Heartworm is often seen as an issue that can affect dogs, but cats and ferrets can also be susceptible. It’s caused by a parasitic worm that is transmitted by mosquitos. Heart worm larvae live in blood, which can be ingested when a mosquito bites an animal carrying the larvae. From there, if the infected mosquito bites a dog, cat or ferret, it can spread the larvae by depositing it on the animal’s skin. The larvae can then enter the animal’s blood stream through the wound caused by the mosquito’s bite. Once inside the body, they can grow and migrate to the heart. Cats and dogs can be affected slightly differently in that worms may or may not reproduce in cats, and immune systems in cats can often kill the larvae to prevent infection. Heartworm has been found in all 50 states in the U.S., and even in animals kept indoors such as cats and ferrets. Because weather temperatures play a role in the development of heartworm larvae, warmer weather tends to be the time of year that pets are most at risk, while climates that are warm year round can require 12-months of protection and prevention.
There is often a lot of confusion around heartworm among pet owners regarding how it is spread, as well as prevention and treatment. Infected animals can not pass heartworm to other animals unless by mosquito. There’s an incubation period before the larvae can spread, so transmission within the same home can be rare. It is extremely rare for humans to be infected by heartworm, and in the very rare instances it has happened, the cycle has not completed where the human was affected in the same way animals are. If left untreated, dogs, cats and ferrets can die from heartworms.
Heartworm preventative drugs do not kill adult heartworms, but will kill the larvae during certain stages of development. That’s why it is often recommended to give pets preventative medicine ongoing throughout warm weather seasons or throughout the year. Treatment once your pet has heartworm involves a different process and medication.
You can learn more about heartworm, including preventative and treatment options, from veterinarians on Kuddly. It can be a helpful follow up to your regular, routine office visits to your veterinarian to learn more about the issue, or if you have questions about different treatment and prevention options. It can also be a way to discuss any unusual symptoms your pet may be having. With heartworm, it is possible for pets to survive infection, but the sooner it is detected the better.