Heartworm prevention for dogs is an important concern for every pet owner. Prevention is an important part of providing essential care and is something every owner can do.
These preventives come in different forms, including monthly chewable pills and topical “spot on” medications, as well as an injectable medication that is given every 6 months. Heartworm preventives are available only by prescription from veterinarians.
Some preventives only prevent heartworms, some protect pets from heartworms and intestinal parasites, and some protect pets from many different parasites, including heartworms, intestinal worms, fleas, ticks, and mites.
Heartworms are large (foot-long) worms that live in the heart, lungs, and/or associated blood vessels. Heartworms affect dogs, cats, and ferrets (and can rarely infect humans). The worms can also be carried by some other mammal species, including coyotes and foxes. Heartworm larvae are transmitted by mosquitoes, and thus can be transmitted from wild canids to pet dogs or cats easily.
It is most common along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, but has shown up in all 50 states.
Heartworms are prevented by giving either topical or oral medication or injected medication that is given every six to twelve months. Your vet may recommend combination medication that also protects from other parasites. Talk to your vet about the best product for dogs or cats depending on where you live. For ferrets, there is only one drug approved to prevent heartworms, Advantage Multi for Cats, which also treats fleas. It is vital to prevent heartworm in ferrets as there is currently no approved treatment. All preventives are prescription only and must be acquired from your veterinarian.
A heartworm test is recommended if an animal has not received preventive care for an extended period of time or is showing symptoms that might be heartworm disease.
Dogs are the natural host for heartworms, and thus tend to be the worst affected. The symptoms are cough, tiredness after activity, and trouble breathing. The longer the heartworms go untreated, the worse the symptoms are. In extreme cases, heartworm disease can turn into caval syndrome, where the worms block blood flowing back to the heart. This requires surgery and even then most dogs die.
The treatment for heartworm disease is expensive, toxic, and can cause life-threatening side effects.
Cats are an "atypical" host, meaning heartworms do not thrive in cats, generally not living as long or growing as bigger. However, because cats are smaller, it doesn't take as much to cause damage. It can be very hard to detect heartworm disease in cats; some cats don't have symptoms (but can pass the worms on to mosquitoes and thus to dogs). They also have very nonspecific symptoms including weight loss, appetite loss, decreased activity, and vomiting. At initial infection, a cat may experience respiratory disease, which often looks like bronchitis. When the adult heartworms die, released toxins can cause respiratory problems or sudden death.
There is no approved drug to treat heartworm disease in cats.
Ferrets with heartworm disease can experience symptoms more like those in cats; generally decreased activity level, coughing, breathing difficulties and weakness are seen. Some ferrets may experience heart failure. They generally have relatively low burdens.
As already mentioned, there is no approved drug to treat heartworm disease in ferrets.
The best way to deal with heartworms is prevention. All dogs, cats, and ferrets should receive proper preventive medication to keep them from getting heartworm disease. You should talk to your vet about the best way to prevent heartworms, and whether your dog needs a heartworm test (generally only if they have not been receiving preventives, but if you have acquired a dog from uncertain circumstances, a test is a good idea).
Gables Animal Clinic offers heartworm prevention and will work with you to keep your pets healthy. Call us to make an appointment for your pet to make sure that they are up-to-date not just with heartworm prevention but with other antiparasitic treatments and routine pet vaccinations. We also offer a wide range of pet healthcare, such as internal medicine for pets, dermatology for dogs, and pet microchipping. Our hours are 7:30-6pm, Mon through Friday, and 8 to noon on Saturdays. Book your appointment with us today.