Heartworm is a parasite that all dog and cat owners have to be concerned about. Heartworm infections and heartworm disease are endemic amongst dogs in North Carolina, meaning that they are a widespread and ongoing health concern. Though cats are infected less often than dogs, when they are infected it is most often fatal, so prevention is essential.
How Heartworms Affect Dogs
Mosquitos transmit heartworms, and they are essential in the life cycle of parasites. Once an infection is established in your cat or dog, ongoing injury occurs in the heart and lungs. The first symptom of an infection in dogs is often a soft cough, followed by shortness of breath, and exercise intolerance. Illness resulting from infection marks the transition from heartworm infection to heartworm disease.
If left untreated, heartworm disease will lead to clotting disorders, pneumonia, and heart failure. If a dog becomes infected with heartworms, treatment is available and highly recommended. However, prevention is the best line of defense.
Cats Are More Sensitive
Cats are far more sensitive to infection than dogs. A single heartworm can cause a fatal infection in cats! Since cats are not a natural host to heartworms, infections present differently. Clinical signs in cats tend to be immune-related, driven by a very strong reaction of the immune system. Cats develop more of a lung disease, complete with respiratory distress and chronic coughing or vomiting. Unfortunately, there is no safe treatment for cats, making prevention critical.
The good news is that heartworm infections, and heartworm disease, are easily preventable in dogs and cats. A large variety of safe and effective heartworm preventives are readily available and inexpensive. These products require monthly administration. Most products also offer protection from some intestinal parasites and some include protection against fleas.
In some colder climates, mosquitos are not a concern during the winter months, so heartworm preventives are only given during the warmer months of the year. However, in North Carolina, pets are at risk of contracting heartworms year round, so heartworm prevention must be given year round.
*Heartworms in dogs and cats