June 5, 2008

Is Your Area Infested with Heartworms?

There are parasites that endanger your pets lurking everywhere - from the leaping kind like ticks and fleas, to the flying ones like mosquitoes that may be carrying heartworm larvae. But there are areas that expose our pets to more danger than others.

In the case of heartworms, it is not a matter of whether your pet always stays indoors or loves to play outdoors because mosquitoes can invade either areas. The factors that increase the chances of your pet getting heartworm disease are the prevalence of mosquitoes in your area, the means that you use to avoid these insects from getting to your pet, and the preventive measures you give your pet to fight the infection.

There are several parts of the world - including the US, Canada, South America, Europe, the coastal areas of Africa, Asia and Australia - where heartworms are found. In the US, areas with higher incidences of heartworm infestation are the southeastern part of the country. According to a 2005 American Heartworm Society (AHS) survey, there were 250,000 dogs in the US that tested positive for heartworms. Below is a breakdown of heartworm cases in the different states for 2004, as sourced from Heartgard:

Idaho 6 Hawaii 584 Ohio 4,994
Alaska 8 Colorado 638 Michigan 5,209
Wyoming 13 Rhode Island 681 Illinois 5,724
North Dakota 31 Connecticut 702 Missouri 7,175
Montana 37 New Jersey 822 Arkansas 7,286
Nevada 43 Nebraska 1,016 Indiana 7,346
Washington 59 Pennsylvania 1,122 Tennessee 11,149
District of Columbia 65 Wisconsin 1,420 South Carolina 11,518
Vermont 74 Maryland 1,596 Mississippi 11,752
South Dakota 93 Iowa 1,766 Alabama 14,892
Utah 172 Massachusetts 1,807 Louisiana 16,830
Maine 227 Minnesota 2,472 Georgia 17,508
New Hampshire 235 New York 2,519 North Carolina 17,511
Delaware 408 Kansas 2,811 Florida 32,128
West Virginia 427 Oklahoma 2,830 Texas 42,003
Arizona 462 Kentucky 3,442
New Mexico 476 Virginia 4,344
Oregon 561 California 4,596

These figures do not mean that pets that reside in areas where there are few incidences of heartworm infection are already safe from being infected. It is still advisable to safeguard your pets because it takes only a bite from an infected mosquito to transfer the heartworm larvae. There are several effective precautionary measures against these parasites. A great way to protect your pets from heartworms is to use Interceptor® (Milbemycin oxime, orally) and Revolution® (Selemectin, topically). It will also be good for them if they undergo regular check-ups. Another protective measure to avoid your pet from getting the disease is to keep a clean environment to control the number of mosquitoes in your area.

Being familiar with the incidence rate of heartworm infection in a place lets you know the level of danger or risk your pets are exposed to. If you reside in an area with a high incident rate of heartworm infection, you should double your efforts to protect your pets. If you plan to travel with your pet to a place with a high incident rate consult your vet for the necessary precautions you can take. You wouldn’t want your pet to be caught unarmed against these parasites, would you?

Symptoms of Heartworms in Cats

Sometimes, what we don’t see is more dangerous than what we can. This is because we may be able to protect ourselves from the dangers that we see and be unprepared for those that we do not know is there. This is true for heartworms in cats.

Why do I say this? When an infected mosquito bites your cat, it injects the heartworm larvae into its body. These microscopic-sized parasites settle in the blood vessels of the lungs where they grow and develop into mature male and female heartworms. There are no physical signs that tell that whether larvae or adult worms are already inside your cat. This means that the larvae can exist inside your cat - then mature - without you knowing it.

But when you do see some signs of illness it is hard to diagnose whether it is caused by heartworms. The symptoms may be very similar to other diseases that affect cats. Some of these general signs include vomiting, choking, lethargy, coughing, fainting, difficulty in or rapid breathing, paralysis, asthma-like symptoms, and a lack of appetite. Due to these non-specific signs, the first stage of heartworm disease is often misdiagnosed as asthma or allergic bronchitis.

So when your cat exhibits any of the symptoms you should watch out because they could also be indicative of where the adult heartworms thrive and develop. The signs are:

1. Acute feline heartworm disease: unconsciousness, difficulty in breathing, convulsions, diarrhea, vomiting, blindness, and rapid heart rate

2. Chronic feline heartworm disease: coughing, vomiting, difficulty in breathing, lethargy, loss of appetite, and weight loss

When a cat exhibit any of these symptoms, you must immediately consult a vet.

Knowing the difficulties caused by heartworm disease makes it important to be wary of mosquitoes and the threat they bring. For even if you cannot know where and when they will strike, you can take steps to avoid your cat from getting the disease. To help prevent heartworm disease there are products approved by the FDA like Interceptor® (Milbemycin oxime, orally) and Revolution® (Selemectin, topically) that you can give your cat. But until better methods of diagnosis are developed, being vigilant and arming yourself with information is still your best line of defense against heartworm disease. So learn as much as you can because a well informed pet owner is a well prepared one, don’t you agree?

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