Animal Welfare League Queensland recommends preventive treatment to guard against disease.
It is extremely important that heartworm preventives be administered strictly on schedule.
Heartworm disease, which can occur in both cats and dogs, is caused by a parasitic worm that lives in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in cats and dogs.
Dogs are a host of heartworms, this means that they can grow and reproduce in the animal, while cats are a dead-end host, meaning the worms cannot reproduce in the animal.
Most cats are infected with only a few worms and they may not be fully mature, though the disease can be just as deadly for cats as it is for dogs.
Heartworm disease is spread by mosquitoes – heartworm larvae are found in the bloodstream of infected dogs.
Mosquitoes pick up the larvae of the heartworms when feeding and then transfer them to other animals. The larvae then grow and mature into adult worms.
It is important to consult your veterinarian before starting any preventative treatments.
Several types of prevention are available for both dogs and cats, including monthly oral preventive, this works by killing the immature worms.
It is extremely important that heartworm preventives be administered strictly on schedule as unfortunately in as little as 51 days heartworm larvae can mature to the point where prevention is no longer effective. Those worms then mature into adults that cause heartworm disease.
The most common signs in dogs are coughing, tiring easily, collapse or fainting episodes, decreased appetite and weight loss.
Many dogs, however, show no signs at all early on.
Later in the infection process, heart failure can occur, and this is often displayed as a distended abdomen full of fluid.
If a dog has large numbers of worms late in the disease, it can cause complete blockage of main arteries which is fatal unless emergency surgery is performed to physically remove the worms.
Heartworm disease in cats is less obvious, with one common sign being a cough.
Early detection is key to treating heartworm disease successfully. Because many dogs show no signs during early infection, a blood test is required to indicate whether an animal is infected.
All dogs should be tested annually for heartworm infection, and this can usually be done during a routine visit.
Because most cats are infected with only a few worms and they may not be fully mature, heartworm infection in cats is harder to detect than in dogs.
The preferred method for testing is an antigen and an antibody test and your veterinarian may also use X-rays or ultrasound to look for heartworm infection.
If your dog tests positive for heartworm disease, there are several steps to treatment:
There is no treatment to eliminate heartworms in cats, so prevention is extremely important for felines.
The only option for cats is to provide treatment for the symptoms they are showing.
With treatment, dogs who have mild or no clinical signs of the disease have a very good prognosis. Even dogs with severe disease or heart failure do well in most cases.
The main factor in how dogs fare during treatment is whether their activity is adequately restricted.
If heartworm disease is untreated, the dog will continue to experience damage to his heart and lungs, and ultimately it will be fatal.
- Animal Welfare League Queensland
The information in this article has been prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or specific advice to any particular person. Any advice contained in the document is general advice, not intended as legal advice or professional advice and does not take into account any person’s particular circumstances. Before acting on anything based on this advice you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives and needs.