Spring is near!
As we enter into the months of February and March, there are a lot of things that we as pet owners, veterinarians, and animal lovers in-general should start to consider. Whether we want to talk about pet dental health (since February is National Pet Dental Health month!), or Valentines Day and the risks of chocolate toxicity to our 4-legged-friends, there is so much to consider. With Valentine's Day smack-dab in the “heart” of February (sorry...pun intended), and spring right around the corner, I want to focus on matters of the heart. Specifically, I want to discuss Heartworms!
Heartworms are a serious blood parasite of dogs and cats, and one that I treat multiple pets for every year. Once a pet contracts the disease, the worms will develop and mature and set up shop in the heart. This is a universally fatal disease if left untreated. While cats can contract the disease, dogs are the natural host. If infected and left untreated, Heartworms can multiply and cause injury to many vital components of the cardiovascular system, including the heart, the lungs, and the arteries! That means that the heart can’t pump the blood, the lungs can’t infuse the blood with oxygen, and the arteries can’t move the blood to where it needs to be. Because this is such a serious disease, we at Animal Wellness Center (as well as the American Heartworm Society) recommend testing the blood once yearly to screen for heartworms!
As I mentioned, while cats are not the normal host, they can still become infected. Unfortunately this often goes undiagnosed since routine heartworm screening is not often done in cats. While the number of worms is often lower than the number in dogs, they can still cause significant damage. The most commonly diagnosed “heartworm” disease in cats is a condition known as “Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD).” If your cat has chronic respiratory disease, it may be worth asking your veterinarian about testing him or her for heartworm disease!
The good news is that this universally fatal disease is very easily preventable! There are a wide variety of products available on the market that can very easily prevent heartworm disease in dogs and cats. Bonus! They also help prevent intestinal parasites! It is especially important to give preventatives year round. Mosquitoes, while commonly dormant in cold weather, can become active very quickly and easily with only a day or two of temperatures at or above 50 degrees fahrenheit! Living in Wisconsin, it’s not unreasonable to believe that Jack Frost might take a day or two off every now and again, leaving us with some unseasonably warm days throughout the winter months.
As we move towards spring (and hopefully warmer weather), please consider talking to your veterinarian about what the best preventative options are for your pets. While it can be easily prevented and treated in dogs, unfortunately the medications used to treat the disease cannot be used in cats. Additionally, while it may not seem like a common issue, I encourage you to visit the website below from the Companion Animal Parasite Council which shows prevalence maps (heat maps) of common areas of infection. While wisconsin is not at the top of the list, we still treat numerous cases each year!
A final, parting thought: You can pay for approximately 10 (or more) years worth of heartworm preventative for a medium sized dog for the cost of just ONE round of treatment for an active infection. It’s true what they say, “an ounce of prevention [truly] is worth a pound of cure!”