As a pet owner, it is often dreadful to even dream about your pet suffering from heartworm disease. No sane human being would want his beloved pet to suffer from the existence of a tube-like parasite residing in the blood vessels and heart. The problem is that heartworm disease is very common in our country. It is considered to be the most life-threatening and infectious disease affecting pets.
Although everyone knows that such a disease exists, most of us still are not aware about the specifics about heartworm disease. Hence, as a pet owner it is your duty to ask these questions pertaining to heartworm disease from your veterinarian:
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm is caused by Dirofilaria immitis, a parasitic nematode that affects the heart of the dog. There are four main classes of heartworm disease from I to IV that lead to clinical clues increasing the severity with the progression in the class.
In class I the pet may show no symptoms or might show a soft cough. As the disease progresses to Class IV, the illness of the pet becomes obvious with other signs including:
- Breathing problems
- Decreased appetite
- Heart failure
- Unkempt appearance
- Weight loss
There are times when you are not even aware that your pet is suffering from heartworm disease till it becomes very advanced. Hence, it is advisable to take your pet to the veterinarian on a regular basis and carry out heartworm test. If the results are negative, commence Heartworm Preventative Treatment.
How Is The Disease Outspread?
Heartworm is extended through a mosquito bite. There are only selected mosquitoes that carry heartworms as parasites enter mosquitoes only after feeding the blood of a heart-worm-positive pet. Not all animals carry heartworm disease. Heartworm positive pets include:
- Feral cats
- Other wildlife
These heartworm positive pets are potential sources for mosquitoes to get infected by heartworms while taking a blood meal. Dogs cannot straightaway spread heartworm disease to other dogs. But an infected dog acts as a carrier and possible source of infection for other dogs in the household. If a mosquito bites a heartworm positive dog in a household and then sucks the blood of another dog in the household, then transmission might happen.
Are Dogs & Cats Both Susceptible To Heartworm Disease?
Yes, both dogs and cats are prone to heartworm disease. But it is more prevalent in dogs as they spend most of their time outdoors where mosquitoes can grow. But even an indoor cat can get heartworm disease. Remember, mosquitoes can enter through doors, open windows and places where screens are damaged. No animal is 100% safe from heartworm disease.
Can Human Beings Be Infected With Heartworm Disease?
No, heartworms do not thrive on human body just like dogs and cats. But a human being can still be infected with heartworms when the infected mosquito bites them. But luckily the parasite is unable to last in the human body.
Are There Specific Areas In USA That Are More Affected By Heartworm Disease?
Yes, there are certain parts in our country where your pet can be infected by heartworm disease. It is more prevalent in hot and wet climates that support the mosquito lifecycle like on the Gulf Coast and South East areas. While these mosquitoes are prevalent in particular seasons and flourish in the spring to fall months in the North East Coast and plain states. Heartworm positive pets or wildlife carrier can spread this disease even in locations where heartworm disease is less prevalent.
How Is Heartworm Disease Diagnosed?
There are different ways to diagnose heartworm disease:
- Blood Testing
- Radiographs (X-Rays)
Let us look at these in details:
The most common way to evaluate heartworm disease is through a simple blood assessment for heartworm antigen. But there are a few worms that do not produce significant quantities of antigen. In addition to this, antigen testing is specially for female heartworms so there are high chances that an infection with adult male heartworms may go unnoticed.
The veterinarian pairs the heartworm antigen with an antibody or other testing which can be customized to suit the pet’s clinical presentation. The white blood cell count can show signs of inflammation or parasitism with every increase. Some other tests need to be performed if the dog is diagnosed positive with heartworm disease include a blood panel test encompassing chemistry, thyroid, CBC and other testing.
When a pet is diagnosed as being heartworm positive it is crucial to conduct x-rays of the chest to access the degree of intensity to which the pet is affected. Heartworm can have an adverse effect on the lungs of the pet. Due to the presence of heartworms, the oxygenation does not happen properly, resulting in enlargement of the heart and blood vessels that cuts down cardiac function.
After the diagnosis has been established, imaging of the organs is done to ascertain the intensity of heartworm disease. An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart that allows the veterinarian to peek inside the blood vessels and heart of the pet. It aids in determining the extent to which the worm is present. If there are a large number of worms, it can be a major health concern for the pet.
How Can Pet Owners Protect Their Dogs & Cats From Heartworm Disease?
Start using screens and keep windows and doors closed so that mosquitoes cannot enter your house.
Never allow plant dishes, ponds etc. on your property as it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
If you are not sure whether your cat or dog is infected with heartworm disease, ask the veterinarian to conduct their blood test. If the results of the presence of heartworms in the pet are negative start the Heartworm Preventative Treatment.
Remember, prevention of heartworm disease is better than treatment. The reason for that is the heartworm treatment is not only expensive but also painful for the pet. Hence, it is always recommended to commence heartworm preventative treatment for your pet after getting the recommendation of your veterinarian.