The Heartbreak of Heartworms—How heartworm prevention saves lives

February is American Heart Month and while that focuses on human heart health, your dog’s heart health is important to think about as well. Heartworm is not often understood by pet owners. The best way to protect your pet from heartworm is to give them preventative medication.

What causes heartworm?

Heartworm is caused when mosquitos bite an infected animal and pass along microscopic baby worms. These worms take up residence in the heart, lungs and circulatory system of the infected animal. Ss the worms mature, the animal becomes increasingly ill. The larvae from heartworms take about six months to mature into adult heartworms so your pet can be infected for months before you notice any side effects. Heartworms primarily affect dogs, however cats can also be infected.

How can I tell if my pet has heartworms?

You will start to notice that your dog is getting fatigued more easily and won’t want to play or be as active. The dog, or cat, may also experience a consistent cough. As the disease continues, dogs can experience heart failure and swelling in the abdomen. If you notice your dog has trouble breathing, pale gums and dark, bloody or coffee-colored urine, take them immediately to an emergency pet clinic. At this point, surgical removal of the heartworms is critical for survival. Cats show a few different signs of heartworm, including seizures or fainting, lack of appetite and asthma-like attacks. Unfortunately, for cats, sometimes sudden death or collapse is the first visible symptom.

How to prevent heartworms

Thankfully, there are preventative medications that can prevent not only heartworms, but also ticks and fleas. These medications can only be prescribed by a veterinarian. Getting your pet an annual exam and on the proper medication is critical. Lastly, while these medications are highly effective, your pet still requires an annual exam for testing.

What if my pet has heartworms?

  • If your pet has been diagnosed with heartworms, treatment will need to start immediately. Cimarron Animal Hospital recommends the following steps:
  • Limit activity for your pet. Strenuous exercise only makes the damage happen more quickly.
  • Your dog may need to be stabilized before treatment—this looks different for each animal depending on the severity of infection.

Our veterinarians will start your pet on a treatment plan that includes medications and may include surgery, if necessary. The typical cost to treat heartworms is $1,200-1,800. The cost to prevent heartworms is $70-200 per year, making preventative medications a much more cost- effective way to protect your pet.

If you would like more information about heartworm prevention or treatment, Cimarron Animal Hospital would love to be a resource for you. Contact us at 316-686-4713 to learn more or set up your pet’s annual exam.

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