By May 17, 2021 December 5th, 2022 No Comments

Heartworms, Intestinal Parasites, and Your Pet

Let’s talk about worms. They aren’t a topic most people want to even think about, much less discuss, but as a pet owner, you want to protect your pet from these troublesome and potentially dangerous creatures. Plus, these pet parasites can make people sick as well.


Although the number of heartworm disease cases fortunately has remained relatively low in Worcester County (with about 1 in 200 dogs and 1 in 100 cats testing positive each year*), the rate of positive cases throughout Massachusetts has been steadily climbing.** Last year, there were nearly 2,700 dogs and 60 cats who tested positive for heartworm disease in the state.* Our team at PawSteps Veterinary Center has also seen a recent uptick in heartworm disease cases.

Did you know? Your pet can get heartworms from just a single mosquito bite!

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Pets get heartworms when a mosquito infected with heartworm larvae (immature heartworms) bites a dog, cat, or ferret. The larvae enter the pet through the bite wound. Over the next few months, the tiny worms make their way inside the pet to the heart and lungs, maturing into adult heartworms and causing serious damage to these organs and associated blood vessels.

Heartworm disease can cause lasting health problems in pets and can be deadly.

Indoor pets are unfortunately not safe from heartworm infection. As anyone who’s ever heard that telltale buzz knows, mosquitoes can get into homes through open doors, holes in screens, or even on clothing or other pets.

How Is Heartworm Disease Prevented?

We can keep these immature worms from developing into adults and harming your pet by giving a heartworm disease preventive regularly. When preventive heartworm medicine is administered shortly after heartworm infection, it kills off the immature worms, and your pet will be protected against heartworm disease. That’s why keeping your pet on heartworm disease prevention is essential.

What Are Signs of Heartworms?

Heartworm disease can cause lasting health problems in pets and can be fatal. Signs of heartworms in dogs and cats include coughing or gagging, difficulty or rapid breathing, fatigue, reluctance to exercise, weight or appetite loss, and abdominal swelling. In some pets, heartworms may cause no symptoms, especially in the early stages.

What Does Heartworm Treatment Involve?

Heartworm treatment for dogs can be expensive and potentially risky to a pet’s health; as the heartworms are killed off, they can clog blood vessels. Strict exercise restriction is needed during treatment. No approved drug therapy exists for cats or ferrets with heartworm disease.

Heartworm disease is far easier to prevent than to treat.

Intestinal Worms

Roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms can pose a year-round threat to dogs and cats in Whitinsville. These worms live in the intestines of pets and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, unexplained weight loss, and changes in appetite, especially in young pets and those with a large number of worms.

What Are Signs of Intestinal Worms in Pets?

Puppies and kittens with intestinal worms may fail to grow properly or appear potbellied, and pets with hookworms can also end up with anemia (a potentially life-threatening condition in which the number of circulating red blood cells is decreased). However, many adult cats and dogs with intestinal parasite infections don’t show signs of illness.

What Are Signs of Intestinal Worms in People?

Roundworms and hookworms can also infect people, potentially causing respiratory issues, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and weight loss.

Let’s Keep These Parasites at Bay!

Being proactive is the best way to help keep your pet and your entire family safe from these nasty parasites, which can cause serious, potentially lasting illness in dogs, cats, and—in the case of some intestinal worms—people as well. That’s why at PawSteps Veterinary Center, we recommend annual heartworm tests for dogs and annual intestinal parasite testing for dogs, cats, and small mammals. We also recommend year-round parasite prevention for dogs, cats, and ferrets.

If you have any questions about the specific parasite prevention we recommend to protect your pet, give us a call.

Contact us today to make sure your pet is up-to-date on necessary parasite control medication or to request a refill. Please give us at least 24 hours for medication refills.


*Out of dogs/cats tested.

**Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC). Parasite prevalence maps: Massachusetts—heartworm canine, 2020. Accessed May 12, 2021. capcvet.org/maps

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