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Keeping Pets Heartworm Free

Something as simple as a mosquito bite can leave pets susceptible to Heartworm Disease. Heartworm Disease is caused by a blood parasite, not a gastrointestinal (stomach or intestinal) parasite.  It is only found by testing a blood sample from your dog. It is not something you as a pet owner can see. That’s why it’s so important to know how to protect your pets from this disease and insure that they stay healthy.

How it Happens

Mosquitoes become infected with the disease by biting another infected animal. At this point, the mosquito takes in heartworm larvae, microfilariae, which grow into adulthood. Therefore, when the mosquito bites another animal, the microfilariae are released into that animal’s blood stream. The disease attacks your animals’ heart and lungs. Below is a chart showing the heartworm life cycle.

Heartworm Lifecycle Diagram

Heartworm in Dogs

About six months after the original bite, the larvae have traveled, grown and finally reach the dog’s heart and blood vessels near the heart and start to mature. There are three classes of the disease, Class I being the least severe and showing very few symptoms. At Class III, you the pet owner, may start seeing the signs that your dog may be infected.  At that point you may see:

  • coughing
  • fatigue
  • reduced appetite
  • weight loss


Once your pet has been diagnosed with a heartworm disease the doctor may first request tests to monitor the heart or your pet’s body’s ability to tolerate treatment.  The first step in treatment is killing the adult worms in the heart. An adulticide (a medication that kills the adult worm) is administered during a short hospital stay to kill off the adult organisms in the dog’s body. Sometimes surgery is required in more severe cases to remove the worms directly. Dogs are particularly vulnerable to heartworm and nearly all dogs exposed to the disease (that are not protected by prevention medication) become infected.

After the Adulticide is administered your pet may have microfilarae (baby worms) in their bloodstream that will require a second form of treatment several weeks later.  All heartworm disease can be dangerous because once the adults are killed your pet needs to be kept quiet until the body breaks down the dead worms safely. All of this can be avoided by administering a simple monthly heartworm preventative to protect your dog from any of these concerns. Ask your veterinarian what she recommends.

Heartworm in Cats

The infecting organisms in cats generally have a shorter lifespan and a spontaneous cure is much more likely. Cats who spend time outdoors have a higher risk of being infected. Detecting heartworm in cats is a little more difficult because the symptoms are similar to other feline diseases and because the test isn’t always accurate. You should contact your veterinarian if your cat is:

  • vomiting
  • gagging
  • coughing
  • lethargic


For cats, there is no specific diagnostic test or adulticide treatment. A series of tests, including urine samples and an electrocardiograph can confirm heart disease and symptoms of heartworm. Removing heartworms in cats is highly complex and there is not currently a recognized treatment method. In some cats it is life threatening, however, as stated earlier, heartworm cases can spontaneously cure themselves as well.

Preventing Heartworm in Pets

Pond Point Animal Hospital can provide you with numerous heartworm prevention methods that work well, one is topical, some are oral. Puppies starting at 6-8 weeks old should begin heartworm prevention monthly. In addition to protecting your dog from the blood parasite heartworm, most heartworm preventatives protect your pet from intestinal parasites and a few even protect your home from flea infestations. Administering these preventative measures on schedule will intercept the heartworm larvae before they can affect your pet. While cats are less susceptible to the disease than dogs, it is important to consider applying monthly prevention especially to your outdoor kitties. The preventative we recommend for cats is also effective at preventing ear mites, fleas, ticks and the intestinal parasites, round and hook worms.  Dogs should also be checked for heartworm at least once a year. Our heartworm test in addition to checking your dog for heartworm disease it is also a test for exposure to lyme, erhlichia, and anaplasmosis, all very commom tick born diseases.

Contact Pond Point

For more information about heartworm or for professional veterinary services, contact Pond Point Animal Hospital via this link or call 203-878-4646

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I brought my sick cat to Pond Point. Rocky is fully feral and normally cannot be handled by anyone. As usual, Dr. Carter was phenomenal, as was her vet tech, Kat. They were able to give Rocky a full exam, diagnose, and treat his illness with absolutely no problems at all. The entire staff is so lovely, courteous and helpful. I could not feel more grateful for the wonderful care my pets receive from these great people!- .

- Marybeth K.
Milford, CT

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