FAQ on Heartworm Disease & 10 Must-know Facts
By: Bobby Walker, Pet Nurse
- How do animals contract heartworms?
Heartworm larvae enter the animal’s body when a mosquito that is carrying the disease bites them. Mosquitos become carriers once they bite a Heartworm positive animal.
- What are symptoms of heartworm disease?
Symptoms can include coughing, wheezing, lethargy, vomiting, and difficulty breathing; although some pets may exhibit no obvious symptoms.
- Are humans at risk for heartworms?
Humans are not a natural host for heartworms. Humans can be infected but heartworms typically die before becoming adult heartworms.
- How can I keep my pet safe from contracting heartworms?
A monthly heartworm preventative is the best way to protect them. Dogs should be tested for heartworms prior to starting prevention and once annually to make sure nothing has gown awry during the year.
- Does my pet only need to be on heartworm preventative when mosquitoes are present?
In our area, mosquitos can be active year-round, so dogs and cats should be on heartworm preventatives all year.
- Why does my dog need to be tested for heartworms every year if he’s on a monthly preventive?
We test yearly to ensure our preventatives are continuing to work. Preventatives are highly effective but don’t remove risk 100%. It also helps us make sure there haven’t been any cracks in our prevention plan, like a forgotten dose or a pill spit out behind the couch.
- Why doesn’t my cat need to be tested for heartworms before starting heartworm prevention?
Unfortunately, there is no great test for cats. Cats often have only 1 or 2 heartworms causing disease, which might not produce enough antigen to make the test show up positive. If the 1 or 2 heartworms are male, the test cannot detect them at all. Basically, a negative heartworm test in a cat doesn’t prove they don’t have heartworms.
- My pet lives indoors. Does he need heartworm prevention?
Mosquitos that carry baby heartworms can enter your home as you come through the doors and make their way to your pet. Unless your pet lives in a plastic bubble or you have a sterilizing chamber as you enter, your pet could be exposed. In fact, 25% of cats with heartworm disease are indoor cats!
10 Facts Pet Families Should Know About Heartworms
- Heartworms are almost 100% preventable!
- Heartworm testing of dogs should be done annually by blood test.
- Pets in the Ozarks are considered high risk for contracting heartworms.
- Heartworms can cause severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage, leading to death in dogs, cats, and ferrets.
- Annual heartworm testing is needed to be sure dogs haven’t acquired a drug-resistant heartworm infestation or more commonly, something slipped through the cracks (missed dose, vomited after a dose, received wrong strength, etc.)
- Treatment for heartworm disease in a dog is extensive, pricey, and is hard on their bodies. There is no approved treatment for heartworm infestations in cats.
- As heartworms die off in a pet’s body (either due to treatment or reaching the end of their life naturally), they break off into tiny pieces, which can cause blockage of the blood vessels and sometimes death of the pet.
- Pets that have heartworm disease and remain active (running, jumping, playing) have an increased risk of death.
- Pets can be infected with heartworms anytime of year in this area.
- Heartworms can live and reproduce in your pet’s body for up to 7 years if untreated!