What You Need to Know about Heartworm

As a pet owner, you have probably heard of heartworm. Yet while the term is familiar, the specifics might not be. It is important for all pet owners, especially dog owners, to learn more about heartworm, its effects, how it spreads, and how you can protect your pet.

What is heartworm?

Heartworm is a parasite that is spread from animal to animal via mosquito bites. (Yet another reason to love mosquitoes). Once an animal is infected, heartworms can grow and live in the heart, lungs, and related vessels. Adult heartworms can live for 5-7 years in dogs and about half that long in cats.

What are the effects of heartworm?

Since heartworms live in the heart and lungs, they can cause significant damage to the host animal’s organs. Left untreated, it can lead to severe illness, heart disease, and even death.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of heartworm can include fatigue, loss of appetite and weight, and persistent cough. Symptoms can be subtle in the early stages of infection and become worse over time.

What animals get heartworm?

Dogs are the natural host for heartworm, so they suffer most infections and the worst symptoms. However, cats and ferrets can contract heartworm as well. Wild animals like wolves and foxes can contract heartworm and help spread the disease in the areas around them.

What can I do to protect my pet from heartworm disease?

The first measure to take is to get your pet tested each year by your veterinarian. This is an important part of your pet’s annual physical examination. The next step is to get a prescription from your vet for preventive heartworm medication.

If your pet tests positive for heartworm, treatment is most effective during the early stages. This makes seeing your vet regularly that much more important.

With a little knowledge and some thoughtful preventive action, you can help protect your pet from heartworm disease and its effects. Talk to your veterinarian to learn more.