What is a heartworm? Is it an actual worm?

Heartworms are, in fact, worms. They can cause inflammation in the lungs, obstruct blood flow to the heart and can cause heart failure over time.

How do pets get heartworms?

Pets get heartworms from mosquitoes. After the mosquito bites an infected animal, there are a few larval stages the worm goes through in the mosquito prior to the mosquito biting a new host. Once the larva get into the new host, they go through a couple of other life cycles before developing into a mature heartworm.

Heartworms can get up to a foot in length and they cannot spread from pet to pet. Mosquitoes are required for transmission.

Can cats get heartworms?

Cats can get heartworms, even if they live exclusively indoors.

If you’ve ever been in your home and gotten bitten by a mosquito, that can definitely happen to cats too. Although it is less common, cats do develop more severe disease and it can be more difficult to diagnose.

How can I protect my pet from heartworms?

You can easily protect your pet by using heartworm prevention.

Prevention has to be prescribed by your veterinarian. We recommend starting prevention as early as six to eight weeks in kittens and puppies. Heartworm prevention is extremely well tolerated in pets.

You can get prevention at any of our Emancipet locations with a current examination. Even if you have missed doses or you’re not sure if your pet is up to date on prevention, our staff can ensure that you get the products that you need to make sure that your pets stay heartworm-free moving forward.

How is heartworm treated? 

Treat Your Heartworm-Positive Dog As Soon As Possible

Dogs who test positive should be treated as soon as possible to reduce damage to the heart, lungs, and other important organs.

Your veterinarian will likely put your dog on exercise restriction, start prevention to prevent any new infections from happening and start supportive medications prior to starting an injectable protocol. The injectable treatment process typically takes about three months to complete. Your veterinarian will want to retest your pet to make sure that they’re negative after they’ve completed the treatment.

Until the treatment is completed successfully, heartworms can continue to cause damage in the body.

Protect Your Cat With Prevention

Unfortunately, there is no safe treatment for heartworms in cats at this time. The injectable treatments that are approved in dogs are toxic to cats. Should your cat test positive and exhibit signs, your veterinarian can prescribe medications to help alleviate those signs in your cat.

Because there is no treatment in cats, we typically have to wait for those worms to die naturally, which can take a couple of years to occur. The cats living with heartworm disease can be at risk for sudden death. Therefore, it’s significantly easier to prevent heartworm infections in cats by giving monthly prevention.

How do I know when treatment has worked?

After the treatment has been completed, your veterinarian will likely want to retest your pet to make sure that they’re negative. Continuing prevention year-round will make sure that your pet remains negative.

Remember, if heartworms go untreated, they can be up to you 100% fatal, in some cases. It’s so much easier and more affordable to provide prevention for your pets instead of putting them through a lengthy treatment process.