April is Heartworm Awareness Month

Dog and Cat

April is heartworm awareness month, which means all pet owners should be thinking about getting their dog or cat tested for heartworms. These nasty parasites act very differently when in dogs and cats, so understanding signs of heartworms, how to prevent them, and how to treat them in both pets is crucial for your pet’s health. Let’s take a look at how heartworms act in cats first.

Cats are not the best host for heartworms, but that doesn’t mean cats are immune to heartworms. If a cat has heartworms, they typically only have up to 3 actual worms but these worms can do just as much damage to their systems. Because cats are not the favorite host for heartworms, it can be hard to diagnose a cat with heartworms, however here are a few of the signs that you should take your cat to the vet to check for the presence of any parasites:

  • Difficulty breathing such as coughing or asthma attacks.
  • Vomiting.
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss.
  • Seizures and or other neurological issues.

If you think your cat may be suffering from heartworms, you can bring them into the vet for an exam. In order to test a cat for heartworms the vet may do the following tests:

  • Antigen and antibody testing for heartworm larvae.
  • X-ray.
  • Ultrasound.

There is no medication that can be used for treatment of heartworms in cats, but that does not mean as a cat owner you do not have options. Some treatments include surgery to remove the worms or medication to help ease the side effects of heartworms. Due to the fact that heartworms do not thrive in cats, they may even die off on their own. Speak with the vet about the right course of action for your cat if they are diagnosed.

Heartworms act very differently in dogs and that is largely due to heartworms thriving with dogs as their host. While cats may only suffer from a few actual heartworms, dogs can have hundreds of heartworms in their bodies. Because dogs are much more susceptible to heartworms, they should be tested at least once every 12 months. Signs of heartworms in dogs include:

  • Cough.
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss.
  • Fatigue or lethargy.

Caval syndrome which causes blockages of blood flow in the heart. Signs are pale gums, bloody urine or stool, and difficulty breathing.

Testing a dog for heartworms is easier than with cats. When you bring your dog in for a routine heartworm checkup, the vet will take a small sample of blood to test for any signs of heartworms. If your dog tests positive for heartworms, there are a few different treatment options available.

  • Oral medication for dogs is available to kill of heartworms, though it is still risky depending on how bad of an infection they have.
  • Surgery to remove the heartworms.
  • Preventative oral medications that will help guard your dog against exposure to heartworms.

Before starting your dog on preventative heartworm medication, be sure to speak with the vet. They will be able to help you determine if this a safe course of action for your dog’s overall health and happiness.

This month, tell your friends who have pets about heartworm testing so they can be sure to have their pets tested. The sooner heartworms are found and treated, the better the outcome for your pet. Schedule your pets checkup today!

Our Certifications

AAHA: The Animal Hospital of Sussex County is a certified hospital in the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). To achieve this distinction, our hospital has passed regular comprehensive inspections of our facilities, medical equipment, veterinary practice methods and management. If you are traveling or relocating anywhere, finding an AAHA hospital will ensure the best medical care for your pet. The AAHA is recognized as the world’s leading association of small animal practitioners.

AAFP: We are also a cat friendly practice, certified by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. This means that the Animal Hospital of Sussex County is specifically set up to decrease stress and provide a more calming environment for your cat. Our staff has also been trained in feline-friendly handling and understanding cat behavior in order to increase the quality of care for your cat.

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