Protect Your Pets from Deadly Heartworms

The ever-pesky mosquito will again be transmitting heartworms this summer. Don’t let your cat or dog be a victim of this deadly disease.

Each year, female mosquitoes transmit heartworm disease from one animal to another through a single bite. No dog or cat or specific breed is immune. Even inside dogs and cats could be at risk. All it takes is one mosquito to get into your house through a screen door or an open window to jeopardize the health of your pet.

Transmission occurs when female mosquitoes carry heartworm larvae, called microfilariae, from an infected animal (dogs, cats, foxes, coyotes, and wolves), and deposit it through a bite into the bloodstream of an uninfected animal – which could be yours. These larvae then grow and migrate to the heart of the animal where they live, causing damage to the heart and the large blood vessels. By this time, heartworms resemble spaghetti. Symptoms in your dog can include coughing, weakness, listlessness, tiring easily, and weight loss. Your pet will also have difficulty breathing as the disease worsens, and may die from heart failure if the disease is untreated.

Unfortunately, it can take many months for your pet to show signs of the disease, and by then there is significant damage. Early detection by blood testing can save your pet’s life.

Treatment for heartworm disease in dogs involves a few days’ hospitalization and injections of medication to kill the adult worms. Dogs being treated for heartworm disease must be kept calm for a few weeks so that the dead worms have time to be absorbed by the body rather than move to the lungs where they can cause blocked arteries. Weeks later, oral medicine is given to kill the microfilariae. Preventive medicine can then be started.

Cats may only allow one or two adult heartworms to develop in their bodies. However, cats manifest allergic reactions to the protein in the heartworms. The disease in cats can result in asthma or sudden death. There is no safe drug to destroy adult heartworms in cats, so preventive medication is important in cats who are at risk.

Heartworm prevention is as simple as using a monthly medicine prescribed by your veterinarian. It can be a flavored tablet, or a topical medicine applied to your pet’s skin. Blood testing may be required first. In New Jersey, most veterinarians recommend that pets be placed on preventive treatment year round.

If you need a veterinarian, please visit the Find a Veterinarian page for a list of member veterinarians in your area.