Parasites do not always cause external symptoms, making
and monthly preventative measures imperative.
Common Heartworm FAQs
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworms are a parasitic roundworm that certainly do not belong inside our pets. Pets may show no clinical signs in the beginning stages, however, they will become more obviously ill as it progresses. Pets may begin to show decreased appetite, weight loss, and eventually breathing problems and heart failure.
How is heartworm disease spread?
The short answer is mosquitoes. Not all mosquitoes carry heartworm, but once a mosquito has bitten a heartworm positive animal, it can spread to the next animal that it feeds on. Many times, a mosquito may feed on the blood of a coyote, feral cat, or other wildlife. Which is why our pets need continuous preventatives, as carrier mosquitoes could increase at any time.
The good news is that our pets don’t directly spread heartworms to one another. However, if one of your pets has heartworms, it could be a carrier and potential source of infection to other pets in the house. That said, it’s important to have all pets tested and covered by routine care.
Are dogs and cats both susceptible to heartworm disease?
Yes, both cats and dogs can be infected by heartworm.
What are the signs of heartworm in dogs?
In the early stages, many dogs may have no symptoms. However, the longer the infection persists, the more likely you’ll see your pup develop symptoms. Here are some of those symptoms:
- Mild cough
- Reluctance to exercise
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
What are the signs of heartworm in cats?
Much like with dogs, symptoms for heartworm in cats can be severe or nearly noticeable. Here are a few things to watch for:
- Asthma attacks
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
How is heartworm disease diagnosed?
There are a few ways that heartworms can be detected and diagnosed.
The first way to diagnose heartworm is through blood testing. This is the most common way, as the blood test is a simple evaluation for a toxin (heartworm antigen) that stimulates an immune response.
Sometimes an infection with only a few heartworms will not produce a positive blood test because the infection isn’t producing a significant amount of antigen. Ultimately, the blood test could take many more steps, such as CBC, thyroid, and other testing to produce an accurate result.
Other forms of testing include radiographs (x-rays), or echocardiograms.
How can pet owners protect our dogs and cats from heartworm?
The short answer: PREVENTION! PREVENTION! PREVENTION!
There are a few things that you can do to keep mosquitoes away from your pets, such as using screens or keeping windows and doors closed or limiting any stagnant water. The most effective option is keeping up to date on preventative.
Are humans susceptible to heartworm disease?
No, heartworms do not have the ability to live in humans. People can still be infected with heartworm through the bite of an infected mosquito, but the parasite is not able to survive in the human bloodstream.
Heartworm For Cats
At Park Veterinary Hospital, our highly experienced team of veterinarians and veterinary support staff have been helping educate our clients and win the fight against heartworms in cats since 2007. The importance of heartworm prevention for cats cannot be overstated. Once a cat has contracted heartworms, it cannot be cured. Therefore, preventive measures are absolutely necessary in order to keep your beloved feline friend healthy and safe.
What Is Dirofilariasis, AKA: Cat Heartworm?
Dirofilaria immitis is a blood-borne parasitic nematode (roundworm), commonly referred to as cat heartworm. Heartworms in cats are spread through mosquitos carrying cat heartworm larvae. The severity of heartworms in cats is directly dependent upon the number of worms present a cat’s body, the duration of the incubation, and the response of the infected cat.
Although heartworms in felines are less prevalent than in canines, feline heartworms are still a dangerous disease that has been on the rise in America. The risk of heartworm is about equal for both indoor and outdoor cats. If you do not use preventive medication, the risk of contracting cat heartworm disease exponentially increases. This is why preventive cat heartworm medication is so important.
Symptoms Of Cat Heartworm Disease
One of the most challenging aspects of diagnosing heartworms in cats is that there are no definitive clinical signs that directly indicate the existence of cat heartworm disease. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that cat heartworm disease isn’t present. Some health signs that might indicate the presence of cat heartworm disease include:
Vomiting and coughing are two of the most common symptoms but there may be other symptoms, including:
- Difficult or labored breathing
- Anorexia/Weight Loss
- Fluid in the lungs
- Sudden Death
On occasion, an apparently healthy cat may be found dead, or may develop sudden overwhelming respiratory failure. In these cases, cat heartworm disease may be diagnosed on a post-mortem examination.
