Heartworm Disease: What You Need to Know

Heartworm disease is far more prevalent in the southeast United States than it is in Arizona. However, heartworm infections are on the rise throughout the US and have been reported in all 50 states, affecting both cats and dogs. But how does your pet get infected? This serious disease is actually spread by mosquitos. Any pet capable of being bitten by a mosquito runs the risk of becoming infected.

Heartworm disease is caused by the parasite Dirofilaria immitis, which is a type of worm that lives inside the heart and in blood vessels located in the lungs. While this disease primarily affects the heart and lungs, it can also affect the kidney, liver, central nervous system, and eyes. If left untreated, heartworm disease can be fatal.

Many of the initial symptoms of heartworm disease can easily be overlooked by pet owners. As the disease progresses, the lack of appetite, coughing, lethargy, and weight loss become more and more apparent. In the early stages, however, these signs are often attributed to other factors, such as a cold/flu, over exertion, or an upset tummy.

If your pet displays these symptoms, the quickest way to rule out heartworm disease is through a blood test through your veterinarian. These tests take only a matter of minutes to run and, depending on the results, may require further assessment of the diagnosis via additional laboratory testing and cardiac ultrasounds. Once the severity of the infection is known, your vet will move forward with treatment.

Because this disease is so aggressive, there are potential risks involved in treating it. Pets usually receive a series of intramuscular injections, are placed on strict confinement, and even hospitalized for a period that could last several weeks. This makes heartworm disease treatment both time consuming and very expensive. For this reason, prevention is always a better option that treatment. So how can you protect your pets?

There are easily accessible and effective options to help you prevent a heartworm infection in your pet. Whether you prefer oral, topical, or injectable medications, there is a medication that fits your needs. These medications protect your pets from other internal parasites as well, some of which are highly contagious and easily spread to other pets. Talk to your veterinarian about your concerns and the best course of action for you and your pet to ensure they live a long and happy life.