White Dog said, “April is Heartworm Awareness Month, momma. I think we should let Puff help you write tonight’s blog to let our followers know about this most important information.”
Puff, as many of you know is a former broken-down backyard breeder past her prime, literally living in all seasons and weather outdoors with no shelter in Kansas. She came to us through the usual White Dog destiny of miracles and the extreme kindnesses of strangers…and at 14 we discovered this nearly feral little girl was Stage 3 Heartworm+.
Because of her age and frail condition, the worm infestation was frightening to see under the microscope, her treatment had to be managed slowly and cautiously. It took months for her to recover. She would have died if we had not found her when we did. She came through with pulmonary and heart damage, bronchial scarring and a collapsing trachea…issues she must deal with for the rest of her days.
Puff The Magical, named because her rescue and recovery WAS nothing short of it, wants every pet owner to know the facts below (from the American Heartworm Society). See your vet, have your pet tested and start your pets on a heartworm preventative. We know there are fears and concerns about the pharmaceuticals being used, but death by heartworm infestation is horrible and slow. Follow the directions and maintenance dosing. Don’t assume that your area is safe from the disease or that if you do not mingle with other pets you avoid the potential for infection.
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition caused by parasitic worms living in the arteries of the lungs and occasionally in the right side of the heart of dogs, cats and other species of mammals, including wolves, foxes, ferrets, sea lions and (in rare instances) humans. Dogs and cats of any age or breed are susceptible to infection.
Heartworm disease has been reported in all 50 states. Naturally acquired heartworm infection in cats and dogs is identified as a worldwide clinical problem. Despite improved diagnostic methods, effective preventives and increasing awareness among veterinary professionals and pet owners, cases of heartworm infection continue to appear in pets around the world.
How does Heartworm happen? First, adult female heartworms release their young, called microfilariae, into an animal's bloodstream. Then, mosquitoes become infected with microfilariae while taking blood meal from the infected animal. During the next 10 to 14 days, the microfilariae mature to the infective larval stage within the mosquito. After that, the mosquito bites another dog, cat or other susceptible animal, and the infective larvae enter through the bite wound. It then takes a little over 6 months for the infective larvae to mature into adult worms. In dogs, the worms may live for up to 7 years. Microfilariae cannot mature into adult heartworms without first passing through a mosquito.
Recently infected dogs may exhibit no signs of the disease, while heavily infected dogs may eventually show clinical signs, including a mild, persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, fatigue after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite and weight loss.
Cats may exhibit clinical signs that are very non-specific, mimicking many other feline diseases. Chronic clinical signs include vomiting, gagging, difficulty or rapid breathing, lethargy and weight loss. Signs associated with the first stage of heartworm disease, when the heartworms enter a blood vessel and are carried to the pulmonary arteries, are often mistaken for feline asthma or allergic bronchitis, when in fact they are actually due to a syndrome newly defined as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD).
Because heartworm disease is preventable, the AHS recommends that pet owners take steps now to talk to their veterinarian about how to best protect their pets from this dangerous disease. Heartworm prevention is safe, easy and inexpensive. 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 no effective treatment for heartworm disease in cats, so it is imperative that disease prevention measures be taken for cats.
There are a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection in both dogs and cats, including daily and monthly tablets and chewables, monthly topicals and a six-month injectable product available only for dogs. All of these methods are extremely effective, and when administered properly on a timely schedule, heartworm infection can be completely prevented. These medications interrupt heartworm development before adult worms reach the lungs and cause disease.
Remember: It is your responsibility to faithfully maintain the prevention program you have selected in consultation with your veterinarian.