April is National Heartworm Month. Is your pet protected?

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease in dogs and cats in the United States and many other parts of the world. It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. The dog is a natural host for heartworms, which means that heartworms that live inside the dog can mature into adults, mate and produce microscopic larval forms called microfilariae. When a mosquito bites an infected dog, it picks up the microfilariae in the blood meal. The heartworm larva goes through more of its life cycle within the mosquito, and is then transferred to another dog when the mosquito feeds. If untreated, the number of heartworms can increase in your dog; dogs have been known to harbor several hundred worms in their bodies. Heartworm disease causes lasting damage to the heart, lungs and arteries, and can affect the dog’s health and quality of life long after the parasites are gone. For this reason, prevention is by far the best option, and treatment—when needed—should be administered as early in the course of the disease as possible.

The decision as to which combination of parasite preventatives to give your pet must be made in conjunction with your pet’s veterinarian because the individual needs and medical history of your pet must be considered.  In general, we recommended:  Sentinel for heartworms, flea eggs, and intestinal parasites all year long AND Nexgard for ticks and adult fleas all year long. There are a few other option that can be discussed with your veterinarian due to medical or cost reasons.  Please discuss these options with your pet’s veterinarian at your pet’s annual exam.

Due to the high incidence of heartworm disease in our area, year round prescription heartworm preventative medication is necessary. Animal Hospital of North Asheville complies with the recommendations of the American Heartworm Society and the American Animal Hospital Association, and requires an annual heartworm test for dogs, even when they are on heartworm prevention year-round, to ensure that the prevention program is working. Heartworm medications are highly effective, but dogs can still become infected. If you miss just one dose of a monthly medication—or give it late—it can leave your dog unprotected. Even if you give the medication as recommended, your dog may spit out or vomit a heartworm pill or rub off a topical medication. There are also some new strains of heartworms developing that are resistant to heartworm preventives.  Heartworm preventives are highly effective, but not 100 percent effective. If you don’t get your dog tested, you won’t know your dog needs treatment.

Heartworms do not only affect dogs, they are a heartbreaker for cats too!

Heartworm disease in cats is very different from heartworm disease in dogs. The cat is an atypical host for heartworms, and most worms in cats do not survive to the adult stage. Cats with adult heartworms typically have just one to three worms, and many cats affected by heartworms have no adult worms. While this means heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats, it’s important to understand that even immature worms cause real damage in the form of a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Moreover, the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used in cats, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease.  Recent studies of cats with heart and respiratory disease have found that the incidence of heartworms is greater than previously thought. Even though heartworm disease is spread by the bite of a mosquito, indoor cats get heartworms, too!  About 25% of the cats who have heartworm disease are reported to be totally indoor cats. The mosquitoes that come into the house are just as dangerous as the ones outside.

Signs of heartworm disease in cats can be very subtle or very dramatic. Symptoms may include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss. Occasionally an affected cat may have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Unfortunately, the first sign in some cases is sudden collapse of the cat, or sudden death.

Heartworm infection in cats is harder to detect with blood tests than it is in dogs. Because there is no treatment available that will eliminate adult heartworms in cats, and because Revolution Plus can be administered safely to cats with adult worms, cats do not have to be tested before beginning or continuing Revolution Plus. Our wellness blood panels do include an antibody test for heartworms at no additional charge. Because there is no approved treatment for heartworm infection in cats, prevention is critical. We recommend that you use Revolution Plus for Cats topically once a month all year around to prevent heartworms in your cat. Another benefit of Revolution Plus is that it also prevents problems from many intestinal parasites, fleas, ticks and ear mites.

Don't let heartworms break your heart! Be sure to give your cat and dog heartworm prevention every month all year long. If your dog has been off prevention over the winter, have them tested today and talk with your veterinarian about starting them back on prevention. Give your feline friend the best, a life without heartworms. Keep them on prevention year around (even if they are indoors).

To learn more about heartworm disease in cats and dogs, please visit our Fleas, Ticks and Heartworm Resource Page and the American Heartworm Society.

Click Here for a great video on heartworms.