You have likely heard of heartworm disease, but you may not be sure how the disease can affect your pet, or how to protect them from this deadly parasite. Many half-truths and downright myths surround heartworm disease, so our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Calder team is here to clear up any misinformation about this serious condition. Test your heartworm disease knowledge by taking this quiz, and learn which facts are really fiction, and learn how to prevent your pet from contracting this life-threatening disease.

Fact or fiction? Heartworm disease can affect both cats and dogs

Fact: Many people believe only dogs contract heartworm disease, but the parasite can affect any mammal—cats and people included. However, heartworms prefer canine hosts, and rarely thrive in other species. In addition, each species’ heartworm disease signs are different. Dogs may show no signs for years, or they can develop a persistent cough, exercise intolerance, and a swollen, fluid-filled abdomen. Cats can have asthma-like attacks, or develop vomiting, diarrhea, walking difficulties, seizures, or sudden blindness. Unfortunately, some cats’ first and only heartworm disease sign is sudden death.

Fact or fiction? Pets do not contract heartworm disease during the winter

Fiction: Although insect populations typically die off during the winter, Southeast Texas, including Calder, does not experience temperatures that are cold enough to wipe out the mosquito population. Infected mosquitoes transmit heartworms through their bite, so in our area of the country, your pet can be at risk for contracting this disease year-round. However, in states that experience colder winter temperatures, your pet is not safe from heartworm disease either, because mosquitoes can pop back up any time the temperature rises above 35 degrees. To prevent gaps in your pet’s protection, administer heartworm prevention year-round no matter the climate.

Fact or fiction? Heartworm disease is contagious among pets

Fiction: If one of your household pets tests positive for heartworm disease, they cannot directly transmit the parasite to another pet. Heartworms must pass through a mosquito to complete their life cycle, and mature to the infectious stage. However, although heartworms are not directly contagious, other pets are not safe from disease, because a heartworm-positive pet in your home or neighborhood indicates that infected mosquitoes are in your area, and can transmit disease to any unprotected pet.

Fact or fiction? Heartworm disease can be deadly to pets

Fact: While heartworm disease can cause sudden death in cats, the parasite can also cause death in dogs. While it can take years for a dog’s heartworm load to increase enough to cause life-threatening damage, a severe infection can cause caval syndrome, which occurs when the heartworm burden becomes so large that worms clog the heart and large blood vessels. Congestive heart failure, which occurs when the damaged cardiovascular system is no longer able to supply the body with an adequate amount of blood, can also become fatal.

Fact or fiction? Heartworm disease in pets is easily treated

Fiction: Canine heartworm disease can be treated, although the process is long, and the patient can experience painful suffering. An infected dog is given a series of injections the veterinarian must administer deep into their lumbar muscles, which may cause discomfort and nausea, and the patient may require two or three injections—spaced a month apart—to fully eradicate their infection. During the entire treatment course, and up to six to eight weeks after the last injection, you must severely restrict your dog’s activity level, meaning they can go outside on a leash to eliminate, but must immediately return to a crate or small room. If your recovering dog is too active, they can experience adverse effects from the dying adult worms, and develop a pulmonary thromboembolism.

Although dogs have an approved heartworm treatment, no such treatment is available for cats. Instead, feline heartworm treatment focuses on managing complications until the worms die, or until the cat succumbs.

Fact or fiction? Heartworm disease is easily prevented in pets

Fact: Fortunately, heartworm disease is easily prevented. A wide variety of heartworm preventives that come in various administration forms—chewable tablets, tasty chews, topical solutions, and injections—are available to ensure your pet receives their prevention when needed. Some products include protection from intestinal parasites, mites, fleas, and ticks, in addition to heartworm. 

To protect your pet from contracting heartworm disease, ensure they receive year-round preventive medication. Contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Calder team for help choosing the best heartworm preventive for your furry pal.