Heartworm is a progressive and potentially fatal disease that affects dogs and cats. While it’s relatively easy to prevent with a veterinarian’s help, you need to be armed with knowledge to keep this condition at bay, which is why April has been designated as National Heartworm Awareness Month. To ensure your furry friends stay healthy and heartworm-free, consult the following guide.
What Is Heartworm?
Heartworm is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis. Spread through the bite of a mosquito, these worms live, grow, and reproduce in an infected pets’ heart, lungs, and blood vessels, causing circulatory problems, lung disease, heart failure, and other organ damage. If not caught and treated in a timely fashion, heartworm can result in death.
Symptoms & Prevention
One of the reasons heartworm is such a dangerous disease is because its symptoms present slowly. By the time your pet starts feeling poorly and showing signs of the illness, including lethargy, weight loss, persistent coughing, and difficulty breathing, they may have already sustained significant organ damage.
Regular visits to the veterinarian are essential so your pet can receive monthly preventative medication or early treatment, if necessary. Also, avoid taking your pets to mosquito-infested areas like forests and ponds, and use insect repellent if you do go out there.
Testing & Treatment
Veterinarians diagnose heartworm with a blood test, which your pet should receive at least once a year. If you have a kitten or puppy at least seven months old, they need to be tested as well before they start taking preventative medicine. Your pet may be tested more frequently if you live in or recently traveled to areas where heartworm is more widespread. In the U.S., heartworm is most common in warm, humid areas along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast, though it has been reported in all areas of the country.
Treatment for heartworm varies depending on the type of pet and severity of the illness. Dogs are typically given a veterinarian-administered drug that kills existing worms and larvae over the course of a few months. This drug is not approved for use in cats, however, so they’re usually treated with close symptom management and a steroid that decreases inflammation. If the heartworm has progressed and caused significant damage, your pet may need to receive surgery at a veterinary hospital.
Keep your dog or cat safe from heartworm and other illnesses by visiting Wahiawa Pet Hospital. With a focus on preventative care, these Oahu-based veterinarians provide comprehensive, compassionate, and personalized services, including neutering, spaying, wellness exams, dentistry, skin evaluations, vaccinations, and pet boarding. They even offer discounts to active-duty military members. Visit their website to learn more about their services, and call (808) 621-7000 to schedule an appointment today.