As the weather starts to warm up around Kitchener-Waterloo and throughout southern Ontario, we want to take this time to remind you about the importance of keeping your pet protected against heartworm disease.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, and they pose a risk to pets in our area from June through November. Heartworm disease is becoming more common in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and in fact, most heartworm disease cases in Canada are found in southern Ontario.
Heartworm Disease Is Preventable!
When a mosquito infected with heartworm larvae (baby heartworms) bites a dog or cat, the larvae enter the pet through the bite wound. Over the next few months, these tiny worms make their way inside the pet to the heart and lungs, maturing into adult heartworms and causing serious damage to these organs and associated blood vessels.
Your pet can get heartworms from just a single mosquito bite!
Although we can’t prevent a pet from getting heartworms, we can stop these worms from developing into adults and harming your pet. There’s a brief window (about 2 months or so after infection) when these baby worms can be killed off. If a heartworm disease preventive is administered during this crucial time, your pet will be protected against heartworm disease.
What If You Miss That Crucial Prevention Window?
If the immature worms are allowed to continue developing inside your pet, they will become resistant to heartworm disease preventives. At that point, treatment will be required to kill the adult worms. But treatment is only available for dogs, and it can be difficult and costly. No treatment has been approved for cats with heartworm disease.
Untreated, heartworms can grow up to a foot or more in length. And even if they are treated successfully, heartworms can cause lasting damage to a pet’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
The best way to protect your pet against heartworm disease is by giving a heartworm disease preventive regularly.
What Are the Signs of Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease in pets can cause:
- Coughing or gagging
- Difficulty or rapid breathing
- Reluctance to exercise or exercise intolerance
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Weight or appetite loss
- Sudden collapse or death
Heartworms may also cause no symptoms, especially in the early stages.
Dogs with a lot of worms can develop what is called “caval syndrome,” in which the worms block blood flow through the heart, eventually resulting in heart failure.
Cats with heartworms may have other signs, such as vomiting or diarrhea, trouble walking, fainting, or seizures. Early signs of heartworm disease in cats may resemble those of asthma, when in fact, they’re signs of what is called “heartworm-associated respiratory disease” or HARD.
Even just 1 or 2 heartworms in cats can cause severe symptoms and be life-threatening.
Why Do We Test for Heartworm Disease?
Annual testing for heartworm disease is essential for all dogs. Even for a dog on year-round preventives, if a dose was accidentally missed or the pet vomited or spit out the medication unnoticed, for instance, the dog might not be protected against heartworm disease. If a preventive is given to a dog who has any adult heartworms, it can be deadly.
What Do We Recommend to Prevent Heartworm Disease?
Although heartworm disease can be deadly, it is preventable. It’s also much easier to prevent than to treat.
Our team at Westmount Animal Hospital will create a heartworm disease prevention plan, as part of an overall parasite prevention program, that’s personalized to your individual pet. If you have any questions about what we recommend to protect your pet, give us a call.
During this challenging time, we are committed to continuing to serve you, and that includes making sure you get your pet’s medications. Call us at 519-569-7902 to request your pet’s heartworm disease preventive refill, which you can pick up curbside. You can also order online and have your pet’s medication delivered right to your door.
To learn more about our coronavirus response, please see the Westmount Animal Hospital COVID-19 protocols.