We can easily prevent cat heartworm long before serious medical issues or life threatening emergencies develop by simply implementing preventive measures.
How Are Cat Heartworms Transmitted?
Upwards of 30 species of mosquitoes can act as cat heartworm transmitters. Mosquitoes ingest immature heartworm larvae, called microfilariae, by feeding on either an infected cat or dog. The microfilariae develop further for 10 to 30 days in the mosquito’s gut and then enter parts of its mouth.
When an infected mosquito bites a cat, it injects the heartworm larvae into the cat. The larvae then migrate and mature over a period of several months, eventually ending up in the right side of the heart and the pulmonary arteries. Once this occurs, they mature into adult cat heartworms, and can reproduce about six months from the time of invasion. Approximately eight months after the invasion, cat heartworm begins to produce a new crop of microfilariae that will live in the cat’s blood for about one month. By the time this occurs, most cats begin showing symptoms of cat heartworm and the disease can become fatal very rapidly.
Diagnosing Heartworm For Cats
Unfortunately, there is no one benchmark standard used across the veterinary industry for diagnosing heartworm for cats. Rather, our veterinarians employ a battery of lab tests in order to determine a cat heartworm diagnosis. These tests include:
- A heartworm antibody test determines whether or not a cat’s immune system has been exposed to heartworms. This is a very sensitive test, and is usually employed first.
- A heartworm antigen test determines the presence of adult female heartworms. This is more specific than an antibody test, but not as accurate in all cases.
- Radiographs, or X-Rays, that allow us to view the size and shape of a cat’s heart. This is helpful because many cats with cat heartworm develop enlarged pulmonary arteries, or have obstructions in the arteries leading to the lungs.
- Ultrasounds allow us to view the internal structures of the heart and surrounding vessels, in order to assess the condition and function of the heart. However, in some cats with low levels of cat heartworms, this test does not always yield accurate results.
- A white blood cell count can be measured in cats suspected of having contracted heartworms. Eosinophils are a type of white blood cell which occur in higher numbers when heartworm for cats is present, but can also indicate the presence of other parasites besides cat heartworm.
Heartworm Medicine For Cats
Unfortunately, there is currently no viable heartworm medicine for cats that can fight off an active infestation. Therefore, if your cat is diagnosed with heartworm, we cannot cure it. However, while we cannot defeat existing heartworm disease with medication, this isn’t necessarily an indication that they will die soon. While sudden death is possible, it isn’t common. If your cat is diagnosed with heartworm they may still live a long life under the supervised medical care and treatment of your veterinarian. This may include anti-inflammatory treatments and medications to aid in breathing, similar to those used to treat asthma.
Heartworm Prevention For Cats
The good news for cat owners and their feline friends is that reliable heartworm prevention for cats does already exist. Veterinarians strongly recommend that all cats receive monthly heartworm preventive medications in areas where mosquitoes are active all year round. Here in FL and because of our mosquito population, we highly recommend all cat owners adhere to this annual preventive medicine protocol.
Flea and Tick For Cats
The Dangers Of Fleas And Ticks For Cats
Of all the pesky nuisances out there your cat might face, fleas and ticks are two of the most troublesome. For cats, fleas and ticks pose a variety of potential health issues, including:
- Skin irritation
- Rashes & Skin Infections
- Transmission of disease and illness
Another danger of fleas and ticks for cats is infestation of the home and possible transmission of disease to humans through sharing a living space. Many people believe that indoor cats are somehow immune to fleas and ticks, but this is not true. Fleas and ticks can enter homes on visiting pets and people’s clothes. Fleas and ticks will seek out your cat to feed and live. Once a flea is on your cat, it stays and will produce 30-50 eggs within 24 hours. These eggs are the consistency of sand and will fall off the cat, land in the carpet or bedding and become an adult flea in 14 to 365 days depending upon the environmental conditions. It is easy to understand how the house can become quickly infested with fleas.
