As temperatures grow warmer, Westside Veterinary Clinic and the American Heartworm Society (AHS) want every pet owner to be prepared for mosquito season and the risk that heartworm disease carries for pets.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes as microscopic larvae and can grow into worms as large as 10-14 inches long. These worms live in the heart and pulmonary vessels in the lungs. They can cause severe cardiovascular disease, which can lead to death if left untreated. While heartworm disease is most common in the Southern states, it has become progressively more prominent in Northern Arizona and is a problem that needs to be brought to the attention of all pet owners.
Heartworm disease is progressive. After infection, it can take a couple months to a few years before a dog can begin to show signs of the disease. Clinical signs can include coughing, difficulty breathing and lack of energy. Testing for this disease involves simply drawing a couple drops of blood and running it on an in-house test, which takes 10 minutes. This test is performed every one to two years, regardless of whether the pet is on year-round prevention or not.
There is a treatment for heartworm disease, but because it involves killing large worms in the animal’s bloodstream, this treatment is not only expensive and time consuming, but it is also incredibly dangerous. It is much more cost effective for the owner and much safer for the pet to prevent heartworm disease than it is to treat after infection.
Options for preventing heartworm infection in both dogs and cats include monthly chewable tablets available in six and 12-month packages. These methods are effective, easy to administer and inexpensive. These medications interrupt heartworm development before larvae and adult worms reach the lungs and cause disease. Another benefit of these medications is that they also provide protection against common intestinal parasites, such as roundworms and hookworms. When administered properly and on a timely schedule, heartworm infection can be easily prevented.
Although the risk of heartworm disease is heightened in warmer months when the mosquito population increases, the AHS recommends year-round prevention. By giving heartworm prevention every month of the year instead of just seasonally, owners will have their pets protected when they need it most and have less of a chance of forgetting a dose.
Cats can also develop heartworm disease; however, the disease is very rare in cats, as the worms generally do not live to the adult stage. Though there is not the risk of embolism as there is with dogs, the larvae in cats can cause damage to the blood vessels in the lungs, causing chronic respiratory disease. Testing and prevention is also available for cats, but treatment for the disease is not.
At Westside Veterinary Clinic, we call April “Heartworm Month.” To celebrate this, we offer 10 percent off of heartworm tests, so please call to make an appointment to have your pets tested today! FBN
By Dr. Chelsey Rae Calhoun