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What is Heartworm Disease?

April National Heartworm Awareness Month, which is the perfect time to recognize this pesky and sometimes deadly disease that is currently affecting over a million household pets. Heartworms affect your pet’s health and quality of life and have been known to cause damage even after they are gone. Although this disease is mostly diagnosed in dogs, our other furry pets can also be affected. 

What Causes Heartworms? 

This serious disease is caused by a parasitic worm also known as Dirofilaria immitis. This parasite is transmitted with the help of mosquito bites–when a mosquito encounters the disease, it becomes a temporary host, allowing the parasite to grow into larvae, which can be passed down to your dog. Your pet then becomes the perfect host, giving the worms time to mature into adults, mate and produce offspring that will infect the pet’s bloodstream. Heartworms can travel through your pet’s body, causing damage to vital organs such as the kidneys, liver, and heart. They can also cause inflammation of the blood vessels, which can lead to heart failure and in some cases death.. Although heartworms can live inside your dog anywhere from 5-7 years, they cannot infect other pets, since heartworms can only be transmitted through mosquito bites. 

How is Heartworm Disease Different in Cats?

Due to the size of most cats, heartworm disease presents differently than in dogs. The larvae take longer to mature into adults, don’t grow as long, and will have a shorter lifespan (2-4 years). The worm burden also tends to be much less, usually one or two worms, but due to their small bodies, they are still considered heavily infected with fewer worms. Keep in mind that heartworm disease is harder to detect in cats and veterinarians are often required to run various tests to determine diagnosis. 

If you have any questions about heartworm disease or believe your pet may be infected, visit your veterinarian today.