How To Recognize The Signs And Symptoms Of Heartworm In Your Pet.
Heartworm signs and symptoms between cats and dogs are not identical. Dogs are 20 times more prone to playing host to heartworm than cats. They also suffer longer, with worse symptoms, and generally with more worms than cats do. The main signs for heartworm in both cats and dogs are coughing, lethargy, and difficulty with breathing.
What is heartworm?
Heartworm is a roundworm parasite found in most of the United States, southern Europe, and parts of Asia. It is picked up by dogs and, to a lesser extent, cats through being bitten by an infected mosquito. It takes a while to eventually settle and go from the larvae stage to adult stage, and even then there may be no sign of sickness. Heartworm can last just a few years in cats, but can stay in a dog’s heart causing major problems for most of the host’s life if not treated.
Heartworm signals and symptoms
Even though dogs are the typical hosts for heartworm, they won’t show any signs of it for at least the first six months of infection during the pre-patent period. Heartworm cannot be detected with standard tests until full maturity when they are established in the heart. Less active dogs may not even show any signs after several years possibly due to a sedentary lifestyle, while more active ones usually feel it worse.
Main signs of heartworm:
- Acute heartworm: no adverse heartworm signs can be seen or detected in cats and dogs.
- Mild heartworm: active dogs and cats may develop a cough.
- Moderate heartworm: maybe a cough and wheezing in cats and dogs but more definite signs of lethargy.
- Severe heartworm disease: exercise intolerance in dogs, cough, restricted breathing (dyspnea), wheezing, and general lack of stamina.
Further complications with severe heartworm can include enlargement of the liver (hepatomegaly), weight loss, occasional loss of consciousness, and even death.
It is particularly difficult to pick out heartworm in cats as there are often zero signs and symptoms for all but the worse cases. Vets can detect heartworm in felines with a number of tests, including ultrasound (echocardiography), X-rays, and blood tests.
Treatment and prevention of heartworm
Treating dogs and cats for heartworm is not plain sailing, with often high mortality rates. The animal must undergo heart, liver, and kidney function tests to fully evaluate the risks before taking an arsenic-based drug which will generally kill the mature heartworms. The approved drug is melarsomine dihydrochloride - brand name Immiticide. This drug is more effective than previous ones, such as thiacetarsamide (Caparsolate).
Advanced heartworm can also be surgically removed, although in cats it is best to leave it unless they are very sick as they will generally outlive the heartworms. After treatment, which could take several weeks, dogs especially should be rested up for a month or two.
Prevention of heartworm is with corticosteroid drugs ivermectin, selamectin, and milbemycin. The drug is in tablet form, is chewable and should be take a month before and a month after mosquito season. The corticosteroid tablets prevent larvae growing before any heartworm signs will be evident. Side effects are minimal with these drugs, but puppies and kittens younger than 7 weeks should not be administered them.
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