Many pet parents have heard the term “heartworm” before, but may not know what it is, how pets get it, and why testing and preventative care is important.
What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a serious, progressive disease that affects pets. It is also potentially fatal if left untreated. In infected pets, heartworms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels and arteries and can cause severe heart failure, lung disease, and other problems with organs in the body. Heartworms are easy to detect and easy to prevent, but difficult to cure.
How do pets get heartworm disease?
The only way a pet can get heartworm disease is through the bite from an infected mosquito. If a mosquito is infected and bites a dog or cat, the disease will then be in their body.
In the early stages of heartworm disease, many pets show few symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Because of this, early testing and detection is key. The earlier the heartworm disease is detected, the better the chances that the pet will recover from the disease.
Testing and Prevention is Key
Heartworm testing differs a bit between dogs and cats.
To detect the presence of heartworms in dogs, the veterinarian will take a small blood sample. This blood sample will then be tested to see if there is a presence of the heartworm protein in your dog’s body. If you don't get your dog tested, you won't know if they need treatment.
For cats, both an antigen and an antibody test is administered to detect the presence of heartworm protein. Your veterinarian may also use x-rays or ultrasounds to detect infection. Since there is no approved treatment for cats with the disease, prevention is critical.
In order to purchase heartworm preventatives, a prescription from the vet is necessary. The vet will not prescribe the medication until the necessary testing is done. In some rare cases, administering preventative medication to a pet that already has the disease can cause serious reactions that may be fatal.
The most common preventatives for heartworms are ivermectin (Heartgard), milbemycin (Interceptor) and selamectin (Revolution).
- Heartgard is a real-beef chewable that prevents heartworm disease and kills heartworm larvae, roundworms, and hookworms.
- Interceptor is a real-chicken chewable that prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, and tapeworms.
- Revolution is a topically applied medication that prevents heartworm, kills and prevents fleas, controls ticks, and treats and controls ear mites and sarcoptic mange.