Parasites do not always cause external symptoms, making
and monthly preventative measures imperative.
Common Heartworm FAQs
Heartworms are a parasitic roundworm that certainly do not belong inside our pets. Pets may show no clinical signs in the beginning stages, however, they will become more obviously ill as it progresses. Pets may begin to show decreased appetite, weight loss, and eventually breathing problems and heart failure.
The short answer is mosquitoes. Not all mosquitoes carry heartworm, but once a mosquito has bitten a heartworm positive animal, it can spread to the animal that it feeds on. Many times, a mosquito may feed on the blood of a coyote, feral cat, or other wildlife. Which is why our pets need continuous preventatives, as carrier mosquitoes could increase at any time.
The good news is that our pets don’t directly spread heartworms to one another. However, if one of your pets has heartworms, it could be a carrier and potential source of infection to other pets in the house. That said, it’s important to have all pets tested and covered by routine care.
Yes, both cats and dogs can be infected by heartworm.
In the early stages, many dogs may have no symptoms. However, the longer the infection persists, the more likely you’ll see your pup develop symptoms. Here are some of those symptoms:
- Mild cough
- Reluctance to exercise
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
Much like with dogs, symptoms for heartworm in cats can be severe or nearly noticeable. Here are a few things to watch for:
- Asthma attacks
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
There are a few ways that heartworms can be detected and diagnosed.
The first way to diagnose heartworm is through blood testing. This is the most common way, as the blood test is a simple evaluation for a toxin (heartworm antigen) that stimulates an immune response.
Sometimes an infection with only a few heartworms will not produce a positive blood test because the infection isn’t producing a significant amount of antigen. Ultimately, the blood test could take many more steps, such as CBC, thyroid, and other testing to produce an accurate result.
Other forms of testing include radiographs (x-rays), or echocardiograms.
The short answer: PREVENTION! PREVENTION! PREVENTION!
There are a few things that you can do to keep mosquitoes away from your pets, such as using screens or keeping windows and doors closed or limiting any stagnant water, the most effective option is keeping up to date on preventative.
Many pet owners operate under the assumption that the diseases and internal parasites that impact their pets couldn’t possibly affect the humans in a household. Unfortunately, that assumption is incorrect. There are several illnesses and parasites that can pass from animal to human through varying levels of contact, and these illnesses and parasites, in addition to endangering your pets, could make you very ill as well.
The term for these conditions and parasites is “zoonotic,” meaning they can be transmitted from one species to another, and one of the most common zoonotic diseases is rabies. Most dogs and cats are required to be vaccinated by law and because of that, this disease is not as widespread or common as it used to be. However, rabies is still very much a danger with a staggering 99.95% mortality rate, it is the deadliest disease in the world.
Rabies is a viral disease that is generally spread through saliva, with bites being the most common method of contagion. The disease is treatable, but once symptoms appear in pets and people, chances of survival become very slim. Your best defense is to make sure your pets are fully vaccinated against this dangerous condition.
Leptospirosis another common zoonotic illness. Highly contagious and spread through the urine of infected wildlife, this bacterial infection causes similar symptoms in pets and people: muscle aches, fever, vomiting, lack of appetite, and, if left untreated, kidney failure and death. Your dog doesn’t need to encounter wildlife to contract it; simply having contact with infected water, soil, or food is enough to make your dog very sick. If your dog spends time outdoors, a leptospirosis vaccination is highly recommended to protect both your pet and your human family.
Most zoonotic illnesses are caused by internal parasites like giardia, toxoplasma gondi, and tapeworm. These parasites are passed from pet to human through contact with infected feces and can cause a wide array of symptoms in animals, including diarrhea, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, and death. Depending on the particular parasite, humans, too, might show signs of diarrhea, as well as experience muscle pain, fever, coughing, and chest pain. Toxoplasma gondi is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and has been known to cause miscarriage.
The good news is that the vast majority of intestinal parasites that affect pets are easily kept at bay by in-clinic deworming treatments and the regular administration of preventative medication. If you want to protect your furry and your human family at the same time, make sure to keep your pets up to date on their vaccinations, and take care to safeguard them against internal parasites with a consistent preventative routine.