A dog looks over his shoulder at the camera.

At BEEVET Animal Hospital, we want to arm you with the information you need to ensure that your pets are healthy and happy throughout the year. Heartworm disease is a serious illness that affects both indoor and outdoor pets. Without the proper prevention, even animals who spend a majority of their time inside are susceptible to this health issue.

Knowing more about heartworm disease, what causes it, and how to prevent it is your best defense against this common, yet preventable health problem.

Heartworm Disease: The Beginnings

A heartworm is an actual worm, also known as Dirofilaria immitis, that uses a mosquito as an intermediate host until the mosquito bites another animal, mostly dogs, cats, and ferrets

If a mosquito transfers a heartworm into another animal through a bite, that animal becomes the definitive host for the worm. Traveling to the heart, the lungs, and respiratory blood vessels, the worm continues to grow and can even release offspring into the animal’s blood. 

Heartworms can live for up to seven years inside of a dog and span anywhere from four to twelve inches in length. The more worms that are present, the more dangerous they can be for the animal.

The Worms Take Hold Of Dogs

Heartworms are extremely dangerous for dogs because, if left untreated, they cause a significant burden to the heart and lungs. The severity of the disease will depend on the amount of worms living inside the dog, or the worm burden, and the canine’s general activity level. 

Symptoms can include:

  • Cough
  • Exhaustion
  • Trouble breathing
  • Physical changes to the heart and lungs
  • Heart blockages, also known as caval syndrome
  • Irreversible damage to the heart, lungs, and kidneys that can be fatal

Heartworm Disease and Cats

Although not as susceptible to heartworm disease as their canine counterparts, cats can get heartworm too. 

The disease acts slightly different in the feline population, but is still a health concern you should discuss with your vet. In cats, worms typically do not live longer than four years and they do not tend to multiply as much as they do in dogs. Heartworms that die inside of cats usually cause the most serious health issues. 

If a heartworm dies, the cat’s immune system will send a large inflammatory response to the lungs. Also known as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD), this can cause breathing problems, lung damage, and even sudden death. It is also more difficult to diagnose heartworm disease in cats than it is in dogs. Likewise, at present, there is no treatment for heartworm disease in cats.

Heartworm Prevention Is Key

Although heartworm is extremely common, it is also preventable. With the proper attention and a preventive schedule from your Austin veterinarian, your indoor and outdoor pets can live happy, healthy, heartworm-free lives. Talk to your veterinarian during your next wellness visit to find a preventive that works for your pet’s needs and lifestyle. 
Whether you are due for a wellness check or think your pet might be sick, BEEVET Animal Hospital is here to help you keep your pets in top shape. To learn more about our services or to schedule your next appointment, visit us online or call (512) 263-9292.