These days, especially in southern states where summers are long, veterinarians remind us constantly of the safety of heartworm prevention. But how important is it, really? We’ll break it down for you below including how the heartworm lifecycle starts in pets, symptoms to look for, and treatment options.

You may think skipping heartworm prevention won’t be a serious danger for your pet. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true, and heartworm disease is extremely serious. It can be fatal if untreated.

That’s why Emancipet offers preventative medicines and treatments for a fraction of the cost of a full-service vet. We want to make it easy and very affordable for people to protect their pets.

One of the most important things to consider about heartworm is, prevention is less expensive and less invasive compared to having to undergo treatments if your pet gets infected.

Although the treatment survival rate is high when infection is caught early, avoiding infection in the first place wins every time. To find out what happens if your pet does contract heartworm, keep reading.

So, what exactly is heartworm and why is it dangerous?

Heartworm Disease 101

Heartworms are foot-long worms that can survive in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels within an infected animal.

Dogs and cats become infected with heartworms if they are bitten by a mosquito that is already carrying immature worms ripe for infestation and growth. There is no way to tell a non-carrying mosquito from an infected one. Which is why it’s important to monitor and protect your pet – especially during months when mosquitos are in full force.

Most common myth de-bunked: Dog’s cannot pass the disease to another dog. Heartworm infection is only caused by an infected mosquito bite. So let’s put this rumor to bed.

Heartworm Lifecycle in Dogs

Mosquitos become heartworm carriers by biting a dog that is already infected from a previously infected mosquito. That’s why mosquitos continue the cycle of producing the disease from one dog to the next. A dog that is heartworm positive carries microfilariae within their bloodstream, which are picked up by other mosquitos, ultimately maturing into infective larvae within the insect.

While carrying the infective larvae, a mosquito will bite a dog and spread the larvae to the animal’s bloodstream, where the dog will serve as its host as the heartworms grow. It takes close to 7 months before this larvae will turn into mature heartworms.

Once grown, the heartworms reproduce in the dog’s bloodstream. This is where heartworms continue to grow and expand, which is the most dangerous part of the life cycle. It can take years, but as the worms grow and expand, they begin to affect the heart and other vital organs as space within the dog’s body reduces.

While dogs can harbor hundreds of worms before extreme issues happen, the disease will cause life-long damage and other diseases if the worms are not treated.

In most extreme cases, blockages of blood flow within the heart can cause cardiovascular collapse. At this point, worms must be surgically removed through the dog’s neck and must be done immediately. 

Symptoms To Look For In Dogs

In the beginning, there are little to no signs of infection. As the infection lingers and the worms grow, symptoms will increase. Here is a list of most common signs to look for.

  • Mild persistent cough
  • Limited energy/ Constant fatigue
  • Low appetite
  • Weight loss

In some cases, a dog’s abdomen will swell due to increased fluid.

An annual vet exam will help spot any of these issues and a veterinarian will test for heartworms routinely.

Heartworm Lifecycle in Cats

Heartworm in cats is less severe of a lifecycle. Cats are an atypical host for heartworms, meaning the worms typically do not survive to adulthood. While dogs can sustain hundreds of worms, cats with adult heartworms typically just have a few worms.

While this may not seem like an immediate concern, damage can still be done. HARD (heartworm respiratory disease) can develop if left untreated. Although cats may not have as many worms, preventing infection up front is the best option.

Symptoms To Look For In Cats

Cats will range in symptoms shown. The most typical signs are:

  • Coughing
  • Raspy Breathing
  • Respiratory Issues (such as vomiting)

Heartworm Treatment Options 

Treatment options are different for dogs and cats. Never share the same treatment option for pets, as each preventative is created specifically for each species/breed. If your pet contracts heartworm, here are more details about the three-step, year-long process to overcome the infection.

There are many types of heartworm prevention medications on the market. From topical to chewable, or a 6 or 12 month shot administrated by your vet. There are lots of choices, but the most important thing is to just do it! Heartworm prevention is one of the must-do items on your annual pet care list and Emancipet makes it very affordable (currently $55 for the whole year as of March 2022, check for updated pricing).

Your pet’s lifestyle, size, and activity will factor into which prevention is best for their needs. The best first step is to talk with your vet to find what makes sense. Emancipet’s veterinary team can help you find an affordable solution to help your pet stay heartworm-free all year long. Find our pricing and services including heartworm treatment here.

Bodhi & Sarah – Bodhi was heartworm positive when Sarah adopted him. She brought him to Emancipet to treat his infection and is proud to report he’s now heartworm-free!

Before you go – If you enjoyed this post, you probably love pets as much as we do! Did you know that you can sponsor a pet in need each month with a Nose to Tail Team donation and receive a limited-edition tote bag? Join our Nose to Tail Team and help a pet family get the care they need each month for just $0.54 a day.

Image of tote bags you can receive for donating monthly to Emancipet