What Is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease that can be found in many household pets such as dogs, cats, and ferrets. It is caused by a parasite that can be anywhere from 4 to 12 inches in length, which burrows itself in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of affected pets. This disease can cause a range of illnesses including severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs in the body. Heartworms can also live in other mammals, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, and, in rare instances, humans. Due to the close proximity of these wild species to urban areas, it’s important that pet owners know the risks of potential carriers being close to their homes.
Heartworms are most commonly spread through mosquitos, which transmit baby worms called microfilaria—that develop into larvae in the mosquito over a 2-week period—to other animals it has bitten. While this is most commonly found in the dogs of pet owners, cats can also be affected. However, because the cat is an atypical host for heartworms, most worms in cats do not survive to an adult stage. While mostly undiagnosed in cats, it’s important to realize that adolescent worms can cause damage in cats as well.
Signs Your Dog Might Have Heartworms:
- A mild but persistent cough.
- Shows a reluctance to exercise.
- Fatigue after moderate activity.
- A decreased appetite.
- Weight loss.
- As a heartworm disease progresses, your dog may develop heart failure. Along with this comes the appearance of a swollen belly, which is caused by excess fluid in the abdomen.
Signs Your Cat Might Have Heartworms:
- Coughing and gagging.
- Asthma-like attacks.
- Periodic vomiting.
- Lack of appetite.
- Weight loss.
- Uncommonly, an affected cat may have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid accumulation in the abdomen (swollen belly).
- Unfortunately, the first sign in some cases is a sudden collapse or death.
What Should I Do If I Think My Pet Has Heartworms?
The American Heartworm Society
recommends that you get your pets tested annually for heartworms. If you believe your pet may be infected with heartworms, Houston Humane Society is here to help. Visit our veterinary clinic in Houston, TX to schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians or give us a call today
to learn more!