How heartworm affects household pets

Pets are beloved members of many families. So it’s no surprise that so many pet owners place such a great emphasis on raising healthy pets, often going to great lengths to provide nutritious foods for their furry friends and protecting them from a host of dangers, including heartworm.

What is heartworm?
The American Veterinary Medical Association notes that heartworm is a serious and potentially fatal disease caused by a parasite that primarily infects dogs, cats and ferrets. According to the American Heartworm Society, the heartworm is one foot in length and lives in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of affected pets.

What happens if a pet is infected with heartworms?
Heartworms can cause severe lung disease, heart failure and organ damage.

Where do heartworms pose a threat?
Geography is not a factor that affects heartworms. The AVMA says heartworms pose a threat to pets in every state in the United States and various countries across the globe.

Are all cats and dogs vulnerable to heartworms?
According to the AVMA, all dogs are susceptible to heartworm infection. Indoor and outdoor cats also are vulnerable to heartworm infection. The AVMA notes that heartworm is spread from animal to animal via mosquitoes, which can easily get into homes, potentially biting pets, including indoor house cats.

Do cats and dogs infected with heartworm react differently?
The AHS notes that heartworm manifests itself very differently in cats than it does in dogs. In fact, dogs with heartworms whose conditions have not yet been treated may have several worms in their bodies, while cats with heartworms typically have three or fewer worms and may not have any adult heartworms.

What are signs of heartworm in cats?
The AVMA notes that diagnosing heartworm in cats is more difficult than diagnosing it in dogs, perhaps due to the smaller number of worms in infected cats than in infected dogs. Various tests may be needed to determine the likelihood of heartworm infection in cats, but such tests are not always conclusive. But potential warning signs of heartworm in cats include coughing, respiratory distress and vomiting.

What are signs of heartworm in dogs?
The AVMA indicates that dogs may show no signs of illness if they were recently or mildly infected with heartworms. Signs may only develop when the worms reach adulthood. Dogs may cough, become lethargic, lose their appetites, or experience difficulty breathing. In addition, the AVMA indicates that dogs with heartworm infections may tire rapidly after only moderate exercise.

Is heartworm preventable?
The good news for pet owners and their pets is that heartworm is entirely preventable. Various preventive medicines are available, and pet owners can speak with their veterinarians to determine which product is best for their pets.

Heartworm is a serious yet preventable disease. Pet owners who suspect their pets are infected with heartworm should report those suspicions to their veterinarians immediately.

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