Heartworm, as the name implies, are worms that live in your pet’s heart! It is hardly healthy, as you might imagine, and potentially deadly. Heartworm is carried by mosquitos and is endemic (meaning, it’s always here) in New Jersey. The main problem is, there are NO symptoms of this disease until the heart has already been damaged! For dogs, infection eventually leads to congestive heart failure with symptoms of coughing and trouble breathing. At this point, heart damage is NOT reversible.
For cats, a heartworm can lead to sudden death with no symptoms.
Treatment for heartworm disease is dangerous and can lead to death. As the worms die, they are swept along by the bloodstream into the lungs, where they can act as a giant blood clot causing allergic reactions and severe complications. In addition, the treating drug is in short supply now, and it may not be available. We can not use this drug in cats as the drug has severe side effects, so in essence, there is NO treatment for heartworm disease in cats.
Fortunately, there is a preventive medication that the pet takes once a month. I remind you, it only takes ONE mosquito, and so every time you walk your dog, the dog is at risk. For cats that go outside, even “on the porch” they are also at risk. For dogs now, there is an injection called Pro Heart. This is a shot given once every six months; so then you do not have to give the pills at all. This is not available for cats. Spring is a wonderful season, but it can turn deadly. Make sure your pet is tested and put on medication to prevent this potentially deadly disease.
My veterinarian performs a “combo test” every spring for heartworm and tick diseases.
What are these tick diseases and what do they cause?
Yes, we also do the “combo” test, as we refer to it, for it tests for heartworm and also three major tick diseases we see in this area, Lyme, Ehrlichia, and Anaplasma. These are what are known as spirochete diseases, which are not bacteria, nor viruses. Many types of ticks carry them, and contrary to popular belief, Lyme is NOT just carried by deer ticks anymore! So just because the tick you found was not a deer tick, it does NOT mean your pet is OK. All three can cause joint pain and lameness, but Ehrlichia and Anaplasma can also cause blood cell problems, such as anemia and bleeding. For Lyme disease in dogs, there is a vaccine that does work fairly well in prevention. I say fairly well because 1) NO vaccine is 100% in all animals, all the time, and 2) because this is a spirochete, it does not “behave” like most bacteria and viruses. This is also why many times we have to re-treat the pet (and human) in order to kill the organism. The Lyme vaccine is much different from the human Lyme vaccine that was out several years ago. This seems to be because the organism “behaves” differently in humans vs. dogs. These spirochetes do not seem to infect cats, but why, we do not know. Using good quality tick control products is mandatory. Beware the imitators sold in many pet stores. Insects develop resistance as the years go by as we know, and it appears, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many clients, that the older products are not working as well anymore. Nexgard is a new compound that is also taken orally in a flavoured chew cookie. No more messy topical applicators! Ticks are very susceptible to this compound. It is also important to understand that NO tick product keeps ticks off
the pet!!! They must bite the pet to get the tick-killing compound. But now, we also know that it appears that the tick needs to be attached for several hours before the spirochete is transmitted from the tick to the dog. And that the new compounds kill the tick before this occurs. Remember, NOTHING is 100%, but the above is the best we have to combat ticks and the diseases they carry