Two of our dog patients recently tested positive for heartworm disease. That’s the first time we’ve seen this in over 10 years, so we wanted to provide you with some important information about what to watch for in your dog or cat.
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic roundworm that lives inside the heart and blood vessels of a dog or cat’s lungs. While the disease is preventable, hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs are infected every year.
How is heartworm disease transmitted?
Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and is found in every state, every climate, and every season. During the winter months, mosquitoes hang out in warm environments such as garages and greenhouses, which means that pet parents must take prevention seriously year-round.
High-risk cities for heartworm disease
According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) the 10 metro areas across the United States that experienced the biggest increase in canine heartworm disease during February 2019 are:
- Salt Lake City, UT
- Alexandria, VA
- Riverside, CA
- Topeka, KS
- El Paso, TX
- Paterson, NJ
- Chesapeake, VA
- Reno, NV
- Modesto, CA
- Boise, ID
Notice the prevalence of western states mentioned: Two in California, plus Idaho and Nevada. Heartworm risk has now arrived in Seattle, too.
Bad news, good news
The bad news is that early signs of heartworm disease are generally unnoticeable or invisible. Your pet could appear 100% healthy while the parasites are quietly making themselves right at home. Left untreated, heartworm disease can be debilitating and even fatal.
The good news is that protection is simple: Get your pet tested every year, and administer a heartworm preventive year-round.
Heartworm in cats
Cats are less susceptible to heartworm disease than dogs, but even indoor cats can get infected. The feline version of heartworm disease is different than the canine version. One or two worms feeding on a cat’s lungs can send a cat’s immune system into overdrive, causing inflammation of the lungs and respiratory distress.
Not all cats with heartworm disease show symptoms, but common symptoms include rapid or labored breathing, coughing, decreased appetite, weight loss, and lethargy.
Unfortunately, heartworm disease in cats is lethal and cannot be treated, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats. It’s important to have your cat screened for heartworm disease, and to start your feline on a preventive no later than 8 weeks of age.
Heartworm in dogs
A single bite from an infected mosquito can infect your dog. In dogs, the disease usually attacks the heart and lungs. Adult heartworms can grow to over a foot in length, wreaking devastation on a dog’s circulatory system.
It’s extremely important to have your dog screened for heartworm disease, and to start your puppy on a preventive no later than 8 weeks of age (Heartworm Society)
If your pet is due for a heartworm screening, needs a preventive, or you’re concerned about the possibility of heartworm disease, call us at 206-323-4433.