Depending upon the stage of the tick (eggs, larvae, nymph and adult), it will feed and either climb off the cat for the next moult (moulting is how ticks move from one stage of development into the next stage) or if at adult stage, the tick will produce eggs that can contaminate the house. Ticks primarily transmit disease in the nymph and adult stages. Lyme and Rocky mountain Spotted Fever are just a few of the diseases transmitted by ticks. The plague and cat scratch fever can be transmitted by fleas.
This is why flea and tick prevention is important for every cat. Prevention helps reduce the risk of exposure to both your cat and your home.
Flea And Tick Prevention For Cats
At Park Veterinary Hospital when it comes to fleas and ticks, our primary focus is on prevention. Prevention is important because it stops a serious problem before it starts. If you are starting to notice signs and symptoms of fleas and ticks, that indicates that you are already dealing with an infestation. It is best to not reach that stage. With good education and the right prevention products you can easily avoid a flea and tick infestations.
A proactive approach to flea and tick prevention starts with a discussion about various factors that play a role in your pet’s potential exposure to fleas and ticks. For example, if your cats are indoor/outdoor is a factor, as well as whether they are exposed to other animals that go outside (including pets of friends or family that may come over for a visit).
It is important to be aware that there are numerous products on the market that our veterinarians would strongly suggest you avoid. Every year, our veterinarians review all available flea and tick products to ensure that our recommendations are as up to date as possible. Our considerations include safety, effectiveness and cost. Based on these factors we will work with you to customize a parasite prevention plan for your pets and family.
Signs That Your Cat May Have A Flea Or Tick Infestation
- Visible fleas or ticks
- Red or irritated skin
- Scabs and/or flakes
- Excessive grooming
Common Cat Flea And Tick Treatments
There are many different cat flea treatment products on the market. This includes a plethora of remedies involving substances that have no medical validity where fleas and ticks for cats are concerned. Our Veterinarians would strongly recommend against numerous over the counter flea and tick treatments. Some common cat flea treatment methods include:
- Oral Tablets: These are a great choice for both prevention and treatment of fleas and ticks, while being safe for both your cat and your family. Oral tablets that treat fleas and ticks can only be obtained from your veterinarian.
- Spot-On Flea Treatments: There are many different spot-on flea treatments with varying effectiveness and different spectrums of use. At your next veterinary appointment we will help you choose the most effective spot-on flea and tick treatment for your cat.
- Cat Flea Collars, Powders and Sprays: We do not recommend the use of flea collars, powders or sprays. While these products were the mainstay of flea control in past years, they are more toxic and less effect than the products we currently recommend.
We choose the products based upon safety and efficacy. However, as with any new medication or product there is a possibility of adverse reaction. If you notice any discomfort or behavioral changes after administering or applying, please call us at: (954) 280-5460. It is essential to discuss cat flea treatment options with your veterinarian, in order to ensure the method you choose will be safe and effective for your feline friend.
Some dog products are lethal to cats so please make sure you are using a product specifically made for cats.
Finding And Treating Ticks On Cats
Ticks on cats are not as common as ticks on dogs because of grooming habits and lifestyle. However, cats can get ticks and they can become a health issue if left untreated. Ticks feed on the blood of the host, and use tiny but sharp teeth to embed themselves firmly into the skin and soft tissue of cats. Because they penetrate into the bloodstream, ticks can also spread blood-borne illnesses. We recommend tick products for cats on a case by case basis.
Ticks on cats cause welts and bruises around the area being fed on. It is also common to find the tick still attached. If you find a tick on your cat, please bring your cat in so we can show you the safest way to remove the tick and help formulate a plan to avoid ticks going forward. The various methods for treating ticks on cats include:
- Spot-On Treatments
- Oral medication
- Tick Collars
We strongly recommend consulting your veterinarian immediately if your cat has ticks. Although there are various remedies to treat ticks on cats, it is essential to make sure the method you choose is safe, effective and clinically proven.
What You Should Know About Cat Flea Prevention/Treatment
There are many different remedies and methods out there for treating fleas and ticks on cats, and there are also various over-the-counter cat flea medicine options on the market today. The rapid influx of so many untested cat flea medicine brands in the early 2000’s, and specifically spot-on treatments, led the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a warning in 2010 about possible toxic reactions to cat flea medicine. This resulted from an increase in cat fatalities attributed to the inappropriate use of some products.
