April is Heartworm Awareness Month

As a pet owner, you’ve probably already heard of heartworms, but there’s also probably a lot you don’t know about them. Being informed can help keep your loved one safe; talk to your veterinarian today about getting started.

What are heartworms?

Heartworms are large worms that grow and live in the heart of your beloved pet. Your dog or cat can be given heartworms by being bitten by an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes bite infected dogs or cats, and the mosquito carries tiny versions of the worm called microfilariae. The microfilariae are then given to the next pet that gets bitten by the same mosquito. Within the next three months, these tiny worms start growing and reproducing in the heart.

Dogs Vs. Cats

Dogs are natural hosts for heartworms, meaning an infected dog will have heartworms that mature and live their full life cycle. When untreated, this results in a growing population of heartworms that can grow up to the hundreds. Heartworms cause severe damage that lasts even after treated. Prevention is the best way to keep your dog as healthy as possible.
Cats are considered an atypical host for heartworms. Most heartworms in cats do not live to the adult stage, and most infected cats will only have 1-3 heartworms at a time. While this may sound better than in the case of the dogs, it results in the heartworms typically going untreated and can cause a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease. Once a cat is infected, there is no treatment as the medication used for dogs cannot be given to cats. In cats, their only means of protection is treatment.

Risk

Even if your local area doesn’t have frequent cases, your pet can still be infected. Heartworms can be carried by wildlife such as coyotes, wolves, and foxes. Other events can contribute to your pet’s risk; such as someone moving into the community with a pet who is already infected. The military community has members moving from all around the world, and many times they are bringing their pets with them. Unfortunately, heartworms have been diagnosed in all 50 states.

Prevention and Treatment

The best way to keep your pet safe is to get them tested, and start their prevention today. Most pets should be tested annually, or based on your veterinarian’s recommendation. The American Heartworm Society recommends having your pet tested every 2-3 years as long as they never miss a dose of preventative.

Resources:

https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/heartworm-basics
https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/evr_dg_heartworm_disease?page=2