No. This isn’t about a mystery novel. It isn’t about a clandestine assassin who moves in quietly, does their job, and leaves without being noticed. Or is it!!
Our pets, dogs and cats, are subject to a silent killer. It is true that there are those who survive without being affected and not having security. However, there are many who don’t. Protection is very effected and well worth the money.
Heartworm disease affects both dogs and cats. They are silently infected and may live for some time before showing symptoms of disease. I have to deal with the devastating effects of this disease on a regular basis.
Heartworm Disease is caused by a parasite. These parasites are spread to dogs and cats by mosquitos. It takes approximately 6 months from the time of infection until there are adult worms living in the heart chambers and the infection can be detected. Pets can carry adult worms for some time until they become sick. By then, the pet may be very sick.
Heartworm Disease in cats presents very differently than in dogs. The feline immune system is more aggressive against heartworms as compared to the canine immune system. Consequently, most heartworm larvae never make it to an adult in the cat. However, the very few that do can cause violent immune reactions in the cat leading to violent cough and vomiting.
Heartworm Disease in dogs is more subtle. The canine immune system tolerates heartworm very well. That is why it is a canine worm that affects felines too. In the dog, heartworm numbers gradually increase in the right atrium, right ventral, pulmonary arteries and lungs. If this progression is very gradual, then the dog will accumulate large numbers of adult heartworms before there are symptoms of heart disease such as coughing, exercise intolerance and fluid accumulation in the lungs (i.e. pulmonary edema). We see a relatively low incidence of heart murmurs with canine heartworm disease.
Consequently, by the time our pets are showing signs of heartworm disease, they are very sick. Cats are dealing with out of control respiratory anaphylaxis. Dogs have a heart full of worms and a heart that is now struggling. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!
Heartworm preventatives that are available for both dogs and cats are very effective. They are given once a month. Pets tolerate them well. Some have complained that they are too expensive. However, because they work, they are a much better option than dealing with a totally preventable disease, that of heartworm disease.
Heartworm preventatives are prescription drugs in the United States. We can run a simple blood test to check dogs for the infection before starting the medication. The test is routinely used to monitor the medications effectiveness with routine follow-up testing.
In cats, early heartworm detection is more problematic. However, because there is no specific treatment for feline heartworm disease, control of symptoms is used in these animals. It isn’t necessary to run a heartworm test on a cat before starting preventative. They will only need a physical exam and the preventative can be started. Once a cat has heartworm infestation, prevention of further infection and time to allow the heartworm to eventually be killed by the cat’s immune system is all that is needed.
Dog’s that have been diagnosed with heartworm infection/disease can be treated with a drug called Immiticide. It is an arsenic compound that is normally effective in removing the adult worms. It can only be done by a veterinarian. It is expensive. Prevention is the way to go.
Heartworm disease is a very real problem in Texas. It is totally preventable and easy to do. There is no reason for our pets to suffer the devastating effects of heartworms. A simple call and appointment with us is all that is needed to get your pet on the road to protection. It gives you and your pet the security needed to protect our four legged friends from this silent killer.
- Dr. Kothmann