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April is Heartworm Awareness Month

Courtesy graphic.


(Chelsea Update would like to thank Lane Animal Hospital for the information in this story.)

We, at Lane Animal Hospital, say it all the time, it only takes ONE bite from a mosquito to infect a pet that is not on heartworm prevention.

 April is Heartworm Awareness Month, it’s important to fully understand the disease to be able to protect your pets. All it takes is a routine blood test and prevention to keep your pet safe. 

How Do Pets Get the Disease?

Heartworm disease is transmitted when a mosquito bites an infected animal and then bites your pet. Heartworm larvae are circulated through your pet’s body via the bloodstream and eventually become immature or mature worms.

After traveling through your dog’s body for months, the larvae begin to grow into long, white worms that look like cooked spaghetti.  Those that reach the blood vessels of the heart and lungs cause the most damage.

Male heartworms measure 4 to 6 inches in length, while females may be as long as 10 to 12 inches, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. The FDA notes that dogs can be infected with 1 to 250 worms. Each worm can live 5 to 7 years.

Cats are more likely to be infected with immature worms, although some cats do have a few mature worms. Even immature worms can affect your cat’s health, causing serious breathing difficulties.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworm Disease?

Symptoms don’t usually occur during the early stages of infection. As the worms grow, your dog may start to cough, seem abnormally tired after mild to moderate exercise, eat less, lose weight and have trouble breathing. Eventually, the infection can cause a swollen abdomen, abnormal lung sounds, collapse or death.

Cats infected with heartworms may develop heartworm associated respiratory disease. When immature worms reach the small arteries in the lungs, an inflammatory response occurs that damages the air sacs, arteries, and small airways, according to the Cornell University of Veterinary Medicine.

An infected cat may have difficulty breathing or breathe rapidly. Other signs and symptoms include a disinterest in food, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, gagging, collapse or death.

How is Heartworm Disease Treated?

Treatment varies depending on the animal. Dogs receive medications that kill mature and immature heartworms and reduce inflammation. The treatment can take a roll on your pet’s body, particularly if your dog’s health is already fragile due to the infection.

There currently is no heartworm treatment for cats, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease.

How Can Heartworm Disease Be Prevented?

Oral, topical, and injectable heartworm medications reduce your pet’s heartworm risk. Your veterinarian can help you decide which type of medication is best for your pet. Oral and topical medications must be given or applied every 30 days, while injectable medication protects your pet for 6 to 12 months.

It’s best to give your pet heartworm medication year-round. Providing constant protection ensures that your pet will likely never have to face this debilitating disease.

Does your pet need a prescription for heartworm medication? Contact us at 734-475-8696 for more information.

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