The Mosquito Connection

Mosquitoes carry heartworms from dog to dog, and cat to cat. Adult heartworms live in the hearts or lungs of infected dogs or cats. However, the tiny, microscopic offspring of the heartworm (called micofilaremia) live in an animal’s blood – which is how the mosquito passes heartworm from one pet to the next.

Hot, tropical climates like Placencia have lots of mosquitoes. Therefore, pets in Placencia, especially dogs, are very, very likely to develop heartworm disease if they are not regularly given medicine to prevent the disease.

Heartworm in Dogs

Heartworm is a serious problem for dogs. Left untreated, heartworms will kill an infected dog by causing heart failure or clots in the lungs.

Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen.  Heartworm Basics

NEVER use any heartworm medicine until your dog has been tested for heartworms. If you give these drugs to a dog that already has heartworms, the drug may kill the dog.

Your veterinarian will give your dog a blood test to determine whether it has heartworms. (Some signs that your dog already has heartworms include coughing, lack of interest in exercise, and difficulty breathing.)

If the blood test shows that your dog does not have heartworms, the vet will prescribe a heartworm prevention medicine. This medicine must be given to your dog exactly as prescribed because some dogs are VERY sensitive to Ivermectin and can die if even slightly overdosed.  You can buy over-the-counter medications such as Heartguard, Frontline and others, which usually provide protection against ticks and fleas as well as heartworm.  However, the heartworm preventative in all of these medications is Ivermection, which can be purchased very inexpensively in Belize.  But, whatever heartworm prevention you choose, make sure to use EXACTLY as prescribed. Safe use of Ivermectin

If your dog is tested and is found to have heartworm, it will need to be treated or it will die.  And, treatment is not cheap!  (Better to prevent than treat – both for the health of your dog AND your pocket.)

The most common drug used to treat heartworms in dogs is called melarsomine hydrochloride and must be administered by a vet.  The drug is given as a series of injections over a 24-hour period (or separated into two treatments given one month apart). The dog usually needs to be hospitalized for a time during and after the treatment to watch for signs of shock or other adverse reactions that may require further treatment. Heartworm treatments for dogs.

If you dog has heartworms once, it can get them again, so all dogs should be given regular heartworm medication.

More information about heartworm in dogs.

Heartworm in Cats

Cats are less likely to become infected with heartworms than are dogs. Cats are also more likely to spontaneously rid themselves of heartworm without treatment. However, cats in hot, humid climates like Placencia are more likely to be infected than cats in colder climates.

Discovering and treating heartworm in cats is very difficult. Cats may show absolutely no signs of heartworm before death, and even blood tests may not show the presence of heartworms in an infected cat.

Symptoms may include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss. Occasionally an affected cat may have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Unfortunately, the first sign in some cases is sudden collapse of the cat, or sudden death.  Heartworm Basics

Also, unlike dogs, cats cannot be treated for heartworm.

Therefore, preventing heartworm in cats is just as important as preventing heartworm in dogs. As with dogs, cats are treated with Ivermectin to protect again heartworms, either through over-the-counter medications such as Heartguard or Revolution, or with straight Ivermectin, which is safe for cats as long as used in the right dosage.  Ivermectin Safety

More information about heartworm in cats.