Why is heartworm prevention important?

Heartworms are arguably one of the most dangerous parasites that can affect our pets. Although they can infect cats, dogs are their natural hosts. However, whichever species of pet you have, a heartworm infestation can have serious and potentially fatal consequences for your pet.

Here is what you need to know about heartworms, why prevention is so important and what your options are to keep your pet properly protected.

What are heartworms and where do they come from?

Heartworms are an internal parasite. This means that they live inside your pet’s body, and unlike most worms that live in the intestines, heartworms make themselves at home inside the blood vessels of your pets’ hearts and lungs. Also, unlike most intestinal worms, heartworms are transmitted via mosquitos, who take infected larvae into their bodies when they feed on an infected animal and then pass it onto the next host when they bite them.

Once the larvae have passed into your pet’s bloodstream, it will migrate to the blood vessels of the heart and lungs. Here they will spend 6 months maturing into adults that will have reproductive capabilities. Every heartworm is very thin but can grow up to 12-13 inches in length. As they reproduce, their numbers grow, and they begin to prevent the normal flow of blood around your pet’s body. This will cause organ damage, and left untreated, will certainly be fatal. Prevention against heartworms is the only guaranteed way to keep your pet safe.

Another reason why heartworm prevention is so important is that it is very difficult to tell if a pet is suffering from heartworms. The symptoms of a heartworm infestation do not typically start until around 6 months after an animal has been infected, and early signs are very mild and easily overlooked. These include fatigue and a soft cough. The earlier that heartworms are identified, and treatment begins, the better the outcome for your pet is likely to be.

How are heartworms treated?

The process of treating heartworms is long and complex. Typically, it involves the use of multiple medications including several injections to kill the adult heartworms and any larvae, but because the medications are so strong, this must be done very carefully and gradually. The treatment protocol is unpleasant, and it isn’t effective in all pets. Regrettably, there is no treatment available for cats with heartworms. Instead, they are given a smaller dose of the canine version.

What heartworm preventatives are available?

There are a variety of different heartworm preventatives currently available, and which is right for your pet will depend on the species and breed of animal that you have. Most are oral medications taken monthly, but there are also injections that can offer 6 months or 12 months of protection with one dose. Our team would be delighted to advise you which heartworm preventative will be most effective for your pet and will place them onto a proper preventative medication schedule.

For more information and advice on heartworms, please contact our veterinary offices today.