Heartworm disease is an insidious condition that can affect not only dogs and cats, but also any mammal, including people. Understanding how the disease is spread, and how the disease can harm your four-legged friend, is essential for best protecting your pet. Take a look at a few common scenarios that emphasize the importance of heartworm prevention. 

Does my outdoor pet need heartworm prevention?

Benelli the Labrador is a duck-retrieval dog who happily tags along when her owner heads out to hunt. Benelli is always in her element as she splashes in delight through the water, retrieving downed birds. No matter how muck-covered or soaked she gets, Benelli always enjoys her watery outings.

That can’t be dangerous for Benelli, surely? 

Lebanon Animal Hospital (LAH): Benelli is at risk for heartworm disease, because she spends a great deal of time outdoors, particularly in wet, swampy areas that are prime mosquito habitat.

Does my indoor cat need heartworm prevention?

Cheeto the red tabby cat lives a life of luxury indoors, spending his days overseeing the bird feeder outside his favorite window ledge. Occasionally, he’ll venture out to the patio to watch the sunset with his owner, but he never steps a paw off the deck.

So, Cheeto is never at risk for heartworm disease, right?

LAH: Unfortunately for Cheeto, he is definitely at risk. Owners often think that their cats do not require heartworm prevention, but they need protection as much  as dogs. Occasionally, cats show no heartworm disease signs before they suddenly die, which makes prevention extremely important.

Does my spoiled little dog need heartworm prevention?

Nugget the Chihuahua never leaves his owner’s arms, except to take a bathroom break, and then he leaves her side to go only as far as the potty pad in the living room corner, before he scampers back to her loving embrace. When his owner runs errands, Nugget tags along in her oversized purse.

Nugget is always inside the house or his owner’s purse, so no mosquito comes near, and he couldn’t possibly need heartworm prevention, right? 

LAH: Wrong—Dogs who never step outside to exercise or go to the bathroom still require heartworm prevention. Dogs are the preferred host for heartworms, and a bite from one infected mosquito can cause a serious infection. Mosquitoes can easily slip through an open door or a window screen hole and infect a pet who never goes outside.

What signs will I see if my pet gets heartworm disease?

Dogs and cats are affected by heartworm disease differently, because heartworms prefer dogs as their host. If your dog becomes infected with heartworms, you may notice:

  • A dry, persistent cough
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Exercise intolerance

As the disease progresses, your dog can develop congestive heart failure and a fluid-filled abdomen. In severe cases, they can suffer from cardiovascular collapse caused by a heartworm blockage, which they will not survive without prompt surgical removal.

If your cat becomes infected with heartworms, they may develop an asthma-like condition known as heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD), and show the following signs:

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Trouble walking
  • Blindness
  • Convulsions

In some cases, cats show no signs before they suddenly collapse or die. Although heartworms rarely reach adulthood in cats, the immature larvae can cause massive damage that can be deadly.

What are my options for protecting my pet against heartworm disease?

If your pet contracts heartworms, treatment can be challenging or nonexistent. For dogs, treatment consists of a series of injections administered deep into the back muscles, which can be extremely painful, and months-long, severe exercise restriction, to prevent any adverse effects from the dying heartworms.

Unfortunately, no heartworm treatment is approved for cats. At best, their symptoms can be successfully managed, but the parasite damage can be extensive and permanent. 

The best way to protect your pet from heartworm disease is year-round heartworm prevention administration. With the variety of options available, every household pet can easily take their medicine. Options include topical liquids applied to the back of the neck, oral tablets and chewables, and injectable medications. Depending on the medication you choose, your pet can be protected against fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms. The key to heartworm prevention is remembering to administer the medication on time every time. 

Are you unsure which heartworm preventive would be the best option for your pet? Contact our Lebanon Animal Hospital team, to discuss the merits of various heartworm preventives for your furry pal.