A black and tan dog laying in the grassMost pet owners have heard of heartworm, but few of us understand what it is and the danger it poses to our pets. In colder climates, such as here in Minnesota, heartworm just doesn’t seem like a big risk, causing many pet parents to put year-round parasite prevention on the back burner.

April is Heartworm Awareness Month, and the team at The Bluff’s Pet Clinic would like to take this opportunity to share with our readers the importance of heartworm protection for all pets.

Getting to Know Heartworm

Heartworm is present in all 48 contiguous states and Hawaii, as well as throughout the temperate regions of the world, and poses a serious risk to canine and feline health.

Heartworm is caused by the parasitic worm Dirofilaria immitis, and is transmitted by mosquitoes that have fed on an infected animal, such as a dog, cat, coyote, raccoon, opossum, or wolf. The worms take up residence in the heart, lungs, and accompanying blood vessels, wreaking havoc on the internal organs as they grow and reproduce over a period of several months or years.

Heartworm in dogs can be treated if caught early enough, but treatment is expensive and painful, and often requires months of confinement.

A Word About Cats

Cats are considered an atypical host for heartworm, meaning they’re not as physiologically compatible with the disease as dogs. This is why there are fewer cases of heartworm in cats, but it’s also the why there is no effective treatment for feline heartworm. It only takes a few worms for the disease to be fatal.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms commonly associated with heartworm disease include:

  • Coughing or asthma-like symptoms
  • Labored breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of interest in play or exercise
  • Weight loss

Heartworm Protection for Dogs and Cats

It wasn’t that long ago that preventing heartworm in pets was expensive and time consuming. Today, heartworm protection is as simple as a monthly preventive medicine, and is all that is required to keep your dog or cat disease-free. Most heartworm preventives also include medications designed to kill common intestinal parasites, giving you even more reason to keep your pet on the preventive all year long.

If you haven’t started your dog or cat on a monthly heartworm preventive medication, or are in need of a refill, please contact the staff at The Bluffs Pet Clinic today!