Many misconceptions float around about all aspects of pet health, from nutrition and behavior, to anesthesia and dentistry. Heartworm disease is commonly plagued with a great deal of misinformation, but correct knowledge is protection for your pet. So, our Parker Center Animal Clinic team dispels common heartworm disease myths and unravels fiction from fact.
Myth: Heartworm disease affects only dogs
Truth: Heartworms can infect any mammal, including people. However, these blood-borne parasites prefer canine hosts, and seldom thrive in any animal except dogs and wild canines, yet they can still cause massive damage and potentially prove fatal for cats, so prevention is necessary for all pets, not only dogs.
Myth: Heartworm disease isn’t a concern during the winter
Truth: If only all parasites died off during the winter and refused to show their pointed proboscises or mouthparts until spring—but Colorado weather is unpredictable. Anytime the temperature rises above 35 degrees, mosquitoes make a hungry comeback, intent on their next meal. Additionally, since heartworm preventives work retroactively (i.e., they kill the heartworm larvae that have infected your pet in the previous 30 days), year-round prevention is critical to keep your furry pal safe.
Myth: Heartworm disease is contagious
Truth: Technically, heartworm disease is not contagious, although knowing the status of your household pets is a good thing. Heartworms must go through a mosquito to complete their life cycle and reach their infective stage, so cannot be transmitted from dog to dog. However, knowing a neighborhood pet has heartworm disease informs you of the potential for infection, because heartworms are clearly present near your home.
Myth: Heartworm disease is not a serious problem
Truth: Heartworm disease will not resolve on its own without problems and can be fatal without treatment, because the heartworm larvae can permanently damage your pet’s body as they travel through the bloodstream. Heartworms move through your pet’s body for six months as they mature into adults, and during this time, they cannot be picked up on a diagnostic test, so they have half a year to cause inflammation and scarring in your pet’s soft tissues and blood vessels before they are detected.
Myth: Heartworm disease signs are easy to spot
Truth: Some pets may show no signs until the disease has progressed to a severe stage. In general, signs take months to develop, until the worms have caused enough damage to trigger obvious clinical signs. In dogs, heartworm disease signs appear as a cough that progressively worsens, exercise intolerance, and fatigue after activity. As the disease worsens, your dog may lose weight, have difficulty breathing, and accumulate fluid in the abdomen as a result of heart failure.
Cats usually show different heartworm disease signs than dogs, and most commonly present with asthma-like signs, such as wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. However, cats can also develop vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty walking, blindness, and seizures. In some cases, the only sign in a cat is sudden collapse or death.
Myth: Annual heartworm testing is not important when my pet is on prevention
Truth: Since heartworm disease signs can take so long to develop, annual testing is crucial to detect disease in the earliest stage. No product is guaranteed 100% effective, especially in four-legged friends who are notorious for sneaking behind the couch to throw up medication, or for rubbing off a topical product before absorption. Providing year-round prevention for your pet and undergoing annual testing also safeguards you financially, should your pet develop heartworm disease. Manufacturing companies will pay for your pet’s heartworm treatment with proof of year-round prevention and annual testing, which will save you thousands of dollars.
Myth: Heartworm disease is easy to treat
Truth: Heartworm disease not only is much more difficult to treat than to prevent, but also is much harder on your pet, and much more costly for you. For dogs, heartworm treatment consists of a series of arsenic-based injections administered deep into the lumbar muscles, followed by six to eight weeks of exercise restriction. These injections can cause pain and nausea, making your pet uncomfortable for 24 hours or so after they receive treatment. And, if your dog is too active following treatment, they can die from an anaphylactic reaction to the dying worms or from a vascular blockage.
For cats, no heartworm disease treatment has been approved. Although heartworms in cats have shorter lifespans, they can cause severe illness and possibly death. The only option available for cats is supportive nursing care as their immune system battles the parasite.
Are you unsure which heartworm preventive is right for your pet’s lifestyle? Contact our Parker Center Animal Clinic team to discuss the best preventive options for your furry pal.