Heartworm For Dogs
The veterinary staff at Park Veterinary Hospital has made heartworm prevention for dogs an important part of our approach to preventive care. A heartworm infection can lead to numerous health problems up to and including early death. Therefore, heartworm prevention cannot be ignored. Our team is here to educate you and protect your dog from this terrible disease.
While outdoor playtime certainly offers numerous benefits, it also increases the risk of exposure to heartworm in dogs. This does not mean that dogs are completely safe indoors. It simply means that potential exposure to heartworm infection increases with more exposure to the outdoors.
Heartworm is spread through dogs via bites from infected mosquitoes. Living in FL, the presence of mosquitoes is year round which means greater chances for your dog to contract heartworms. Once a heartworm infestation occurs, it will become life threatening. Therefore, our goal is to implement a preventive program before your dog is exposed.
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease in dogs is a blood-borne parasitic nematode (roundworm) known as Dirofilaria immitis transmitted by mosquitoes.
Upwards of 30 species of mosquitoes can act as heartworm transmitters. Mosquitoes ingest immature heartworm larvae, called microfilariae, by feeding on either an infected cat or dog. The microfilariae develop further for 10 to 30 days in the mosquito’s gut and then enter parts of the mosquito’s mouth.
When an infected mosquito bites a dog, it injects larvae into the dog. The larvae then mature over a period of several months, eventually ending up in the right side of the heart and the pulmonary arteries. Once this occurs, they mature into adult heartworms in dogs, and can reproduce about six months from the time of invasion. At approximately eight months after the invasion, heartworm in dogs begin to produce a new crop of microfilariae that will live in the dog’s blood for about one month. By the time this occurs, most dogs are showing significant heartworm symptoms, and their lives are in danger.
Heartworm Symptoms – The Four Stages Of Heartworms In Dogs
Heartworm symptoms in dogs are divided into four stages. It is important to understand that individual stages are not always clearly identifiable and some stages can overlap, but the following information will help educate you about the four major stages, as well as their accompanying heartworm symptoms. The four clinical stages of heartworm begin when your dog has already become infected and the heartworms are present in the dog’s heart:
Stage 1: In dogs, the first stage of heartworm will typically be symptom free. In this stage, the heartworms are present and settling into the heart. However, in stage one the disease has not yet progressed to the point where the heartworms will have produced a new generation of microfilariae and dog’s body will not yet have produced antigens in an amount sufficient for detection.
Stage 2: Stage two of heartworms in dogs is accompanied by moderate symptoms including intolerance for exercise and a more lingering cough. The heartworms have been present long enough in the body for antibody production and probable microfilariae production. During this phase, heartworm disease may be detected with blood tests.
Stage 3: By stage three of heartworms in dogs, the symptoms of the disease will be very noticeable and have a big impact on your dog’s health. Dogs continue to cough and experience fatigue after exercise, may be reluctant to exercise at all, and can have trouble breathing. During this stage, dogs may also cough up blood. By stage three, the disease is quite evident on x-rays. The worms in the heart and large vessels will be obvious on x rays.
Stage 4: Dogs in stage four of heartworm disease have very visible heartworm disease symptoms. These symptoms are accompanied by long-term implications for the dog’s health. These dogs are very ill. The symptoms are similar to Stage 3 but more severe. Dogs will be reluctant to exercise, tired after exercising, and will exhibit a cough. They will probably experience trouble breathing as well. Testing may reveal the impact of the disease in the form of abnormal sounds within the dog’s heart and lungs and an enlarged liver. Even with treatment, this stage of the disease carries a high risk of long term debilitation and possible death.
The severity of heartworms in dogs is directly dependent upon:
- The number of worms present in a dog’s body
- The duration of the incubation
- The response of the infected do, in fighting off the infestation
As heartworm disease progresses through each stage, treatment methods become increasingly invasive. This is a big reason why early detection plays a major role in the options and ability for your dog to recover. Remain aware of any changes in your dog’s behavior. Keep an eye out for any changes in behavior that align with the symptoms of heartworm and if you do find that your dog is displaying symptoms that could be indicative of heartworm, it is important to make a veterinary appointment right away.
