April is a busy, but great month for pet health awareness!
Take a look at this list of these "Awareness Months" happening in April:
National Heartworm Awareness Month,
ASPCA'S Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month,
American Red Cross's Pet First Aid Awareness Month, AND
Prevention of Lyme Disease in Dogs Month!
There's a lot going on, right? Let's start off with National Heartworm Awareness Month for now! Heartworm is a preventable, but serious and potentially fatal parasite that usually infects dogs, cats and ferrets. It can also infect many wild animals, including foxes, coyotes, tigers, lions, raccoons, opossums, and more. In fact, the American Heartworm Society reports that more than one million dogs have heartworm disease.
How are Heartworms Transmitted?
Heartworms are only spread from animal to animal by mosquitoes and live in the heart and pulmonary arteries of infected animals. This disease can lead to heart failure, and cause damage to other organs. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, young heartworms (microfilariae) ) develop into infective larvae inside the mosiquito. Ultimately, the infective larvae can be transmitted to another animal when the mosquito takes its next bite.
The infective larvae mature into adult heartworms in around 6 months. During the first 3 months, the larvae move through the animal's body, ending up in the blood vessels of the lungs. During the last 3 months, the worms develop and grow into adults. The worms damage the blood vessels and reduce the heart's pumping ability. When animals show signs of illness due to adult heartworm infection it is then called heartworm disease. Adult heartworms can survive for 5-7 years in dogs, and several months to years in cats!
Where are heartworms found?
Heartworms are a potential threat in every state of the U.S. All dogs, regardless of age, sex, or living environment, are susceptible to heartworm infection. Indoor and outdoor cats are at risk for the disease too. If you plan to relocate or travel in the near future, be sure to ask our veterinarians about the risk of heartworm infection in those new areas!
How can I tell if my pet has heartworm infection or disease?
DOGS: If a dog has been recently or mildly infected with these parasites, they may show no signs of illness until the adult worms have developed in the lungs. As the disease progresses, dogs may become lethargic, cough, lose their appetite, or have breathing difficulties.
Blood tests are performed by veterinarians to detect the presence of adult female heartworms, and antibody tests determine if the dog has been exposed to heartworms. The antigen test is very accurate in dogs. Further tests may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis, evaluate the severity of the disease, and determine the best treatment plan.
CATS: Possible signs of heartworm disease in cats include respiratory difficulties, vomiting, and coughing. The diagnosis of heartworm infection in cats is more difficult. A series of different tests may be needed to help determine the chance of infection and results may be inconclusive. Both antigen and antibody tests are recommended to offer the best chances of detecting heartworms.
How can my pet be treated?
DOGS: If your dog does become infected with heartworms, treatment is available. However, we highly recommend heartworm prevention as the best form of treatment altogether! There is a seriously high risk in treating dogs for these parasites. Fortunately, complications are much less likely in healthy dogs.
The goal of heartworm treatment is to kill the young and adult heartworms found in dogs as safely as possible. Please note that when a dog is being treated it is important to know that the heartworms are dying inside the dog's body. While the dog is undergoing treatment, it will require complete rest throughout hospitalization and for some time following the last treatment. Other medications may be necessary to help control the body's inflammatory reaction as the worms die and are broken down in the dog's lungs.
CATS: Unfortunately, there is no effective and safe medical treatment for heartworm infection or disease in cats. If your cat is diagnosed with heartworms, a veterinarian may recommend medications to ease the pain and reduce the resulting presence of disease. Surgery may end up being required to remove the heartworms in the most severe cases.
Can heartworm disease be prevented?
Heartworm infection is almost 100% preventable in dogs and cats! At Stream Valley, we offer Heartgard chewable tablets to best prevent this disease. Please remember to give your pet the preventative in order for it to work properly! The American Heartworm Society also recommends testing pets every 12 months for heart worm and giving them a heartworm preventative every month in a year. Heartworm tests should be performed annually to ensure that pets don't become infected and the right amount of medication is being prescribed.