April is Heartworm Awareness Month
Pets and their people love being outside in the summertime - and so do mosquitoes. Because mosquitoes are the most common carriers of heartworm disease, keeping pets up to date on preventive heartworm treatments during mosquito season is especially important.
Heartworms are exactly that—large worms that live in the hearts of cats and dogs. Known as Dirofilaria Immitis, heartworms are long, spaghetti-like worms that range in size from 6 to 10 inches. Heartworms are almost always transmitted by mosquitoes. A mosquito bites an infected dog or cat; that mosquito picks up microfilariae, a microscopic version of the heartworm. When that mosquito bites your dog or cat, the heartworm microfilariae are transmitted to him / her. Within 70 to 90 days, the microfilariae make it to your pet's heart and, once mature, begin reproducing. The cycle then begins again.
Signs of heartworm disease in pets vary based on the age and species of the pet and the number of worms present. Because the worms are usually located on the right side of the heart and lung, coughing and shortness of breath are common signs in both dogs and cats. Dogs that have just acquired the disease may have no signs, while dogs with a moderate occurrence of the disease may cough and show an inability to exercise. In extreme cases, dogs may experience fainting, weight loss, fever, abdominal swelling and death. In cats, the symptoms of heartworm disease are similar to those of feline asthma, including coughing and shortness of breath. Some cats may exhibit no signs of the disease, while others may suddenly die.
When it comes to preventing heartworm disease, pet owners have a number of options. Before beginning preventive medication, pet owners should have their pets tested for the presence of heartworms. If heartworms are present, a treatment plan should be discussed with your veterinarian. Most heartworm prevention is done by administering your pet a once-a-month heartworm preventive medication. Many of these monthly products are administered as a chew-able treat. Some are combined with other preventive medications. Your veterinarian will recommend the product that is best suited for your pet.
If you would like to have your pet tested for heartworm or you would like additional information about the disease, please contact your veterinary hospital.