Discovered near the turn of the twentieth century, heartworms are still prevalent today in the United States. In fact, naturally acquired heartworms have been reported in all fifty states. Although heartworms are typically associated with dogs, cats also suffer from heartworm infestations. A simple blood test can be performed at your veterinarian’s office to detect heartworms. These tests may not detect an infestation until heartworms have been present in the body for up to six months.

Heartworms rely on mosquitoes to continue their life cycle.  The female heartworm releases her microfilariae into the animal’s bloodstream.  When a mosquito bites the infected animal, it too becomes infected with the microfilariae.  Within the mosquito, the microfilariae develop into the larva stage during the next two weeks.  The mosquito then bites another animal and infects it with larvae.  The larvae develop into heartworms within six months.  This cycle continues and many animals are infected with heartworms.

Neither cats nor dogs typically show symptoms in the early stages of heartworm infestation.  As time passes, the heartworms reproduce and the animal should begin to show symptoms.  Symptoms for canines include fatigue, lack of appetite, weight loss, and cough.  Chronic signs for felines include weight loss, fatigue, vomiting, and difficulty breathing.  Felines, however, are sometimes able to naturally rid themselves of heartworms but sometimes face death due to the septic nature associated with their body passing the heartworms.  Canines require multiple treatments and often hospitalization to be monitored throughout the treatment stage.  The key to battling heartworms is prevention and early detection.

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