At Dix Hills Animal Hospital, our veterinarians recommend year-round heartworm, flea, and tick prevention for all pets. Monthly prevention and annual testing are essential to protecting your pets from internal and external parasites.
All pets are at risk of becoming infected with intestinal parasites, even indoor-only pets. In most cases, these infections are spread by ingesting the eggs of parasites, which can either be tracked indoors on shoes, or unknowingly ingested when your pet sniffs and licks at a patch of soil outside.
Some of the most common intestinal parasites affecting pets include roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, whipworms, and giardia. Often, intestinal parasite infestations do not always show obvious signs, at least not until the infestation has become more severe. To prevent an infestation in your pet altogether, annual parasite testing and monthly preventatives are a must!
Fleas and ticks are some of the most common ectoparasites (external parasites) found in dogs and cats, though they also feed on lots of other mammals, including humans. Both can be spread from animal to animal, but simply spending time outdoors or accidentally tracking the pests inside can leave your pet vulnerable.
Fleas are an especially irritating pest, because they can spread and proliferate quickly, and they are very hard to eradicate once an infestation is under way. Ticks, while not as overwhelming as fleas, can be hard to spot on your pet and can hitch a ride into your home on your shoes or clothing.
The problem with both of these parasites is that they can spread illness to animals and humans. Fleas can pass on tapeworms to their hosts, while ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and other illnesses. Lyme disease is zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted from animals to humans.
To protect your pet, your home, and your human family from infestations, it’s important to keep your dog or cat on monthly flea and tick preventative throughout the year.
Heartworms are parasitic roundworms that live in the blood vessels around the heart and lungs of their host. They are transmitted via the bite of a mosquito carrying heartworm larvae – when the mosquito takes a blood meal, they transmit the heartworm larvae into the host’s bloodstream. For several months, the larvae will gradually mature as they travel to the heart and lungs, where they will take root and proliferate.
Heartworms can grow up to a foot long, and with sufficient numbers, can cause life-threatening blockages around the heart and lungs. While dogs with heartworm disease can be treated if the condition is caught early enough, the treatment itself can be difficult (and expensive) for the pet. Cats cannot be treated, and in most cases, sudden death is the only sign they were infected with heartworms to begin with.
To prevent heartworm disease in your pet, we recommend yearly heartworm testing, and monthly heartworm preventatives all year-round.
Common Heartworm FAQs
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.
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 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.
Yes, both cats and dogs can be infected by heartworm.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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