Aug 5 2013

HEARTWORM – What You Need to Know About This Disease

What Is Heartworm?
A heartworm is a parasitic worm that lives in the heart and pulmonary arteries of an infected animal. Although it is not contagious, heartworm disease is spread from animal to animal through the bite of a mosquito. When an infected mosquito bites a susceptible animal, baby worms called “microfilariae” enter the new animal’s tissue and begin to migrate into the blood vessels. It can harm an animal’s arteries and vital organs. Heartworm is a serious and potentially fatal disease.

Who is at risk?
Although heartworm is more common in dogs, cats can also be infected. Dogs over the age of six months are at the greatest risk. Outdoor cats in areas with high concentrations of mosquitoes may be at a greater risk for the disease. Heartworm can be especially life-threatening to kitten and older cats.


Did you know Wayside Waifs test all animals in our shelter for heartworm? Cody is an 8 year old Shepherd dog currently available for adoption at Wayside.

What are the symptoms?
Several hundred worms can live in a dog for five to seven years. Symptoms can include: labored breathing, coughing, vomiting, weight loss, and fatigue after only moderate exercise. Some dogs however may exhibit no symptoms at all until late stages of infection.

Since a cat is not a natural host for the heartworm, fewer and smaller worms survive. But those that do survive can cause severe health problems for cats. Symptoms can include: a persistent cough, breathing difficulties, depression, loss of appetite, weight loss, and sporadic vomiting.

How can I prevent heartworm?
Ask your veterinarian to test your pet for heartworm and discuss the best way to protect them. Vets can often prescribe safe and inexpensive medicine to prevent heartworm. For dogs, this often means giving them a pill once a month.

Treatment options
While treatment for heartworm disease in dogs is possible, it is a complicated and expensive process, taking weeks for infected animals to recover. There is currently no effective treatment for heartworm disease in cats.

If you notice your furry family member exhibiting any of the general symptoms described above, be sure to contact your veterinarian right away.


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