Statistics show that 85% of all unprotected dogs will get heartworm and the other 15% have a natural immunity to it.
It is not a matter of if but when!
Just about everyone has heard of heartworm and is somewhat familiar with its very serious and often lethal effects. But surprisingly, not everyone takes preventative measures to prevent heartworm in their pets. In fact, The American Heartworm Society (AHS) estimates that only 55% of dogs in the U.S. are currently on a heartworm preventative, leaving 27 million dogs at risk of acquiring heartworm disease.
Wee Waggin Rescue: Heartworm Awareness
Wee Waggin rescue cares about your pets. We feel that the best defense to illness and injury is education and awareness and we would like to shed a little light on heartworm disease and to stress the vital importance of a monthly heartworm preventative and regular heartworm testing.
What Heartworm Is
Heartworm is a parasite that is spread through mosquito bites. Most common in dogs, but also prevalent in cats, the heartworm, a long thread-like worm, lives in the arteries of the lungs and also in the right side of the heart of its host.
How Heartworm Spreads / Treatment
Heartworm is extremely dangerous and not to be taken lightly. It is prevalent in all 50 states, and on every continent except Antarctica. It is easily transmitted and contracted. Once in its host, the parasite rapidly multiplies and grows, invading the chambers on the right side of the heart and the arteries in the lungs. Treatment for heartworm disease can mean weeks of discomfort, and pets that go untreated will die.
Because the heartworm parasite goes through various life stages before reaching full maturity, early detection is very difficult. These parasites can live in its host for years before symptoms appear and can reach lengths of up to 12 inches.
Symptoms in Dogs
While recently infected dogs may not show any signs or symptoms, heavily infected dogs show the following symptoms:
- Aversion to physical activity
- A consistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
The most extreme symptom in very advanced cases can be congestive heart failure.
Symptoms in Cats
Because cats are not a natural host for the heartworm parasite, there are far fewer cases of feline heartworm disease, but it is still possible and preventative measures should still be taken. Symptoms of heartworm in cats are very difficult to read and often appear strikingly similar to feline asthma or bronchitis. These symptoms are associated with a syndrome called Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD) and include:
- Back-leg paralysis
- Fainting spells
- Strained breathing
- Weight loss
General heartworm detection is usually done through blood testing, though false negatives can occur with infections prior to seven months. Therefore, regular heartworm testing is optimal.
Heartworm infection may also occasionally be detected through ultrasound and/or x-ray images of the animal's heart and lungs where the adult parasites dwell.
Treatment in Dogs
In dogs, Heartworm Disease treatment requires diligence and follow-up. The different stages of the parasite involve individual treatment. Medication and plenty of rest will usually cure most cases of Heartworm Disease, though treatment can be somewhat uncomfortable. In very advanced cases of Heartworm Disease where the dog's heart is directly affected, surgical removal of the parasite may be necessary.
Preventing Heartworm Disease is far easier than curing it. Wee Waggin Rescue requires you to protect your pets - even your indoor cats, as they too are susceptible to the mosquito bites that cause Heartworm Disease. Since cats can not be properly treated for Heartworm Disease, prevention is imperative.