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Heartworm Disease


Heartworm infections are common in the Gulf Coast area of Texas, (in fact, they may reach 100% in unprotected dogs) but did you know that they now have been reported in virtually every state in America and in Canada as well? Mosquitoes spread the disease by biting an infected dog and then transmitting it to other dogs they bite. Pets travel more with their owners each year and this also contributes to the spread of Heartworm.

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis. This parasite infects both dogs and cats, although the feline variety differs greatly from the canine in both symptoms and treatment. In dogs, developing heartworm migrate to the heart and larger blood vessels where they can grow up to 14 inches in length. If not removed, they can cause permanent heart and lung damage and even death. They can also cause liver and kidney damage resulting from the stressed heart muscle and impaired blood circulation. You may not see any signs of the disease before it’s too late.

Treatment is possible but it can be dangerous and costly. First, the adults are eliminated, leaving the heart to rest. After all other heartworm are eliminated, the pet is put on a preventive which must be continued for life. Heartworm prevention, before your pet is infested, is a much better solution. Heartworm prevention medication comes in several easy-to-administer forms. Ask your veterinarian to prescribe what is best for your pet.


Heartworms are now known as a critical problem for cats as well as dogs. Their impact on your cat’s health has taken a long time to understand because the problem in cats is so physically different from that seen in dogs. In cats, both the adult heartworm and the developing larvae (called microfilaria) affect the lung tissues much more than the heart itself. These parasites produce an intense allergic response as they move through the lung tissues as well as physical signs such as coughing, gagging, and vomiting. Recent studies suggest that a 15 to 20 percent infection rate for cats in this area is common, with little difference between indoor and outdoor cats. Considering the effectiveness of the cat heartworm preventives in providing both heartworm and common intestinal worm protection, it is extremely beneficial to use the feline heartworm preventive on all cats. As a note of interest, heartworms are now being found in species other than dogs and cats. The ferret is now known to be very susceptible to the heartworm parasite.

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