Other heartworm symptoms include:
- Fainting Spells
- Right Sided Chronic Heart Failure
- High Blood Pressure
- Rapid Heart Beat
It is important to understand that the symptoms listed above are indicative of advanced stage heartworm disease. Unlike medications that are used to prevent heartworm in dogs, the medications that are used to kill an advanced stage heartworm infection carry a higher rate of potential side effects, can be painful for the dog and are costly to the owner. In addition, the treatment will require considerable downtime for your dog’s normal exercise routine while the dog recovers from the infection.
Heartworm Prevention For Dogs
Heartworm prevention is given in the form of a monthly chewable or one injection every 12 months. The injection is administered by our veterinarian as any other vaccine and protects your dog from heartworm disease for 12 complete months. The chewables are readily accepted by most dogs as a treat and protect against fleas and ticks for 12 weeks.. It is very important that the chewable be given once a month on the same day of the month to make sure that your dog is adequately protected. Side effects of the chewable medication or the injection are rare. However, as with any medication, please call if you notice any changes in your dog’s health or behavior.
What You Need To Know About Heartworm Treatments
The first thing to understand is that there is a significant difference between heartworm prevention and heartworm treatment. Prevention is simple to do and is effective in protecting your dog from heartworm disease. Treatment options are used for dogs that are already sick because they have become infected.
The first step in heartworm treatments is obtaining a diagnosis. Most veterinarians use a battery of tests to determine the presence of heartworms in dogs. The first step in diagnosis of heartworm in dogs is to perform a blood test.
A positive heartworm blood test in the first step in diagnosis. If the blood test comes back positive, then the following tests will also be performed to determine the stage and severity of the disease in order to determine the most appropriate treatment plan:
- An antigen test determines the presence of adult female heartworms
- Radiographs, or X-Rays to view the size and shape of a dog’s heart. This is helpful because many dogs with heartworm develop enlarged pulmonary arteries, or have obstructions in the arteries leading to the lungs
During initial heartworm treatments, most patients are hospitalized to receive an adulticide, which is a medication that kills adult heartworms. The microfilariae in the body can be eliminated with a monthly prevention, which can be administered at home.
For more severe cases, such as dogs experiencing thromboembolic complications (in which a blood clot that has formed breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream to clot another vessel), hospitalization may be necessary for a longer period of time while heartworm treatments are administered. In some extreme cases, a surgical procedure may be necessary to remove adult worms from the right heart and pulmonary artery by way of the jugular vein. This procedure is recommended if the infestation consists of a high number of adult worms.
Ask Your Veterinarian About Heartworm Medicine For Dogs
It is important to consult our veterinarian when making preventive care decisions for your dog. This is true for a variety of reasons. There are many over the counter products on the market today that range from ineffective to outright dangerous. Our veterinarians are trained and qualified to help you make the best decisions regarding preventive care and treatment of any health conditions your dog may develop, especially when it comes to parasitic infections.
Flea and Tick For Dogs
How Does My Dog Pick Up Fleas And Ticks?
Fleas and ticks are a source of annoyance and potential health threat in every part of the US. While the seasons will affect the activity of these insects, it is possible to pick up fleas or ticks during most of the year. This is especially true because these insects can thrive in our homes. Dogs and cats which spend time outdoors are at equal risk of picking up fleas. However, because dogs spend a larger amount of time outdoors, they are at a higher risk than cats for ticks. While not as common, fleas and ticks can also enter homes from visiting pets and on people’s clothes.
How Does My Dog And Home Become Infested?
Your dog is both the home and food source for fleas and ticks. Once a flea gets on your dog, it will remain there until it is killed by a flea product or dies naturally. Just like the adult flea, the adult tick will remain on your dog and eventually produce eggs while feeding from your dog. Ticks however, go through various life stages. Ticks will leave the host and “moult” from one stage to the next. Ticks transmit the most disease to dogs and humans in the nymph and adult stages. If your dog is not on a preventative or adulticide (product to kill fleas and ticks), it is possible for dog and possibly your home to develop a serious infestation within just a few short weeks.
