April 26, 2012
April has been designated as National Heartworm Awareness Month.
Don't let April pass you by without educating yourself on this
Sultry spring and summer days may cause dogs and cats to suffer
from mosquito bites that can lead to heartworm disease, says Dr.
Sonya Gordon, associate professor in the Department of Small Animal
Clinical Sciences at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary
Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
Dogs are usually the preferred host for heartworms, but cats are
also susceptible to the disease, even indoor cats, Gordon
notes. To protect your pet, preventative medicine should be
used year round to avoid heartworm infection.
Pets are often infected when mosquitoes carrying heartworms bite
the animal and pass on heartworm larvae into the tissue. The
larvae mature as they travel through the tissue and eventually end
up in blood vessels within the lungs, causing heartworm
"Heartworms should really be called lungworms because they live
in the blood vessels of the lungs, not the heart," Gordon says.
"However, if left untreated, heartworms can clog up the heart
causing caval syndrome, which prevents blood from traveling through
the right side of the heart and causes the belly to fill with
Gordon says symptoms of heartworm disease are usually heavy
breathing, coughing and exercise intolerance. Pets with these
symptoms should be taken to their local veterinarian for a blood
test that can determine if the pet has heartworm disease.
Treating heartworm disease is generally a risky procedure since
a toxic substance must be used to kill the worms that live in the
blood vessels within the lungs. The body must then clean up the
Treatment usually lasts two to three months, depending on the
severity of the case, Gordon explains. During treatment the
pet must be completely rested.
Costs associated with heartworms can be high. Treatment for
heartworm disease can cost anywhere from $600 to $6,000 depending
on the severity of the disease, while the preventative medicine
costs only about $30-100 per year depending on the size of the pet,
Gordon notes. Preventative heartworm medicine is given once
per month to prevent adult heartworms from forming. If your pet has
missed consecutive months, it would be a good idea to visit your
local veterinarian for a routine blood test. Even pets who receive
preventative medicine should have a blood test once per year to be
sure they do not get accidentally infected.
"The best treatment for heartworms is preventative medicine,"
adds Gordon. "Pet owners have a variety of treatment options
to choose from including tablets, tasty chewable tablets, topical
medicines and even injections that can be given by your
veterinarian twice per year. It is important to use the
treatment that works best for you and your pet," Gordon says.
In this case, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound
of cure. By preventing heartworms from forming, you are saving your
pet's life and a lot of money.
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