Heartworm, a very common affliction, is found in almost all dogs living in highly endemic areas who are unprotected by medication, this includes the Santa Cruz area. The parasitic worm, Dirofilaria immitis, is transmitted by mosquitoes usually during the warmer months. The mosquito injects a microscopic larvae which grows into an adult worm six to eighteen inches long inside the host. The name "heartworm" is a misnomer because the worm actually resides in the pulmonary arterial system (lung arteries).
The worms can cause mild symptoms, such as coughing, but with time, more severe symptoms usually occur such as –
Luckily, we have several excellent medications which can prevent heartworm if given as directed. There are oral medications which given monthly protect your pet against hearmworm and some other intestinal parasites, a monthly topical medication, and an injectable medication, ProHeart, which is administered every six months. Please note that Proheart is back on the market after being withdrawn for several years because of serious, life-threatening reactions, including loss of appetite, lethargy; vomiting and seizures, followed in some cases by death.
It is important to make sure that medication is give on schedule; even with proper usage, no medication is perfect. Therefore the American Heartworm Society strongly encourages owners to check all dogs annually by doing a blood test, even for dogs on preventative medications. If a dog has heartworms and is given a dose of preventative, there could be a serious detrimental reaction to the dog that can even be fatal.
The treatment for adult heartworms in dogs is expensive and potentially harmful, which is why it is much better to just prevent them in the first place. There is no treatment for adult heartworms in cats, therefore many veterinarians are now recommending monthly heartworms preventatives.
Heartworms were once thought to be rare in cats, but now we know the incidence is anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of the canine rate. In order to diagnose a feline with heartworm, veterinarians have to do different tests than for dogs, and sometimes more than one, because the worms are smaller and usually do not produce microfilaria which are like baby heartworms that circulate in the bloodstream, which makes it harder to find. The symptoms in cats are different than those in dogs. Cats usually have asthmatic symptoms or cough, even vomit. Cats can die acutely.
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