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Pet Bucket Blog

The Dangers of Heartworm in Pets

 by jaime on 20 Jun 2014 |
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Heartworm is a serious and potentially fatal condition that affects both dogs and cats. Heartworm is an internal parasite that lives in the host's heart and pulmonary arteries. If left untreated, a heartworm infection can lead to complications such as organ damage and ultimately death. The condition is more prevalent in canines than felines. Heartworm can be found in other mammals including humans, but dogs are the most common host. Although cats can harbor the condition, they are typically more resistant to heartworm infection than dogs.

Outdoor pets are at an increased risk of developing heartworm than indoor pets. Since heartworm is spread by mosquitos, pets are more at risk during the summer months. Pets that live in warm weather climates where mosquito are present all year are at risk year round. Outdoor pets should be kept indoors during hours when mosquito are most active.

Pets may not show any outward symptoms of heartworm infection until the condition is quite advanced. There are typically more heartworms present in dogs than in cats, however a few worms in a feline may be fatal.  Heartworms tend to live longer in dogs than cats. Signs of heartworm infection may include:
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dull coat
  • Blood in the stool and/or sputum.

As the condition progresses, the animal's breathing may become labored. Felines may exhibit diarrhea, vomiting and/or convulsions. The severity of the condition depends on several factors such as the number and location of the worms, the length of time that the animal has been infected and the state of the their immune system.

Treatment of heartworms can pose its own threat and may lead to complications or even death in cases of severe infestation. The drugs used to treat heartworm infection may cause severe reactions in certain dog breeds. Surgery may be another option to remove heartworms, but this alternative is usually only reserved for the most critical cases. Surgery may sometimes be a better option for cats. Taking proper preventative measures is the best course of action to protect your pet against heartworm infection.

There are several medications that are effective in preventing heartworm. Although there are more medications available for dogs, there are also a few available for prevention of heartworm in cats. Always consult your veterinarian in determining the proper course of heartworm prevention for your pet. Many of the heartworm preventatives are also effective in preventing ear mites, fleas and other intestinal parasites. Before beginning any course of treatment for heartworm prevention, have your veterinarian test your dog or cat for heartworm. At the age of six months, dogs and cats should be tested for heartworm infection. Tests should be performed annually after the initial exam. Pet owners should take heartworm infestation seriously and the potential dangers that may occur, especially for those pets in areas or during seasons when mosquitoes are primarily active.

Want to protect your four-legged friend from heartworm? Our online store stocks heavily discounted (up to 75% off) heartworm treatments.

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