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Did you know that all pets are at risk for heartworm disease? Heartworm is a serious and potentially fatal disease that can affect all pets, even indoor dogs and cats. The disease is caused by heartworms, foot-long worms that live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of affected pets. Adult heartworms can grow up to 14 inches and cause heart failure, lung disease, organ damage, and even death.
How does heartworm spread?
It only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to transmit heartworm disease, and pets can become infected at any time of year. Indoor pets are at risk, too—infected mosquitos can easily make their way inside your home, potentially infecting your pet, and certain mosquito species can survive indoors or in cooler temperatures.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Heartworms can live for five to seven years in dogs, and for two to three years in cats. In early stages of heartworm disease, your dog may show no signs of disease or mild symptoms. As the disease progresses, your dog may experience a mild cough, fatigue after activity, decreased appetite and weight loss, and a swollen belly from excess fluid. In severe heartworm disease, dogs can also develop caval syndrome, a serious complication that blocks the blood flow within the heart, leading to cardiovascular collapse.
In cats, signs of heartworm disease can be mild or very sudden. Symptoms include asthma attacks, coughing, vomiting, lack of appetite, and weight loss. An affected cat can also develop a swollen belly from excess fluid. In extreme cases, the first sign of heartworm disease in cats is sudden collapse or sudden death.
During a heartworm test, your veterinarian takes a small blood sample from your pet, testing the sample for the presence of heartworm proteins. If your dog or cat tests positive, further tests may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
In affected dogs, your veterinarian will recommend a protocol for treatment. Dogs who show no signs of disease or mild symptoms typically have a high success rate with treatment. For dogs with advanced or severe heartworm disease, the possibility of complications is greater. If your dog has contracted heartworm disease, monthly heartworm preventives should be administered year-round.
If your cat tests positive, the diagnosis may require an x-ray, complete blood count, and several blood tests. Since there is currently no approved drug therapy for heartworm disease in cats, your veterinarian will provide any necessary care and support, and develop a long-term management plan for the disease. If your cat has developed heartworm disease, monthly heartworm preventives can protect them from developing any new infections.
The good news is that heartworm disease is preventable. We strongly recommend all pet owners establish a preventative care routine with monthly heartworm protection. Chewable tablets or fast-acting topical formulas available only with a prescription from our doctors here at Sierra protect your pet for a full 30 days. When dosed on time, 12 months a year, the medication works to disrupt the heartworm life cycle. A yearly heartworm test can confirm that your cat or dog is heartworm-free and ensure that your prevention program is working.