April is Heartworm Disease Awareness Month. Is Your Pet Protected?
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition that affects pets, particularly dogs and cats. However, it is nearly 100% preventable! This disease is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.
Heartworm disease can be a silent killer because the symptoms may not appear until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. Therefore, it is important to take preventive measures to protect your pets from this disease.
Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
The symptoms of heartworm disease in pets can be subtle or severe, depending on the stage of the disease. The most common symptoms include coughing, lethargy, weight loss, and difficulty breathing. In advanced cases, pets may also experience fainting, seizures, and a swollen abdomen.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you suspect that your pet may have heartworm disease, it is important to take them to a veterinarian for a diagnosis. Your veterinarian will perform a blood test to check for the presence of heartworms.
If your pet is diagnosed with heartworm disease, the treatment may involve medication to kill the adult heartworms and surgery to remove any remaining worms in severe cases. It is important to follow your veterinarian’s treatment plan and to keep your pet calm and inactive during the recovery period. Remember, there is no approved treatment for heartworm disease in cats!
Heartworm infection is almost 100% preventable in dogs and cats. There are several FDA-approved heartworm preventives available in a variety of formulations. Your veterinarian can recommend the best method of prevention based upon your pet’s risk factors and lifestyle. Of course, you have to remember to give your pet the preventive in order for it to work!
The preventives do not kill adult heartworms, and will not eliminate heartworm infection or prevent signs of heartworm disease if adults are present in the pet’s body. Therefore, a blood test for existing heartworm infection is recommended before beginning a prevention program to assess the pet’s current heartworm status. Because it is more difficult to detect heartworms in cats, additional testing may be necessary to make sure the cat is not infected.
The American Heartworm Society recommends testing pets every 12 months for heartworm and giving your pet a heartworm preventive 12 months a year.
Testing must then be repeated at appropriate intervals. The next test should be performed about 6 months after starting the preventive treatment. This confirms that your pet was not infected prior to beginning prevention (remember, tests only detect adult worms). Heartworm tests should be performed annually to ensure that your pet doesn’t subsequently become infected with the disease. This also ensures the appropriate amount of medication is being prescribed and administered. There have been reports of pets developing heartworm infection despite year-round treatment with a heartworm preventive, so having your pet tested regularly is the best way to keep them protected.
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition that affects pets, particularly dogs and cats. However, it is easy to prevent. You can protect your pets from this disease with a monthly preventive medication and regular check ups. Remember to always consult with your veterinarian if you suspect that your pet may have heartworm disease. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.