No pet owner wants to hear a bad health diagnosis from the vet, do they? However, many pets will suffer from heartworm disease at some point in their lives…and a goodly number of these can go undiagnosed until more severe symptoms develop. But what is heartworm disease, specifically, and how can you do your best to prevent it?
Heartworms are, as the name suggests, worms that can infect dogs or cats (as well as other mammals) and grow up to a foot long in the adult stage. If left undetected and untreated, heartworms can cause serious, possibly fatal illness in dogs and cats, as well as a wide range of health problems including respiratory infections and damage to the heart, lungs, and arteries.
Heartworms can be transferred to domesticated animals in a wide variety of wides–one of the most prominent being mosquitoes that carry the heartworm larvae. Then, when the mosquito carry bites a healthy animal, it transfers the infections. Heartworms take up to six months to grow into their adult form, and can live anywhere from 5-7 years in dogs or 2-3 years in cats.
How can you spot the signs? For dogs, it can include coughing, lethargy, abdominal swelling, weight loss, or labored breathing. For cats, it can be a bit more subtle, ranging from light coughing to occasional vomiting to lack of appetite.
Is with many pet-related diseases, prevention goes a long way toward keeping your dog or cat healthy. Be sure to take your dog or cat into the vet at least once every twelve months to get tested for heartworms. Also, be sure to keep them on their monthly heartworm medication all year long. Take them in far sooner if your pet starts showing potential symptoms of heartworm disease, because the sooner the disease is caught, the likelier they’ll be able to recover fully. The longer the heartworms are present, the more damage they can cause.
It’s never fun to deal with a pet’s health issues, but the more proactive you are in monitoring them and getting them the care they need as soon as possible, the higher quality of life they are able to enjoy.
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