There are many different diseases that can afflict animals like cats and dogs. But what can a pet owner do to protect their pets and prevent serious infections like heartworm? Did you know that heartworm affects dogs and cats differently? Below, a cat and dog vet in Egg Harbor Township, NJ explains what heartworm is and how to protect your pets from getting it.
Heartworm is a parasitic disease that is typically contracted through bites from mosquitoes and other winged insects. This potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquitoes that have sucked the blood of an infected animal. Once in a host, this parasite can grow into a foot-long worm and live in the heart, lungs and other blood vessels of affected pets, causing heart failure, lung disease and damage to other organs. It impacts dogs and cats differently:
- Heartworm in dogs: Unfortunately, dogs are natural hosts for heartworms. These parasites live inside dogs to mature into adults that mate and produce offspring. If heartworm in dogs goes untreated, the number of parasites can increase and damage the heart, lungs and arteries, affecting their health and quality of life from the start of the infection to well after the worms are gone.
- Heartworm in cats: Heartworm disease is much less common in cats than dogs. If a cat does get diagnosed with heartworm, its body is likely hosting only one to three worms, but not in their adult form. This is a significantly different number from the hundreds of worms dogs can harbor. For this reason, heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats. Additionally, since there is no vaccine to treat heartworm in cats, prevention is your only defense against it.
How to prevent heartworm
Those who live in rural, wet or wooded areas are more prone to mosquito populations and should seek out effective mosquito control methods. While there are heartworm treatments available from your veterinarian, you also want to take steps to decrease the odds of your pet falling ill. The following preventative measures can help minimize the risk of your pets becoming infected with heartworm:
- Remove stagnant water: Mosquitoes like to live, breed and produce offspring in standing water. So, make sure to check for and remove stagnant water from around your property, such as water in clogged gutters, old buckets, planters and birdbaths.
- Empty water bowls: Leave fresh water outside for pets during the day; pour out any remaining water in the evening to avoid attracting mosquitoes.
- Use screens on windows and doors: Check that your door and window screens are in good condition to keep insects from getting inside your home.
- Keep your pets indoors: Early morning and early evening during certain seasons see high mosquito activity. Keep pets inside during these times of the day!
- Vaccinate pets: Talk to your vet about the heartworm vaccine and medications for dogs, or how to protect cats.
For more information about heartworm prevention and treatment, contact your local cat and dog vet in Egg Harbor Township, NJ. Let us know how our team at Newkirk Family Veterinarians can help your pets!