April is National Heartworm Awareness Month but why is this so important? Over 1 million dogs in the United States have heartworm disease and at least 45 percent of the dogs out there are not on prevention for heartworm disease. Scary statistics, especially knowing that heartworm disease can be fatal to dogs and cats.
Heartworms can affect both dogs and cats. It is spread via mosquitoes and once the worms mature to adult worms, they live in the heart and lungs. The worms can cause heart failure and damage other organs. Dogs are the natural host for heartworms, and there are cases where dogs will have hundreds of adult heart worms present. Cats can be infected as well, but are not the natural host. In cats, then adult heart worms rarely survive, but even immature heartworms can cause large amounts of damage to the cats heart and lungs.
In the South, we see heartworm disease year round-so it is essential that your pet receive heartworm prevention all year! Even in the middle of winter, we have days that are warm enough for mosquitoes. The majority of pets we see with heartworm disease are not sick, but they can have a range of symptoms including coughing, weakness, lethargy, and even death.
The good news is we have excellent options for prevention. And the better news is that most preventions, also help cover your pet for other parasites such as intestinal parasites. Why do vets insist on regular heartworm testing, even if your dog is on prevention? While the preventions are very effective, no medication is 100 percent. And while we all try to do a good job giving our pets their prevention, sometimes we get busy, and are late giving a dose. And if your dog has heartworm disease, giving prevention can make them sick. So we need to be certain your pet is heartworm negative every year!
As a vet, I would love for all of my patients to be on heartworm prevention and heartworm free!
Boo Donoho, DVM