If not prevented or treated, fleas and ticks can cause a variety of potential health issues for dogs, including:
- Skin irritation and infection
- Rashes and red inflamed skin
- Scabs and scales
- Transmission of disease and illness to you and your dog
- Psychological issues from constant scratching
Fleas and ticks can also result in transmission of disease to humans through petting and sharing a living space with a host dog. This is why it is critical that you are aware of the health dangers that fleas and ticks can pose. It is important that you take measures to reduce the risk of an infestation. With the right plan and products, flea and tick infestation is easily preventable. Our veterinarians are here to help you develop a flea and tick prevention program that will best suit your needs and lifestyle.
Why You Should Avoid Over The Counter Flea Treatment For Dogs
There are many different flea and tick prevention products on the market. The amount of over-the-counter remedies has grown rapidly in the past 20 years. The influx of unapproved flea treatment for dogs in the early 2000’s, and specifically spot-on treatments, led the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a warning in 2010 about possible toxic reactions to flea medicine for dogs. This resulted from a rash of dog fatalities attributed to the inappropriate use of some products.
As with any medication, there is some risk of adverse reaction to flea and tick treatment. These risks are extremely small. However, should you notice any symptoms or behavior changes, please call us. Our veterinarians would be happy to share with you their recommendations for the best flea and treatments for your dog at your next appointment.
How To Identify Ticks On Dogs
Because dogs spend so much time outdoors, ticks are a common problem and a big concern for owners. If left untreated, fleas and ticks can become a serious nuisance and potential health problem for your dog. Ticks feed on the blood of the host, and use tiny but sharp teeth to embed themselves firmly into a dog’s skin and tissue. Because they penetrate into the bloodstream, ticks can also spread blood-borne illnesses. The larvae and nymph stage of the tick are very small and can easily be missed. The adult tick is about 3mm and is visible to most. The larvae and nymph are about half that size and difficult to identify.
Ticks cause welts and bruises on dogs around the bite location. It is also common to find the tick still attached. There are various methods for treating ticks on dogs, including:
- Spot-On Treatments
- Oral Medications
- Tick Collars
We strongly recommend consulting our veterinarian at your next visit if you suspect a tick infestation. Although there are various remedies to treat ticks on dogs, it is essential to make sure the method you choose is safe and effective.
How To Identify Fleas On Dogs
Fleas are very itchy and annoying and will primarily cause your dog to scratch. If your dog is allergic to flea saliva, the itch can be insatiable. Too much scratching can lead to skin infections, and fleas on dogs can possibly lead to the spread of various diseases. Fleas can be difficult to detect, because they are only about 1-2 millimeters in length, but there are several ways to check for fleas on your dog, including:
- Looking for red, irritated skin on your dog’s neck, belly or hindquarters
- Comb your dog’s hair from back to front for a good look at his or her skin. Flea combs are available at pet stores, but really any fine-toothed comb will do
- The fleas may appear red or brown in color
- If you see a speck that is moving, it’s probably a flea
Although identifying fleas on dogs is something you can do at home, should you suspect a flea infestation, contact us to schedule an appointment immediately. Our veterinary staff is very skilled at determining if your dog has fleas or ticks.
Different Types Of Flea And Tick Treatments For Dogs
Many years ago, flea collars, sprays, powders and shampoos were the maintainstay of flea control. These products are more toxic and less effective than the majority of products we now recommend. For this reason, we do not recommend any of these products. However, medicated shampoos can be very helpful in treating the secondary skin infections that your dog may have developed due to flea infestation.
Today, the recommended flea and tick treatments for dogs include:
- Oral Chew Tablets: Oral chewable tablets protect against flea and ticks for 12 weeks.
Our veterinarians would be happy to discuss specific flea and tick treatments that may be right for your dog at your next appointment.
Guidance From Veterinarians About Flea Medicine For Dogs
Since 2007, we have dispensed invaluable guidance about flea and tick prevention and medicines for dogs to dog owners throughout FL. After all, our state has the perfect mixture of geography, climate and natural landscaping that fleas and ticks find very attractive. Because of this, it is important to take a proactive approach to prevention. Taking preventive measures before a problem arises can save you time and money, while significantly improving your dog’s health and well being.