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Heartworm disease is a preventable yet serious condition caused by parasitic worms living in the arteries of the lungs, heart, and surrounding blood vessels of dogs, cats, wild canines and felines, other mammal species, and in rare cases, humans. Any pet parent can protect their fur babies when armed with the right knowledge, using their common sense and taking preventative measures.

Moreover, don’t blindly assume that your dog or cat is out of harm’s way and safe from heartworm causing parasites! All it takes is the bite of one infected mosquito to infect an animal with heartworms. In this article, you will read about some of the most common myths along with the facts about heartworm disease in dogs and cats.

Let’s begin by taking a look at the usual signs and symptoms of heartworm disease as documented by the American Heartworm Society for canines and felines. While there are some similar symptoms for both, other signs indicate the different ways the disease affects dogs and cats from one another.

Signs & symptoms in dogs: coughing, loss of appetite, buildup of fluid in the abdomen, weight loss, fainting, labored breathing, not wanting to exercise, fatigue, enlarged liver, enlarged heart, abnormal lung sounds, abnormal heart sounds, pale gums, dark bloody urine, congestive heart failure

Signs & symptoms in cats: coughing, loss of appetite, weight loss, fainting, buildup of fluid in the abdomen, labored breathing, rapid breathing, asthma-like signs, gagging, vomiting, difficulty walking, seizures, blindness

These signs and symptoms can vary depending on the severity of infection and at what stage the heartworms are at. If left untreated, heartworm disease can lead to severe problems with the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys, even resulting in death.

Myth: Heartworm is not in all states.

Fact: This is not true. Cases of heartworm disease has been reported in all 50 U.S. states. Get pets tested and take preventative measures to protect them.

Myth: Heartworms are contagious.

Fact: The disease is not contagious, cannot be passed from one animal to another or to humans. Heartworms are contracted only from the bite of an infected mosquito.

Myth: Cats can’t get heartworms, it’s a dog disease.

Fact: Dogs and cats of any age and any breed are susceptible to the disease if bitten by an infected mosquito.

Myth: Indoor dogs and cats are safe from heartworms.

Fact: Not true. Wherever mosquitoes can go, they can bite. If you are waking up in your room with mosquito bites, then you know you have the pests indoors.

Myth: Puppies and kittens are immune to the disease.

Fact: Mother dogs and cats pass some immunity through the colostrum in their milk, but puppies and kittens are not immune to heartworms. Start heartworm prevention at an early age; consult your veterinarian to find out when your pup or kitty is old enough.

Myth: Pets are only at risk during mosquito season.

Fact: Although mosquitoes are primarily out and biting during the warmer months, these insects can pop up at any time of the year when unpredictable weather occurs. Mild winters can bring standing water and warm temperatures, which are ideal conditions for mosquitoes.

What can you do to protect your pets and family from infected mosquitoes?

  • The cost for the treatment of heartworms is well greater than cost for prevention. Consult your vet for options.
  • Check for tears in doors and window screens and repair to keep bugs out.
  • Grow plants in your garden that repel mosquitoes and keep potted ones on the patio or indoors. Rosemary, lavender, and lemongrass plants smell wonderful while providing added protection from mosquitoes.
  • Dry mosquito deterring plant leaves and flowers, then hang or keep crushed in containers around the house.

Image Source: raneko/Flickr