Heartworm disease is too terrifying to mess around with partial facts and hazy myths. TotalBond Veterinary Hospital at Paw Creek is here to navigate the maze that is heartworm prevention, transmission, and treatment.
Myth #1: Heartworm disease is easy to treat.
Treating heartworm disease is difficult and complicated. First, your pet will be evaluated by your veterinarian. Additional lab work and testing will be done to confirm the presence of heartworms, check organ function, and verify blood cell counts. Radiographs will be taken to check the shape and size of the heart and to determine how much damage has been done to the lungs and surrounding blood vessels. Once all this information is in hand, the treatment can begin. The medication to kill the adult heartworms is injected deep into the back muscles of your dog, which can be painful. Once treatment has begun, your pet will be severely exercise restricted for the following month. Additional follow-up testing and treatment will be necessary. There is no available treatment for cats. Prevention is a piece of cake compared to treating this deadly disease.
Myth #2: Indoor-only pets can’t get heartworm disease.
Even though your pet may be a homebody, that doesn’t mean he’s safe. About one-quarter of cats infected with heartworms never go outside the home. Have you ever seen a bug, like a fly or spider, inside your home? Of course you have. It’s impossible to keep insects out of your home, and it only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to transmit heartworm disease.
Myth #3: Heartworm disease only affects dogs.
Unfortunately, our feline friends can also contract heartworm disease. Ferrets, foxes, coyotes, wolves, and other species are susceptible, too. Dogs are the preferred hosts for heartworms, and, even though cats are not, just one heartworm can grow to maturity and kill your cat. In both species, the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels are affected by these spaghetti-like worms. The prime target in kitties is their lungs, so they tend to display respiratory signs, such as coughing and wheezing (if they show signs at all). In dogs, we can see decreased activity, coughing, and a swollen belly filled with fluid. Despite the differences in clinical signs between cats and dogs, heartworm disease can be fatal for both species.
Myth #4: Pets receiving heartworm prevention don’t need to be tested for heartworm annually.
Even for pets receiving year-round heartworm prevention, the American Heartworm Society recommends yearly testing for several reasons:
- Have you ever tried to medicate a cat? Even with a topical medication, it can sometimes feel like a nearly impossible feat. A medication can be spit out, rubbed off, incorrectly applied, or completely forgotten, so we need to make sure that our pets are fully protected.
- Sometimes, when temperatures get cold, pet owners think that heartworm prevention isn’t important or they might give it late. Remember, outdoor temperature does not dictate mosquito movement. They can pop up in your home at any time and bite your pet. Skipping just one dose can lead to heartworm disease.
- Sustaining a record with your veterinarian of your heartworm preventive purchases and annual negative testing will provide a warranty in case your pet is ever infected. If you can prove that you buy monthly year-round prevention and have a negative annual heartworm test, heartworm preventive manufacturers guarantee their products and will pay for treatment.
Myth #5: Mosquitoes only come out in the summer.
This is perhaps the most significant inaccuracy we must correct. We recommend year-round heartworm prevention for our cats and dogs, because mosquitoes will migrate inside our homes in cooler weather to stay warm and toasty year-round. And, anytime the thermometer creeps up into the 40’s, mosquitoes will make a reappearance. This means that your pet can be bitten by an infected mosquito any time of the year, not just during the summer.
Myth #6: Heartworm prevention is costly and inconvenient.
The cost of most heartworm preventive products averages around $10 per month, while the cost of treating the disease can be well over $1,000, and that doesn’t even take into account the lasting physical damage the disease will cause. For cats who prefer not to take a pill, there are topical applications available. These topical preventives are also available for our finicky pooches that won’t scarf down a cheese-wrapped snack. And, most manufacturers offer free text reminders to let you know when it’s time to dose your pet.
We hope we’ve cleared up any heartworm questions you had, but if you have any lingering concerns, call TotalBond Veterinary Hospital at Paw Creek at 704-827-7422.