heartworm preventionAccording to the American Heartworm Society, virtually 100 percent of dogs and up to 90 percent of cats exposed to mosquitoes carrying the infective larvae will become heartworm positive. Fortunately, heartworm prevention can help you avoid having to deal with this.

Treatment of heartworm disease is not only very expensive, but also very dangerous to the animal. In cats, the risk of complications is high once heartworm disease has been detected. The best solution is heartworm prevention, which is as simple as flea control is, as long as you follow the right steps.

Here are some common myths surrounding heartworm and why you should truly understand the disease if you want to keep your pets safe:

Fact #1: Pets need heartworm prevention all year round

Although mosquitoes are more active in summer, pets can contract heartworm all-year long. This is especially true if you travel with your pet (remember, all it takes is one bite from an infected mosquito). Because of this, the American Heartworm Society (AHS) recommends that pets should receive heartworm preventives every month — even if it’s snowing outside and even if you have an indoor pet.

Fact #2: Cats are not safe from heartworms

Just because cats are slightly less likely to get heartworms doesn’t mean they’re immune. In fact, between 65 and 90 percent of cats bitten by an infected mosquito will develop heartworm. Many pet owners with indoor-only cats think they don’t need to give their pets monthly heartworm prevention treatment– but the truth is that mosquitoes do get inside, so the risk is there.

Fact #3: Treatment is difficult and dangerous

Treatment of heartworms requires a series of injections containing an organic arsenical compound. That’s right, arsenic. Treatment can cause pulmonary thromboembolism and sometimes sudden death. Without treatment, however, an infected pet will eventually die of heart problems or kidney or liver failure. Additionally, a treatment course for dogs costs over $1,000 and there’s no approved treatment for heartworm in cats.

Fact #4: There’s no vaccine against heartworms

That means your pets need to take a monthly heartworm prevention product throughout their entire lives. Stopping or skipping dosages leaves your pet at risk of infection. Also, keep in mind that most spot-on flea control treatments protect against ticks and fleas but don’t offer protection against heartworm, so you’ll need to buy an additional chewable tablet or pill to ensure your pet is protected.

Fact #5: Heartworm is not contagious

If you have a pet that has tested heartworm positive, you don’t need to isolate him or keep him away from your kids or your other pets. A mosquito biting the infected pet will not transmit the disease to humans or other animals. While it might be distressing to find out your pet has heartworm, there’s no need to give him up or keep him away from the family.

Fact #6: Many pets with heartworm have no symptoms

There are four stages of heartworm disease:

  • In stage one, pets have no symptoms at all.
  • In stage two they have mild symptoms such as getting tired more easily or an occasional cough.
  • More serious symptoms appear once they reach stage three, when the infection is more widespread. By then, your pet will experience trouble breathing and persistent coughing.
  • By stage four your pet will likely show signs of serious illness, including loss of interest in exercise and coughing up blood.

So just because you don’t see any issues doesn’t mean your pet is not infected and in need of emergency treatment.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that heartworm prevention is the best course of action. It’s not only cheaper than treating the condition, but your pet will live a longer, healthier, happier life if you keep heartworms away.

For more information, click here to read Dr. Simone Lemieux’s article on Heartworm in Dogs and Cats.