Heartworm disease, which is spread through mosquito bites, has been detected in all 50 states, so all pets are at risk and need protection. When an infected mosquito bites a pet who is not receiving a heartworm preventive, the pet will become infected with adult worms about six months later. The adult heartworms will live in their host’s heart, lungs, and nearby blood vessels, and will reproduce and increase in number over time. The worms damage the pet’s vital structures, and the pet eventually suffers with clinical heartworm disease.
Untreated heartworm disease causes coughing, exercise intolerance, weight loss, and other vague illness signs, and can eventually lead to heart failure or death. While treatment is possible for dogs, safe medications do not exist for cats. Prevention is the best option for your pet’s safety, because treatment can be risky and cannot reverse the worms’ existing damage. Here are five reasons our Madison Street Animal Hospital team recommends monthly, year-round, topical or oral heartworm prevention for all pets.
#1: Heartworm prevention is more cost-effective and easier in dogs than heartworm treatment
A year’s supply of monthly heartworm preventives typically costs $100 to 150, while heartworm treatment can easily cost more than $1,500. In addition in dogs, heartworm treatment injections are usually extremely painful, daytime hospitalizations are required for observation and monitoring, and strict cage rest must be maintained throughout the months-long process. Dogs also are administered antibiotics and steroids to reduce the risks of a blood clot, physical worm blockage, or a reaction to toxins released by the dying worms.
#2: Heartworm prevention is the only option for cats
The same treatments used for dogs are not safe for cats, which means adult heartworms in cats cannot be killed. Infected cats often experience asthma-like respiratory disease from their immune system’s inflammatory response against the worms, and this can be treated with medications until the worms die a natural death in two to three years. Some heartworm positive cats clear the infection on their own, but others can die suddenly from complications. Prevention is the only option to keep cats safe from heartworm disease, including indoor-only cats—studies have found that one in four infected cats lives exclusively indoors.
#3: Heartworm prevention helps avoid heartworm disease complications
Damage and complications from heartworm disease can start as soon as worms enter your pet’s body, and will worsen the longer they are present. Severe infections can lead to heart failure or sudden death from worms blocking a large blood vessel, a blood clot, or from congestive heart failure. Infected dogs who are caught and treated early through routine screening test protocols frequently recover well, but could later develop heart problems. Prevention avoids this possibility entirely.
#4: Heartworm preventives also control intestinal parasites
Intestinal parasites, especially roundworms and hookworms, are highly prevalent in pets, most commonly in puppies and kittens, but adult pets are also at risk. Pets with intestinal parasites can contaminate your home and yard with eggs, and then expose other pets. Roundworms can also endanger your human family. For example, a person, usually a child, who swallows microscopic eggs after touching an infected pet’s feces or feces-contaminated surface, can become seriously ill because the worms can travel into their nervous system or eyes.
Most heartworm preventives also serve as a monthly dewormer, and can keep your family safe from roundworms and hookworms. Some products contain multiple ingredients that also help control fleas, ticks, mites, and other parasites, so ask your veterinarian which is best for your pet.
#5: Heartworm prevention reduces disease spread
Heartworm infections are spread by mosquitoes, but mosquitoes can only spread the disease after ingesting heartworm larvae from an infected animal. These animals, called reservoirs, are most often domestic dogs or wild canids, such as foxes, coyotes, or wolves. The more infection reservoirs in your community, the more mosquitoes can carry heartworms, and the greater the likelihood of other pets becoming infected. Maintaining year-round heartworm prevention for all your household pets ensures you’re doing your part to keep your community pets and wildlife safe.
Heartworm infection prevention is vital for protecting not only your pet, but also your human family and other community pets. Contact the Madison Street Animal Hospital team for more information about a heartworm prevention regimen, or to schedule your pet’s next wellness visit and heartworm test.
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