Ah, February. Love month. Our hearts go pitter patter. Sometimes, if love strikes us in a certain way, our hearts grow sixteen sizes. For many, February is all about the heart, so it’s a great time to focus on a healthy heart for the one who loves you most – your pet!

The Healthiest Heart We Can Give Them

Heart health looks a little different for pets than it does for people. We may focus on exercise and eating right, but dogs, cats, and ferrets have different heart health requirements; namely, protection from heartworms.

Dogs and ferrets are more susceptible to heartworms than cats are, but all three species can be afflicted with them. Heartworm is a very serious, and sometimes even fatal, illness. As a pet owner, it’s one of the parasitic-born, preventable illnesses to take very seriously.

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Discussions of heartworm disease and heartworms certainly aren’t for the squeamish, but it’s imperative for pet owners to know how to protect their pets. Heartworms are exactly what they sound like. Heartworm disease occurs when worms, which can be up to a foot long, live in the heart and lungs of dogs, cats, and ferrets. They can also affect the blood vessels associated with those organs, causing even further damage inside your pet’s body.

Heartworms are parasites transmitted through mosquito bites. Essentially, a mosquito bites an infected animal (a member of the canine family like foxes, coyotes, or wolves) and then bites your pet. Heartworm larva is passed through this bite and then the parasites begin to circulate through the bloodstream. They can live in your dog’s heart and lungs for between five and seven years, and in your cats for two to three years, before they become highly symptomatic. Ferrets are affected much more quickly because they have smaller hearts. These parasites can destroy your pet’s health for years before you’re even aware of them.

Symptoms Of Heartworm Disease

In the early stages of it, dogs may be completely asymptomatic. As the disease progresses, your dog may:

  • Develop a mild to moderate persistent cough
  • Become easily fatigued after exercise
  • Lose weight
  • Not want to eat as much or at all

As it progresses to a more advanced case, your dog might:

  • Experience abdominal swelling
  • Have very labored breathing
  • Faint
  • Go into heart failure

Cats may experience:

  • A cough or asthma-like symptoms
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

And ferrets, in whom the disease progresses very quickly, may:

  • Become fatigued
  • Breathe rapidly
  • Cough
  • Develop blue gums

There is some treatment available for dogs and cats, depending on how advanced the disease is, but there is very little that can be done for a ferret who has heartworms.

Preventing Heartworm Disease

Fortunately, heartworm disease is preventable. After doing a test to confirm that your pet is negative for heartworms, your veterinarian can prescribe a heartworm preventive. The medication may be:

  • A monthly oral medication
  • A monthly topical medication
  • An injection administered by your veterinarian once or twice a year

Minnesota Veterinary Hospital

Minnesota Veterinary Hospital, located in Shoreview, MN, can help you protect your pet from heartworm disease. Contact us so we can help you prevent this potentially life-threatening pet disease.

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