April: Heartworm Awareness Month

Heartworms can be a deadly disease for dogs, cats, and other mammals.  Spring is quickly approaching and the American Heartworm Society has made April the month to recognize this preventable disease.  Considering it can only take one mosquito bite to become infected, prevention is imperative to minimize your pet’s risk.

Heartworms live in the arteries of the heart and lungs of many species of animals including our furry family members, cats and dogs.  They get the infection after an infected mosquito takes a blood meal and injects the baby worms, called microfilariae, into your innocent pet.  It takes approximately six months for these baby worms to migrate and mature into adults that can eventually live up to seven years (in the dog) in the heart and lungs.

These tiny worms can cause irreversible damage to the heart, lungs, and other organs which could lead to death.  Symptoms depend on the number of worms present, age of infection, and activity level of the infected animal. Fortunately, most dogs diagnosed in the early stage with a lower worm burden will have minimal symptoms.  Typical symptoms in dogs include coughing, lethargy or exercise intolerance, and/or difficulty breathing.  Symptoms in cats can be vague and nonspecific.  Cats can collapse and die suddenly from the infection, although more often the symptoms include coughing, wheezing, vomiting, decreased appetite, and weight loss.

Ansley Animal Clinic can help diagnosis canine heartworm disease with a 10 minute in-house blood test that detects adult worms. Testing is recommended annually even if no monthly doses are missed.  If your dog has missed one or more doses, then we recommend testing six months after restarting the monthly preventive.

A positive diagnosis of heartworms requires treatment.  Your veterinarian will decide which treatment is best for your pet.  Immiticide is the only FDA approved treatment for canine heartworm disease.  After treatment, it is necessary to keep your dog rested and quiet for at least 30 days before gradually bringing back to normal activity.  Diagnosing cats with heartworm disease can be difficult.  There is no treatment for cats with heartworm disease.  Prevention is particularly important for cats to minimize further infection and systemic illness.

Because heartworm disease is potentially deadly, expensive to treat and prevalent in our area, heartworm prevention is recommended every month year-round.  There are several types of preventative that are administered orally or topically.  An additional benefit of heartworm preventatives is intestinal parasite control and treatment.  Some heartworm preventatives can even help inhibit flea infestations.

Please let us know if you are interested in knowing more about this disease, wish to have your pet tested, or need preventative.  You can also find out more about heartworm disease at www.heartwormsociety.org.

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