National Heartworm Awareness Month

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is a severe and potentially fatal disease caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected dogs, cats and ferrets. It causes severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body.

Mosquitos spread the disease. When a mosquito bites an infected dog, it picks up baby worms, which develop and mature into “infective stage” larvae over a period of 10 to 14 days. Then when the mosquito bites another animal the infective larvae are deposited onto the surface of the animal’s skin and enter the new host through the mosquito’s bite wound. Once inside the host, it takes approximately six months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms.  Mature heartworms can live for 5 to 7 years.

In the early stages of the disease, many pets show few symptoms or no symptoms at all.  Infected cats or ferrets may die suddenly without showing warning signs. Initial Signs of heartworm disease in dogs may include: 

  • Mild persistent cough
  • Inactivity
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

As the disease progresses, dogs may develop heart failure and fluid buildup in the abdomen. If there are great numbers of heartworms present a sudden blockage of blood flow to the heart can develop. Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.

Heartworm disease causes lasting damage and can affect a pet’s health and quality of life long after the parasites are gone. That is why prevention is the best option.

How to Prevent Heartworm Disease

Did you know that Heartworm disease is almost 100% preventable?  Monthly heartworm preventative products are the best way to prevent your pet from a heartworm infection.

You need to have your dog tested for heartworm disease before administering a preventive. This is a simple test administered by your veterinarian. The test requires a small blood sample from your dog. It works by detecting the presence of heartworm proteins.  Your dog needs to be tested annually even if they are on a heartworm preventative.  The medicines are highly effective, but testing is necessary to confirm that they are working.  Cats and ferrets do not require annual heartworm tests.

Heartworm disease is a dangerous and progressive disease. It has been detected in all 50 states, but is most common in the southeastern US, so the more proactive you are in taking preventative measures, the better.

Because the symptoms of heartworm infection are easy to miss at first, infected pets can become seriously ill before the disease is recognized and treatment is begun. That’s why prevention really is the best approach to controlling this serious risk to your pet.

Preventatives we recommend for dogs are Sentinel and Trifexis.  The preventatives we recommend for cats and ferrets is Revolution.

For more information about heartworms, visit:  www.heartwormsociety.org

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