April 29, 2024

Heartworm Disease in Dogs and Cats

You have likely heard of heartworm disease and prevention, but do you know how it’s transmitted and what can happen if they get infected? Heartworm Disease in dogs and cats is a serious and potentially fatal condition that affects dogs and cats worldwide. As a veterinarian, it’s very important to educate people about the risks associated with heartworm infection and the importance of prevention. I will discuss the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment (or lack there of for cats).

Causes of heartworm disease in dogs and cats

Heartworm disease in dogs and cats is caused by the parasite Dirofilaria immitis, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. When an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat, it transmits the larvae of the heartworm. The larvae migrates through the pet’s bloodstream and eventually reaches the heart and lungs, where they mature into adult worms. Gulf Breeze, Pensacola, Navarre and basically the entire southeast are a hot spot for heartworm disease.


Symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs can vary depending on the severity of the infection but may include coughing, lethargy, difficulty breathing, weight loss, and decreased appetite. Heartworm disease in dogs can eventually progress to congestive heart failure, a blockage of blood flow (caval syndrome) and death.
In cats the symptoms can be more subtle and may include coughing, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and sudden collapse.


Diagnosing heartworm disease typically involves a combination of blood tests and X-rays. Blood tests can detect the presence of heartworm antigens or antibodies, while X-rays may reveal changes to the heart and lungs. Diagnosis can be more difficult in cats. Unfortunately there is no perfect test for detecting the adult worms.


Gold standard treatment for heartworm disease in dogs can be expensive, often involving multiple rounds of medication to kill the adult worms. Strict confinement to prevent complications is recommended. In cats, treatment options are much more limited, and often focus on managing symptoms and supporting the cat’s immune system.


Preventing heartworm disease is far easier and less expensive than treating it. Veterinarians recommend year-round prevention for both dogs and cats, typically in the form of monthly oral or topical medications. Reducing exposure to mosquitoes by keeping pets indoors during peak mosquito activity hours can help reduce the risk of infection.

As a veterinarian, it’s essential to educate my clients about the dangers of heartworm disease and the importance of prevention. We recommend strict year round heartworm prevention to try to prevent this potentially deadly condition. The American Heartworm Society has a lot of good information on their website. Call Gulf Breeze Animal Hospital at 850-932-6116 to chat with one of our doctors and discuss heartworm disease and prevention with one of our doctors.

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