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Heartworm in Dogs and Cats: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Heartworm disease can be a heartbreaking condition. In it, long worms that can reach a foot (30cm) in length infest the vital organs of your pet, including heart and lungs. They cause serious and potentially fatal disease including heart failure. Heartworm is most commonly found in dogs although it can also be found in cats. Heartworms can live up to 7 years in dogs and 2 to 3 years in cats.

Heartworm in Dogs
Unfortunately, dogs are a natural host for heartworms. Heartworms infest a dog and take up residence for good, breeding, maturing, mating and even producing more heartworm. Untreated, they can multiply into the hundreds and can leave lasting and debilitating effects even if they can be eradicated.

Dogs may not show any signs of disease during the early stage of infestation. As it progresses, you may notice symptoms such as:

• Persistent cough
• Reduced activity and energy levels
• Easily fatigued
• Weight loss
• Loss of appetite

Heartworm in Cats
Cats are not “natural hosts” and so the worms don’t live their entire life cycle in a cat host. Most will not live to the adult stage in a cat and if they do host adult heartworms, it’s usually one to three only.

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken just as seriously. In fact, there are a few specific issues that come up.

• It’s often undiagnosed in cats since the symptoms are less obvious.
• Even immature heartworms can cause serious damage such as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD).
• The drugs used to treat heartworm in dogs can’t be used in cats and so prevention is the only option.

Heartworm disease can be hard to detect in cats. Symptoms may include,

• Persistent coughing
• Asthma-like attacks
• Weight loss
• Loss of appetite

Beware of Mosquitoes!
Mosquitoes are a vital part of the life cycle of a heartworm. Many wild animals like foxes and coyotes can be infected with heartworm along with domesticated pets. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, the blood they pick up also includes microscopic baby heartworms called microfilaria. After developing inside the mosquito for one to four weeks, they migrate to the mouth of the insect. When the mosquito then bites another animal or human being, the tiny parasites are transmitted to a new host.

Testing & Treatment
The good news is that most cases of heartworm disease can be successfully treated. The deciding factor is how long the infestation has taken hold and therefore how many worms the dog contains. The treatment is quite demanding and your dog will have to be strong enough to withstand it, including use of an arsenic compound to kill all the worms. In severe cases, large heartworms have been surgically removed but this is a drastic step.
Note: The standard ‘heartworm and tick test’ should be done on all dogs annually.’

Heartworm Prevention
The best news of all is that there is a wide variety of preventive drugs and therapies available to protect your dog or cat from ever getting heartworm disease. These preventatives are given once a month, year-round. Mostly year-round.

Call us today at 905-830-0437 in Newmarket and York Region to learn more about Heartworm in Dogs and Cats and what you can do to prevent it

About Dr. Arzem and The North Yonge Veterinary Hospital:
Dr. Gary Arzem received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from The Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Ontario in 1989. He is the founder and head veterinarian at The North Yonge Veterinary Hospital in Newmarket, Ontario. Having practiced veterinary medicine for more than 25 years, his skills and special interests include surgery, dentistry, diagnostic imaging (ultrasound and radiography), dermatology, internal medicine, cardiology, ophthalmology and public health as it relates to pets and their owners. He is a founding member of The Veterinary Emergency Clinic of York Region in Newmarket. Dr. Arzem is recognized as an educational leader in the community and is involved with The Ontario Veterinary College, York Region District School Board, Simcoe County Board of Education, and Seneca College’s Co-Operative Education Programs. Dr. Arzem also participates in several continuing education conferences, including The North American and Western Veterinary Conferences and he is actively involved in fundraising for a number of charitable organizations, such as The Pet Trust Fund, The Farley Foundation, The Hospital for Sick Children and the Canadian Cancer Society. He has also appeared on City T.V.’s Animal House Calls and Rogers Your Pet Your Vet television shows and has written several articles for Newmarket’s Snapd Newspapers.

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