cause sudden death in the cat.

Prevention is the Best Medicine

Year round, FDA-approved parasite prevention for cats (even indoor cats) and dogs is the best way to protect your furry companion from the dangers of heartworm disease. 

Heartworm preventives for dogs include topical liquids, both chewable and non-chewable tablets, and injections. Talk to your dog’s veterinarian to find out which option is best for your dog.

Parasite preventives for cats include topical and oral medications.

Some of these products (for both dogs and cats) are also effective against other intestinal parasitic infections (such as roundworms and hookworms), as well as fleas, ticks, and ear mites. 

While a heartworm infection can be devastating, it is preventable with ongoing prescription parasite control. At Berkeley Veterinary Center, our team is committed to keeping your pets healthy and happy. Please contact us if you have any questions about heartworms or to schedule your pet’s wellness visit.

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