Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal illness that affects both dogs and cats. It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. Heartworm disease is transmitted to your dog and cat through mosquito bites. When a mosquito bites an animal (domestic or wild) infected with heartworm disease, the mosquito picks up baby heartworms through the infected animal’s blood stream. These baby heartworms are then passed on to another susceptible animal during the infected mosquito’s bite. Once inside the new host, it takes approximately 6 months for the baby heartworms to mature into adults. Once mature, heartworms can live for 5 to 7 years in dogs and up to 2 or 3 years in cats. Because of the longevity of these worms, each mosquito season can lead to an increasing number of worms in an infected pet.
Unfortunately, dogs and cats vary in the degree that they show symptoms of the disease, with some showing no clinical signs until it is too late. Common symptoms are fatigue, lack of appetite, weight-loss, coughing, and fluid building in the belly. Treatment is available for dogs and in many cases successful, but it can be costly. Treatment is not currently available for cats.
Prevention is the number one recommended treatment and is readily available for both dogs and cats. According to the American Heartworm Society, North Carolina ranks #7 among the states with the highest rates of heartworm-positive pets. For Charlotte and its surrounding area, that means keeping your pet on veterinary prescribed, year-round prevention and testing for heartworm annually. With our warm, humid summers and mild winters, mosquitoes never fully go dormant and often find their way inside your home. Therefore, pets that are mostly indoor are also susceptible to being infected. Remember, it only takes one infected mosquito bite to develop heartworm disease.