Heartworm disease (dirofiliariasis) is transmitted by mosquitos. When an infected mosquito bites your dog or cat, it transmits the heartworm larva to your pet, which can cause severe and sometimes fatal damage to its heart, lungs and blood vessels. Some pets show no signs of infection in the carrier state but once transferred to a susceptible animal by the mosquito, will most often cause a range of symptoms such as coughing, fatigue, weight loss, difficulty breathing or a swollen abdomen (caused by fluid accumulation from heart failure). Canine heartworm infection can also lead to a life-threatening complication called “caval syndrome” (a form of liver failure), which, without prompt surgical intervention, will ultimately result in death.
Cats can also suffer from heartworm disease; however, their symptoms differ significantly from dogs. Cats can suffer from a syndrome referred to as heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD); the symptoms are often subtle and may mimic those of asthma or allergic bronchitis. Signs of respiratory distress, such as rapid or difficult breathing, wheezing or panting, are some of the more common signs of this disease. Other symptoms include vomiting (typically unrelated to eating), coughing and/or loss of appetite or weight. Heartworm infection is often more difficult to diagnose in cats than it is in dogs.
Treatment for heartworm infection is far more expensive and difficult than preventing this devastating disease and can often result in the death of your pet. The best way to deal with this disease is to prevent it, as treatment is not only expensive but also time-consuming and can be difficult.
While heartworms are not commonly found in Ventura County, nonetheless there are sporadic cases reported from time to time. However, it is a significant problem in most of the United States. If you will be traveling outside of southern California, it is important to take measures to prevent this devastating disease as you will likely to be going to, or traveling through, an area where heartworms are endemic. All it takes is one mosquito bite by an infected mosquito to transmit this deadly disease.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to keep your dog or cat safe: by administering an oral once-a-month heartworm preventive. Most heartworm medications may also protect your pet against other parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, ear mites, fleas and ticks. However, because heartworm preventives are not foolproof, a yearly blood test to detect the presence of this parasite is recommended for those pets on heartworm medication.