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Heartworms are parasites that cats or dogs can get from infected mosquitoes carrying the heartworm larvae. The heartworms start off in the bloodstream and migrate to the heart after a few months once they have reach maturity. They can grow up to 14 inches long and cause serious lung and heart damage due to blood vessel inflammation. Animals can be easily re-infected multiple times and can suffer from different stages of the disease at the same time. Heartworm disease can be fatal if not treated with proper medication.
Heartworm Disease: Fact or Fiction?
Pets that have been recently infected may show no signs of illness until the heartworms have matured. Once the parasites have moved to the heart and lungs, your pet may start coughing and have trouble breathing. Dogs become increasingly lethargic and lose their appetite, while cats may experience vomiting. The best way to treat heartworm disease is with prevention, but there is also medication available for treating infected pets. The stage of the disease will ultimately determine how someone will go about treating heartworm disease.
When an infected mosquito bites a cat or dog, they deposit heartworm larvae which can take up to 6 months to reach adulthood and gain the ability to reproduce. The larvae tend to mature faster in warmer climates. Cold weather does stop development, but it does not kill them, and they will simply continue to grow once the temperature is warm. These heartworms can live for as long as 5-7 years in dogs and around 2-3 years in cats. This longevity allows the disease to build up and spread from pet to pet every mosquito season.
Heartworm Diagnosis for Cats and Dogs
The FDA recommends that you test your pets for heartworms annually. If you suspect that your pet may have heartworms, your veterinarian will perform a blood test to detect their presence. Unfortunately, these antigen and antibody blood tests for cats are a little more inconclusive, but still tell a lot about the health of your pet to the veterinarian. If the tests come back positive, the vet may also perform an x-ray and an ultrasound of the heart to confirm the diagnosis and determine the stage of the disease. Once the severity of the disease is determined, a proper treatment plan for treating heartworm disease can begin.
Treating Heartworm Disease in Dogs
When treating heartworm disease in dogs, they are given multiple injections containing arsenic, as well as Prednisone pills to combat any side effects. Advantage Multi is a common topical cream that would then be prescribed to kill remaining larvae in the bloodstream. For treating heartworm disease at a late stage, surgery may be the only option, but is truly a last resort because survival from the procedure can be quite low. Pet owners may opt for a longer treatment plan in the form of Ivermectin and antibiotics, which can take up to two years to kill the parasites, preferable for older dogs nearing the end of their life. However, like most diseases, preventative measures are the best form of treatment.
Treating Heartworm Disease in Cats
Fortunately, heartworm disease in cats is less common compared to dogs, and they are better equipped to fight off the parasites naturally on their own. This is good because besides risky surgery, there is currently no viable heartworm treatment for cats on the market. The best way to treat heartworms for cats is to treat the symptoms and outlive them parasites since they live in cats for only 2-3 years. Talk to your vet about the best ways to relieve cat discomfort from trouble breathing and other issues while the disease subsides. Getting your cat tested regularly and monitoring the disease are essential to treatment and to avoid complications.
How Much Does It Cost to Treat Heartworms?
The cost of surgery and veterinarian treatments to get rid of heartworms can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, but preventative treatments are a lot more affordable. The price of prevention treatment depends on the weight of your pet, and typically costs are higher with bigger animals. Annual preventative medication costs can range anywhere in between $50-$250, which is significantly less than full treatment.
For dogs, we recommend the following heartworm prevention medications:
For cats, here are some of the best heartworm preventative treatments:
It is important to maintain monthly preventative treatments, especially for pets who have suffered from heartworm disease and have recovered. These treatments will help prevent new parasites from developing if your pet is bit by another infected mosquito. Talk to your vet before starting any medication or alternative heartworm treatments for cats and dogs to determine what is right for your pet.
For more information on treating heartworm disease for cats and dogs, please visit our website to learn more about the latest pet medication.
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