Because mosquitoes aren’t seen lingering on an animal, causing itching, hair loss, or sores, they may not concern pet owners as much as fleas and ticks. But mosquitoes can be just as harmful. Heartworm disease is a complex subject, because of the testing requirements, the way prevention actually works, and the different ways it can affect cats and dogs. Brush up on your heartworm knowledge by checking out these buzzworthy facts.
#1: There is no cure for heartworm disease in cats.
Sadly, no treatment is available for cats with heartworm disease, making prevention extremely important. If your cat falls victim to heartworms, she may spontaneously clear the infection, because cats are not the preferred host for heartworms, but even if the infection resolves on its own, the heartworms can still damage the respiratory system.
#2: Your pet cannot pass heartworm disease directly to another animal.
The mosquito plays the leading role in heartworm transmission, and is necessary to spread this disease. Microfilaria, the immature stage of heartworms that are picked up when a mosquito feeds on an infected animal, grow and develop into the infective stage. When a mosquito bites an animal after the microfilaria have reached this stage, the heartworms are transmitted in an immature form. Over the next six months, the heartworm larvae mature into adults, which then produce microfilaria that circulate in the animal’s bloodstream. If mosquitoes ceased to exist, so would heartworm disease.
#3: The common test for heartworm disease only tests for the presence of female heartworms.
Testing for heartworm disease is complicated. The standard test detects the presence of the adult heartworm antigen, which comes from a female worm only. All positive tests must be confirmed before proceeding with treatment. Checking for the presence of microfilaria or sending blood to an outside laboratory can help confirm heartworm presence before beginning a treatment protocol.
#4: Your pet could test negative for heartworm disease, but still carry it.
False negatives can occur when your pet is tested for heartworm disease due to several scenarios:
- All adult worms are male, which prevents antigen detection
- An infected mosquito fed on your pet less than six months ago, so the heartworms are too immature to be detected on standard tests
- Too few worms are present to detect infection—antibody tests require the presence of at least three adult worms, but will pick up on male worms, as well
#5: Only female mosquitoes bite.
Female mosquitoes are the bloodthirsty ones. Males feed only on flower nectar, whereas the females require the protein found in blood to develop their eggs.
#6: Heartworm disease has been documented in all 50 states.
Even if you live in a bitterly cold state, such as Minnesota, your pet is not safe from heartworm disease. Dogs have been diagnosed with heartworm disease in almost every county in that state. We experience milder temperatures in Virginia, but they serve as a more ideal climate for mosquitoes. The various species of mosquitoes are excellent at adapting to colder weather and can successfully spend the winter indoors, infecting your pet all year long.
#7: You will not see this worm in your pet’s stool.
Heartworms are not parasites that are passed in your pet’s feces. They take up residence in the pulmonary arteries, which are large blood vessels connecting the heart and lungs. If the worm load is high enough, heartworms may also spread into the heart and lungs.
#8: The first sign of heartworm disease in cats may be death.
A pet owner may not even realize her cat has heartworm disease until the cat suddenly collapses. Heartworm disease affects cats more dramatically than dogs and can result in red blood cell rupture, blood clots, and heart failure. Occasionally, cats also will present with respiratory issues, such as lung inflammation, coughing, and open-mouth breathing.
#9: Heartworm treatment is substantially more costly than prevention, in terms of finances and your pet’s health.
Heartworm disease can wreak havoc on your wallet and your pet’s lungs, heart, and circulatory system. Spend about $10 a month for a heartworm preventive, instead of the potential hundreds to thousands of dollars for heartworm treatment.
#10: Heartworm preventives work retroactively.
Do not wait until heartworms reach their full adult size, when they cause the most destruction, to give your pet heartworm preventive. Give your pet a monthly heartworm preventive, which eliminates the immature stages by killing all the microfilaria that had developed the previous month. This prevents the disease by halting the heartworm’s life cycle.
When was the last time your pet was tested for heartworm disease? Did she receive a heartworm preventive in the past month? To check your pet’s heartworm status, give us a call to schedule a heartworm test.