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Heartworm disease is a parasitic infestation with a type of worm that lives in the blood vessels and heart of the affected dog or cat. It is a serious disease that can be fatal, and treatment is prolonged and expensive when possible. However, it is also preventable with a simple treatment from your veterinarian. From both a financial and health perspective it makes sense to have your pet tested and prescribed a preventative at their annual vet visit.
In order to become infected, a dog or cat must be bitten by an infected mosquito. The parasite cannot survive when it gets too cold, so heartworm infection is naturally a concern during the late spring, summer, and early fall in Columbus. However, many heartworm preventatives are designed to be given monthly, which helps prevent gaps in coverage that might allow infection. It also guards against anomalies that might allow transmission during certain months of the year that are typically heartworm-free, such a warm winter or early spring.
Unfortunately, a heartworm infection usually has no symptoms until the disease is relatively advanced. Once the condition reaches this stage, dogs tend to develop exercise intolerance, lethargy, and coughing. Cats may have much more dramatic symptoms, such as asthma-like attacks and collapse. If your pet is exhibiting any of these symptoms, make an appointment right away. Even if they do not have heartworms, they need vet treatment for whatever they do have.
There is no treatment for heartworms in cats, but there is a preventative available. Infected cats may be able to be supportively treated, but there is no way to kills off the worms. Treatment for dogs involves injections of a powerful medication that kills the heartworms, followed by strict confinement and rest in order to decrease the risk of one of the dead worms blocking a blood vessel. It is usually taxing for both the dog and the owner, as well as expensive.
Heartworm preventatives are medications that kill any larvae in the animal's bloodstream. They only work when the larvae are still young enough, which is why they are given monthly. If given on the proper schedule, every month they kill any larvae acquired the previous month, and the dog or cat never develops any adult worms.
There are a number of preventative options available, including oral and topical applications. Your vet can tell you which preventative they recommend for your pet and why. Pets need a negative blood test for heartworms before they can be put on a preventative, and all preventatives require a prescription from your veterinarian.
Heartworm preventatives are a relatively inexpensive, very important way to keep your pet safe from this parasite. If your dog or cat is not on a preventative, schedule an appointment with us to discuss your individual pet's needs. If you are concerned that your pet might be infected with heartworms, make an appointment right away for a diagnostic examination. Call Hamilton Road Animal Hospital, located in Columbus, OH, at 614-239-0027.
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