April is Heartworm Awareness Month – Do you know how heartworm disease is transmitted? Do you know the signs to look for in your pet and how to prevent it?
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets. It is caused by worms that grow up to a foot and live in your pet’s heart and lungs, as well as blood vessels in the lungs. The disease is spread when mosquitoes bite infected dogs (as well as coyotes and foxes), then – once infected – bite other dogs and cats. An indoor lifestyle does not protect a pet from heartworm infection, because mosquitoes carrying heartworm infection can easily come indoors.
Some dogs can be infected for several years before symptoms develop, so heartworm disease in younger dogs may not be obvious. As heartworms slowly cause damage to the pulmonary arteries of the lungs, signs of disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. Eventually, as blood flow through the diseased lungs becomes more restricted, some dogs can develop heart failure. This is commonly recognized by a buildup of fluid in the abdomen and the appearance of a “swollen belly.”
Heartworm prevention is essential. Although dogs can be treated for heartworm infection, heartworms can permanently damage their blood vessels and lungs. Meanwhile, there is no approved treatment for cats, and heartworm can lead to chronic respiratory disease and even sudden death.
In dogs, heartworm prevention can either be administered orally or we do have a 6 or 12 month injectable heartworm prevention if you have trouble remembering to give the monthly tablet.
In cats, heartworm prevention is given topically, on the skin, each month.
The doctor’s and staff at Linden Heights Animal Hospital want to keep your pet safe. If your dog is not current on a heartworm test or prevention, give us a call at (540) 667-4290 to request an appointment.