Heartworm Treatment

Even though April is heartworm prevention month, we put a special focus on education about heartworm and heartworm prevention throughout the spring and summer months, as it is something we should focus on and protect our pets against every month, all year long.

How Does My Dog or Cat Contract Heartworm?

Your pet can contract heartworm through a very common household insect: the mosquito. Although it called a “worm” heartworm is actually a parasite, which means it must live off of a host (your pet) in order to survive. Mosquitoes transmit the heartworm larvae into the bloodstream of your pet after taking a blood meal.

Because mosquitoes can easily make their way into your home undetected, we recommend that all pets remain on heartworm medication even if they never go outdoors.

Why Should I Keep My Pet on Heartworm Preventative Year-Round?

First, most heartworm preventatives also contain a broad-spectrum parasite control which will protect your pet from other intestinal parasites as well as heartworm. Some of these parasites are able to survive in cooler climates, as well as areas of your home and yard – such as the potting soil and animal feces that may be lurking in your backyard. Keeping your pet on a preventative, even throughout the cooler months, will help to prevent nasty intestinal parasites, some of which can be passed on to humans.

Secondly, the lifecycle of a heartworm is about six months; meaning that from the time the heartworm enters the pet’s bloodstream as larvae until it develops into an adult heartworm is a six-month journey. This means that if your pet was infected in October, it would take until April to become a full-blown infection. Heartworm preventative works monthly to interrupt the heartworm lifecycle so that adult heartworm is never able to fully develop.

How Can I Tell if My Pet Has Heartworm?

Most pets do not show symptoms of heartworm disease in the earlier stages and may or may not show symptoms after months or years after infection or repeated infections.

  • In dogs, symptoms can be a persistent cough, exercise intolerance and fatigue, decreased appetite, and weight loss.
  • In cats, it may manifest itself through coughing or gagging, rapid breathing, decreased appetite and weight loss.

The best way to determine if your dog has heartworm is to have your veterinarian perform a blood test to check for microfilariae. Although the preventatives are extremely effective, as with any medication, results cannot be 100% guaranteed so The American Heartworm Association recommends that your vet test yearly even if your pet is on preventative all year-round.

Where Can I Find Heartworm Preventative?

Heartworm preventative is a prescription medication and can only be dispensed by your veterinarian.

If you choose to purchase your heartworm preventative from on online pharmacy, you should check with your veterinarian to make sure that the pharmacy you are using is reputable, as some online pharmacies have been known to sell counterfeit or expired medications. Pharmacies should never dispense heartworm medication without a script from your veterinarian.

Giving a heartworm positive dog heartworm medication can cause a possible deadly anaphylactic reaction so it is important that your pet be tested for heartworm prior to starting heartworm medication.

Do Cats Need to Be On Heartworm Preventative Too?

Yes.  Although cats are more resistant to heartworm infection they are still very susceptible. Studies have shown that cats are able to clear themselves of the infection but most often have severe and possibly deadly reactions to the dying parasites.

There are no safe treatments for heartworm positive cats and no test available to determine if they carry the heartworm antigen at this time, so prevention is extremely important.

What is the Treatment if my Dog Contracts Heartworm?

Heartworm infection is treated with a series of injections that is administered by your veterinarian over several months. It is recommended that your pet be hospitalized and monitored during the initial phases of treatment. Activity of your dog will be extremely limited during the months of treatment.

Treatment of heartworm is costly, time consuming, and can be stressful for both you and your dog. There is no cure for heartworm in cats. Prevention is the most cost-effective and easiest way to deal with heartworm. Our veterinary staff is here to help you take the right steps towards heartworm prevention.

Call us at the Berkeley Veterinary Center to schedule an appointment to assess your pet’s risk for heartworm.

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