— The heart is a complex organ and it is important for pet owners to be aware of the disease can develop.
Pet owners should know the signs and symptoms of heart disease so that they can provide their pet with the best possible care.
“Humid spring and summer days may cause dogs and cats to suffer more from mosquito bites that can lead to heartworm disease,” said Dr. Sonya Gordon, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Dogs have a high risk of heartworm infection, but cats are also susceptible to the disease.”
Pets become infected when a heartworm-infested mosquito bites the animal, transmitting the heartworm larvae into the tissue of the animal. As the larvae develop they travel through the tissue and ultimately settle in the blood vessels of the lungs, which leads to the development of heartworm disease.
“Heartworms should really be called lungworms because the adult worm typically lives in the blood vessels of the lungs, not the heart,” said Gordon. “If left untreated, heartworms can lead to difficulty with breathing and even result in a clog of the right heart causing Caval Syndrome, which is when blood is prevented from traveling through the right side of the heart and causes the pet’s abdomen to fill with fluid among other problems.”
Signs of heartworm disease can include coughing, difficulty breathing, fainting, weight loss, and an overall decreased activity level. A blood test from your local veterinarian can determine if your pets have the disease.
While treatment for heartworm disease is possible, it is frequently much more expensive and hazardous than preventative medication.
Treatment for heartworm disease can cost up to $6,000, contingent on the disease severity, and is generally considered a dangerous procedure since a lethal substance must be used to exterminate the worms in the blood vessels and the pet’s body must clean up the deceased worms itself. Treatment can last up to four months, depending on the severity of the case. During this time the pet must have its exercise severely restricted.
"The best overall treatment for heartworms is preventative medicine," said Gordon. "Pet owners have a variety of treatment options to choose from including once-monthly tablets, tasty chewable tablets, topical medicines and even injections that can be given by your veterinarian twice per year. It is important to use the treatment that works best for you and your pet.”
Preventative medicine costs approximately $30-$100 per year, and is typically administered once a month to prevent heartworm larvae from developing into adults. Even pets that receive monthly preventative medicine should have a yearly blood test to ensure that they do not accidently become infected.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.